The moving of the Battlefield series from being one solely developed by the famed Dice to one that includes Dead Space creator, Visceral - with the two alternating development duties between them on a game by game basis - was hardly greeted with the warm reception that EA would have liked. But now that the game has finally arrived on store shelves everywhere, has the game managed to deliver the substantial change of direction needed to make this effort stand up as its own viable product away from the core Battlefield series? Well, the short answer to that question is almost.
The highlight of Battlefield: Hardline (as far as the campaign goes) is that the enemies you encounter whilst playing through it all have some sort of respect for the police, so whipping out your badge to identify yourself before arresting them usually causes them all to stand rigid in fear, allowing you to cuff them, which then takes them out of the game. The beauty of this is that it gives the player a variety of options as to how they can tackle each encounter, and the levels that house them are all designed to encourage stealthy gameplay, allowing the player to manoeuvre themselves around the criminals they meet to take them down with limited fuss. Unlike other Battlefield games, you really don’t have to just shoot everyone that you met in the face, and what I was rather pleased to find in my time playing Hardline, was that this really was the furthest thing from my mind, and this was definitely a real surprise.
This complete change of approach, as well as pace, made for a refreshing change, and I must say, it was this that proved to be the main highlight of the experience. Keeping my ammo at maximum levels managed to provide a level of satisfaction that would have otherwise been impossible should I have approached the game as just another first person shooter, which you can still do, but really, where’s the fun in that?
Completing levels sees the player rewarded with experience that allows them to level up and unlock additional gadgets and weapons, the bulk of which are firearms, the bizarre part of this is that players are rewarded additional XP for being stealthy, yet the main reward for doing so are a variety of firearms that simply aren’t going to be used, at least not during the first playthrough anyway. This just happens to be ever so slightly contradictory to the game’s promotion of authentic police behaviour, not to mention frustrating to the player, should they be attempting to complete the game killing as few people as possible. With rewards tailored to the player’s approach, the campaign could have been a very satisfying experience that promoted multiple playthroughs, yet sadly, this remains an opportunity that the developer somehow missed.
Likewise, for as dynamic and expressive as the bulk of the campaign is, there are also several horrendously scripted events that sit completely at odds with the main levels, these highlight a backwards approach to game design that sullies the experience that Hardline could easily have been, and that really is quite disappointing. When it’s free flowing and incorporating an open ended approach to tackling missions, Battlefield: Hardline can actually be a joy to play, but the overall experience is let down by overtly scripted action sequences, long winded dialogue and some patchy visuals, this I will come to later on, but I will first turn my attention to the online side of the game, the aspect that Battlefield is most commonly celebrated for.
The online side of Hardline features a number of game modes, some of which will be immediately recognisable to existing Battlefield fans, whilst others are not so. The main game type is Heist, which pits two teams against one another as a group of criminals attempt to steal two bags from a vault, with a team of police attempt to stop them. It feels rather confusing initially but ultimately, Heist is essentially an inferior version of Rainbow Six: Vegas’ Attack and Defend which did a far greater job of creating tension as the clock ticked downwards. Hotwire on the other hand is very much like Halo’s Infected, crossed with Conquest, except that the areas that players must take control of are vehicles that must be driven around at high speed in order to earn cash, the team with the most money come the end of the game wins. Visceral were perhaps inspired by a certain Jan de Bont action film, as players must attempt to reach, and maintain, a certain speed in order to start earning money, and the result, much like the film, is a raucous, highly enjoyable affair.
In addition, players can take part in games of Blood Money (essentially capture the flag), Crosshair (a team of crooks attempt to take out a target under police protection), Team Deathmatch and two variants of Conquest (large and small). Yet out of all of the modes available, I must admit that I probably had the most fun with Rescue; this is a mode in which a gang of criminals have taken two hostages that they must defend from an onslaught from the police who have to rescue at least one of them, or take out every one of the kidnappers. To make things more interesting though, each player only has one life, so a bit of tact is needed if you hope to make it out alive.
Graphically speaking, Hardline is rather patchy to say the least, though to its credit, it runs at a rock solid 60fps on both Xbox One and PS4, but there have obviously been compromises. In the single player game, destruction looks fantastic on the whole, though the first sequence that you play through is blighted by the use of sprites to replicate a pile of cash as it cascades downwards in the air, disappearing as it falls back to the ground. Character models as well look very good indeed, and certainly rank as some of the best that I have seen, yet the game world itself suffers from substandard foliage and some generally poor looking buildings, the lighting though is excellent throughout. In terms of audio, the game is also a tad patchy, the main score is fine, if a tad generic, and the sound design on the whole is fantastic (as one expects in a Battlefield game), but the licensed soundtrack is absolutely terrible, and the constant blast of KRS One’s “Sound of da Police” at every loading screen (in single player) is more than a tad bothersome to say the least.
On the whole, Battlefield: Hardline feels a tad disappointing, its patchy graphics and inconsistent gameplay muddle what had the potential to be a very good game, it’s police show styling and over the top, though common story are real plus points, but the experience on the whole still feels rather mundane and underwhelming. There’s certainly enough about Hardline to warrant a single playthrough of the campaign, and perhaps more than that, it offers enough glimpses into the game that Visceral were attempting to make that they really should get a second crack at it. Perhaps then the team can make a more focused and consistent gaming experience to fully rival the very best iterations in the Battlefield series.