Battlefield has gained many new fans in the last five years. For reference, Battlefield 2 on PC sold 2.25 million copies, impressive for a PC exclusive title in 2005. Battlefield 3 sold 15 million units. In six years, the franchise increased its unit sales seven times over. So when these new fans see a game like Battlefield: Hardline, they may be a little puzzled by it, and think that it’s nothing more than a vapid re-skin cash grab, akin to an elaborate mode of the previous game. However, if you’re a veteran of this series, then you know that this is actually par for the course.
Battlefield 1942 arguably revolutionized online PC first person multiplayer games. It was followed up by Battlefield: Vietnam, a game running on the same engine and used many of the same mechanics and assets. Battlefield 2 was widely considered to be the best PC multiplayer game to come out in 2005. It was followed up by Battlefield 2142, a game running on the same engine and used many of the same mechanics and assets. Battlefield: Hardline is a Battlefield game, but it’s one that is more in the vein of these two offspring’s, rather than a full blown rebuild of the series. The only differences being this time, it’s being outsourced to a developer, and the last few games didn’t reinvent the franchise in the same way Battlefield 2 and Bad Company 2 did.
Battlefield games are not known for their single player campaigns. DICE has never set the bar very high in this regard and it’s always been clear that they put far more effort into multiplayer. Marketing for Battlefield: Hardline, as well as many of the developer interviews, have suggested that Visceral Games, coming straight off of their success with the Dead Space franchise, have fought to change this, and deliver a hard hitting dramedy, in the style of Justified, The Shield and other cop shows. As well as satisfying player choice, instead of making them die if they don’t go up the right stair case.
Now, I’ve never been a big fan of the Dead Space franchise, and considering that the third game in that series featured a story with the intelligence and subtly of a Captain Planet episode, I was doubting Visceral’s ability to correct the whirlwind of mediocrity that is the Battlefield single player campaign. I’m very glad I made that decision, because Battlefield: Hardline features a campaign more by the numbers than a Jerry Bruckheimer film.
As the game wears inspirations on its sleeve, it takes the format similar to that of a television show. Meaning that each of the levels are called “episodes”, they all feature a series of cutscenes and every time you quit the game or come back, you will be treated to a brief “Next time on Hardline!” sequence, or “Previously on Hardline!” The format is actually not as annoying as I thought it would be, mostly because if you’re playing the game from start to finish, you’re not treated to the “Previously on Hardline!” sequence every time you progress to the next stage. If you’re an experienced shooter fan though, you probably won’t be seeing any of these videos, because I managed to complete the game – on Veteran difficulty – in single night. The fact the game is all of five hours may have been forgivable if the gameplay was involving or the story was in anyway memorable, but that’s not the case.
So, what’s the player choice that Hardline brings to the player? Well, it involves being able to go through the game and employ either stealth or run and gun tactics. This is something that the series has been needing for some time. Dynamic player driven missions that rely more on improvisation and creativity, rather than big shit go boom set pieces. There’s even some of the cops and crooks themes attached to the gameplay, where you can show your badge, make enemies drop their guns and arrest them. Sadly, this is where the design of the game reveals to be a contradicting mess. For instance, you only get points for being a good cop and not killing people, collecting evidence, etc; but those points you earn give you access to new weapons and guns… for people who play as a bad cop and shoot anything that moves.
The stealth, obviously lifted wholesale from the recent Far Cry games, is not only let down by the A.I. – more on that later – but it can also be exploited by the badge. Because of your ability to make enemies drop their guns by shouting at them, you don’t really need to worry about making too much noise or being spotted by enemies, because as long as you get within a certain range, you just flash your badge and they will corporate; and you won’t set off any alarms.
Speaking of arresting people, that also gets boring very quickly. Every single time you arrest someone, the process is identical; you shout at them, the enemies instantly drop their guns, you walk up while keeping each of their risk meters in check, hit a button, watch the animation, repeat the process. At no point did I ever encounter an enemy that was not intimidated, psycho or extremely scared. All enemies that you encounter are identical, and that brings me on to the artificial intelligence. It’s just as awful as it always was. Visceral says Hardline feature’s a “Completely Rebuilt A.I.” and if that’s true, I would love to see it, because as of right now, they still behave like pot-smoking wasters with guns.
Not only is their eyesight relative to that of Stevie Wonder, but when they do enter a firefight, they still have a habit of either sitting behind cover for hours or rushing me down a hallway in single file, eager to receive a shotgun blast to the temple. Not only does this make the campaign boring in its own right, but it also leads to the developers making you take no more than a handful of hits, just to compensate for the A.I.’s shittiness. This means that for all the game’s bravado about choice, you only ever have two options, crappy stealth or sit behind cover and take pot shots with hit-scan weapons until your regenerating health wins over the enemies that don’t have it.
All of this might have been worth it if the story was in anyway compelling but it’s not. The large cast of talented actors do a decent job with the average material they’re given, but it’s worth nothing because the plot is so painfully predictable! It is literally the exact same plot as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, a plot that was already more cliché than the Selfie! Just as was the case with previous Battlefield games, I could literally do an entire series on what’s wrong with Hardline’s campaign. There is almost nothing new here that hasn’t already been done better in other games. Everything that is new, will hopefully be put to better use by another studio, or in the inevitable sequel that this game’s ending teases so much.
So, if Visceral Games have failed to deliver with their campaign, what about the multiplayer? Did they ruin it? After all, Dead Space 2 was the last Visceral game to feature PVP and it wasn’t exactly showered with praise. I’m happy to report that the team has done their jobs properly here, and deliver a multiplayer experience similar to Battlefield 3 and 4, but with enough changes and additions to make it unique. It’s also been awhile since a Battlefield game has featured any of its own unique modes. Obliteration in Battlefield 4 was okay, but most of the new gametypes in Battlefield have been taken directly from other games, and in many cases, done worse.
Blood Money, Hotwire and Heist all borrow things from other modes, but the context and pace they’re used in often makes for a fun ride. There are combinations of maps and modes that don’t make for particularly fun games, but that’s the case for any Battlefield release. The faster pace in both player movement and vehicles also means that there aren’t nearly as many moments where you’re just wondering around waiting for vehicles to spawn or something to blow up. The action is more contained and amplified, and it’s a nice switch from the big scale matches of Battlefield 4.
The new gadgets also help, while you won’t have enough money to unlock these early on, once you do, you’ll have access to equipment such as gasmasks, nitrous oxide for your vehicles and laser trip-mines. You can also utilize the Zip line and Grappling Hook, two things that are not new to the series like Visceral Games suggest – Battlefield 2: Special Forces! *cough* – but are still fun and can be used strategically. There are many minor additions and changes added to the multiplayer as well, like being able to interrogate knocked out opponents to reveal their squad mates locations, rocket launchers can be stored in certain vehicles and you can lean out of windows in cars.
The four classes are equivalent to the ones found in Battlefield 4, with some alterations. They feel balanced and all have their own unique uses. As par for the course, early progression of the classes isn’t great, but once your arsenal selection opens up, the classes all become a lot more distinct and interesting. My only concern is that, because the Enforcer (Support) has a shotgun as his starter weapon, the class rarely gets selected on larger maps, which can lead to many teammates running out of ammo. It’s a small complaint that is nothing new to Battlefield, but is noticeable here.
Probably the biggest issue with this game’s multiplayer is the collision system, or lack-there-of. Being that this game is running off of the same engine as Battlefield 4, and with similar code, Hardline still uses the same collision system as the previous game. This wasn’t too much of a problem in Battlefield 4, because vehicles rarely crashed into one another at high speeds, and if they did, usually not for very long. Hardline however employs vehicles that are faster and tougher than those of their counterparts, and in certain modes and maps – especially Hotwire – the flaws of this collision and physic system start to rear their ugly head. This is evident with jumps too, where my vehicle would behave more like a rubber band rather than a two ton V8 death machine. This won’t be a problem in the two new competitive modes, as they are entirely infantry focused with ten players in each match. Both these modes, Rescue and Crosshair don’t allow the players to respawn.
While I doubted these modes at first and thought they were nothing more than a rip off Counter Strike, they’re actually great fun! And fit really well with the increased movement speed and generally faster gameplay. As is with any mode of this nature, having one bad teammate is as horrendous as swallowing rusty tin; but with players of equal skill level, it frequently leads to some very tense matches, some are even more exciting than the 32 player modes.
As for presentation, Battlefield: Hardline does a good job, with sound design by far being the main highlight. Every single weapon, vehicle and environment is perfection. All guns from LMG’s to pistols sound beefy and bass-y, Muscle cars roar by and sound effects are loud and present. Graphically its own par with Battlefield 4, with some areas that look great and areas that don’t look so great. I played lots of the PS4 version and the framerate runs very smoothly for the most part. It may drop a bit when things get really insane, but it’s always playable, and never affected me during the competitive modes. On the PC, it’s better optimized than previous games and it’s less demanding, thanks to the focus on small scale infantry combat, rather than 64 player open ground building collapsing chaos.
To summarize, Battlefield: Hardline is a Battlefield game in every sense of the word. The campaign is still not worth anything near the asking price, it has some annoyances and it’s meant to be played with friends in a squad. Just like BF: Vietnam and BF: 2142, it does not reinvent the wheel, but it does enough unique things to be called its own, and if you’re looking for chaotic multiplayer fun, you can never go wrong with Battlefield Hardline. Now with that said, Visceral, you brought back the Zip Line and Grappling Hook, now where’s my jetpack!?
***This game reviewed on PC and a code was provided by the Publisher.***