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Battlefield: Hardline Review

by William Schwartz

For many, the announcement of Battlefield: Hardline was a little too soon.  Battlefield 4 was one of the highest profile botched launches of the last few years, and had problems that persisted for months.  The announcement of this new Battlefield game felt like EA was trying to sweep those problems under the rug and move along.  But it wasn’t just the fact that Battlefield 4 had problems that gave some trepidation about Battlefield: Hardline.  It was also blatantly clear that Hardline is a lateral move for the popular shooter series — an entry that largely builds off of the foundation of the previous game, one that the massive Battlefield community are still playing.   Many called Battlefield: Hardline a $60 Battlefield 4 mod after playing the game’s initial alpha test sessions.  That claim may be a little hyperbolic.  Visceral Games, the studio that developed the Dead Space series takes the development lead with Hardline, and fully commits to the cops and robbers theme.  Visceral offers up a single player storyline that feels more ambitious than recent efforts by DICE, and makes surprisingly good use of the tried and true multiplayer mechanics of Battlefield games in brand new competitive online modes that pit cops vs. crooks.  Battlefield: Hardline feels both new and familiar, and no more egregious than other annual franchises that offer only marginal improvements on a yearly basis.  This is a Battlefield game, its contents are what you would expect if a new one came out each year.

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Battlefield: Hardline feels distinctly different on the single player front.  Visceral’s footprint is clearly visible, and while you can tell that Hardline’s single player is from the Battfield lineage — engine, drestruction, assets, progression, etc — the way that the game is structured in terms of gameplay, story telling, and other facets is something unique when compared to Battlefield campaigns that have come before it.  If anything, Hardline’s single player mode is ambitious.

Playing as a Vice squad officer in the Miami Police Department, players assume the role of Nick Mendoza.  The story is told through episodes that ape a cop drama television series.  It’s an interesting way to introduce this do good protagonist and his involvement in a transcontinental drug war. That which takes him on a twisting journey about power and corruption.  Playing as an officer of the law, Visceral doesn’t just send you into first person shooter scenarios guns blazing.   Battlefield: Hardline’s single player gameplay is focused heavily on stealth and apprehending suspects instead of killing them.

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Instead of facing wave after wave of enemies like in previous Battlefield games, in most cases, levels play on a smaller scale.  A fewer amount of enemies are actively patrolling an area.  Players can sneak up on them and reveal themself as a police officer by flashing their badge with the left bumper.  The enemies will then surrender and you can handcuff them.  Eliminating some of the tedium of the normal shooting gallery gameplay that Battlefield is known for.  Badge flashing essentially works in all cases, assuming you catch these enemies by surprise.  Vision cones and sound play a large role in whether or not you catch them off guard.  Sneaking up behind enemies while crouching and flashing your badge before they open fire will almost always result in you getting the opportunity to detain the criminals without firing a shot.  You can approach up to as many as 3 enemies at once and make them surrender.  Though they can and will still reach for their weapons during this process.  A red meter indicates that an enemy is going to try for their weapon and shoot you. You can lessen this probability by aiming your weapon at these anxious AI.  Your NPC partner will also help out in these situations, keeping a gun trained on the other suspects as you detain your target.  This stealth mechanic persists throughout the game and makes each level in Hardline feel much different than other Battlefield campaigns, if nothing else.

Badge flashing is coupled with other stealth mechanics like distractions to separate enemies.  The player is also equipped with a scanner that can be used to survey areas and tag criminals across the map, allowing you to plan your attack, looking for alarm systems, explosive devices, and high profile targets that have outstanding warrants.  Capturing these high profile individuals result in rewards, and the scanner can also be used to uncover evidence, much like the detective mode found in the Batman Arkham games.  These are the core mechanics of Battlefield: Hardline’s single player story, and are relied on more often than shooting it out with enemies.  When stealth mode is broken and the guns do come out,  Hardline plays more like a traditional Battlefield game. The biggest difference is that areas are smaller and feature indoors locales.  This means small scale destruction and debris are a big part of the visual flair of Hardline. When levels devolve into these shootout battles, it’s basically your core shooting gallery gameplay.  But, you have to remember that in many cases a pistol is your primary weapon as a police officer, so enemies many times feel stronger than you as they are packing automatic weapons and rifles. As the story progresses you’ll earn more guns to use, by completing investigations or picking them up off of corpses.  It’s quite easy to die if a gun fight actually does break out.  It doesn’t happen often if you don’t want it to.  You can always alert enemies by firing the first shot, then Hardline will play like a contemporary first person shooter.

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With 10 “episodes” that can be played through in between 20-40 minutes a piece, Hardline’s campaign is a short, well-paced, single player experience.  Visually, Hardline is a mixed bag.  At some points the game looks very good with exceptional lighting, water effects, and backdrops.  At others, it can look dingy and low resolution, with weird unnatural NPC animations or car physics.  Enemy character models are constantly reused in Battlefield: Hardline as well.  And it wouldn’t be all that noticeable if you weren’t getting up close and personal with these characters during the detaining process. But when it’s all said and done, you feel like you’ve detained the same characters, over and over, only in a different outfit.  Battlefield: Hardline’s single player campaign feels like a step in the right direction for Battlefield, but that’s not saying much.  Considering that recent Battlefield campaigns have been panned by critics, the change in gameplay only goes so far in making this feel fresh.  There’s no real progression in the game, other than unlocking some new weapons, the features that are introduced to you at the onset of the game will be what the entire campaign revolves around for its entirety. Battlefield: Hardline single player most certainly does not have the fit and finish from Visceral that we saw with the Dead Space series, but it’s not entirely intolerable.

The good news is, most people don’t buy Battlefield games for the story or single player mode.  When it is decent, it’s a bonus, and Battlefield: Hardline is a decent single player game, but not much more. It has unlockable difficulty that could bring you back to play it again, but it really isn’t good enough to warrant a second playthrough, unless you wanted to uncover and solve all of the outstanding cases by securing all the evidence on each level (of that there is a lot). You’ll also earn a slew of Battlepacks for your efforts.  The biggest feature, and the one that you’ll come back to time and again is competitive multiplayer, and Visceral doesn’t stray too far from DICE’s recent games with Hardline.  The wheel has not been reinvented, but perhaps renamed and re-skinned.

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Battlefield: Hardline feels like a Battlefield game online.  It plays relatively similarly to Battlefield 4 actually, and that’s not a huge surprise.  People like Battlefield games for the way they play, for high player counts, vehicles, squad-based combat, and customization.  It’s all here.  If you’ve played a recent Battlefield game, you’ll slide right into Hardline.  There aren’t many new rules to learn.  In fact, Conquest, Battlefield’s marquee mode has two variations, and it’s just as fun in Hardline as it is in other Battlefield games.  This series has a tendency to put a huge smile on your face in those ‘I can’t believe that just happened’ moments, and they happen in just about every game mode.  Hotwire, a driving mode, not so much.

Conquest will probably end up being the most played mode due to familiarity, but the real gems are the Cops vs Crooks modes.  Some have been seen in the Alpha and Beta tests.  There are Heists, which essentially pits cops vs. robbers where the crooks look to blow open a vault and then escape with the loot.  It’s variation on capture the flag, but it’s very fun to play.  Players can use all sorts of in-game items to get an advantage: grappling hooks, zip lines, armored vehicles.  Heists can be performed with surgical precision and coordination or the shit can just hit the fan.  It’s usually the latter. Between all the shooters that come out on a yearly basis, we rarely get a chance to play different types of game modes.  Most players probably stick to what they like, and Hardline will make a compelling case to try new things as there are other cops and crooks objective modes that also deserve some attention.

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No matter what mode you look at, Hardline feels like a faster Battlefield multiplayer game.  It controls roughly the same, regardless of class and kit, but it always feels like you are close to the action wherever you die on any of the game’s nine levels.  Which have quite a bit of variety in them.  Some weapons have been changed to be appropriate for these non-military units, and things like rocket launchers can actually be found on the map instead of being a weapon you can select in your loadout.  Speaking of which, loadouts are a lot more flexible than previous Battlefield games.  While there’s still plenty to unlock through progression, Hardline allows you to unlock guns by using in-game currency that you get from playing games.  These purchasable items extend into not only guns but sidearms, gadgets, grenades, and melee weapons.

Did these minor changes need to be a full-priced game?  In my opinion, yes.  Hardline feels like a complete full priced game if its competitors like Call of Duty have been doing the same thing for nearly a decade.  DICE has been pretty good about pushing new BIG features as new Battlefield games have arrived.  The changes in Hardline are minor and are only included to better the theme of this game.  This is a Battlefield game through and through though.  The bad part is that DICE has released multiplayer add-ons that have done massive changes to multiplayer before (BC: Vietnam), and they were a lot less expensive.  Is it possible that this could have been DLC for Battlefield 4?  Maybe, but it might not have seen as many unique game modes and features made explicitly to further the cops vs. crooks theme.  Visceral goes all in here, and the multiplayer is a lot of fun to play because of it.

So the other big question is going to be whether or not this game will hold up for public consumption.  After all, Battlefield 4 was a horrible launch experience that would rarely let you connect to a game.  Which was then followed by months of poor servers with serious rubber-banding and lag issues.  Our review consisted of playing in real multiplayer servers with what I assume to be players that had subscribed to EA Access.  I don’t know how many more players will be online when the game launches, but that small sampling played well.  There were no indications that the old problems of Battlefield 4 were here for Hardline.

The Verdict

Battlefield: Hardline is a lateral move for the series. Despite getting the solo mode treatment from someone with more experience in Visceral Games, Hardline’s campaign comes off as merely passable.  Multiplayer is where the meat is though, and that’s always been the case.  Battlefield multiplayer games are fun when they work, Hardline appears to be working… for now.  That said, if you like Battlefield games, Hardline is isn’t a hard sell.  It’s more maps and modes in a familiar gameplay structure, fine tuned as a faster game.  If you already know Battlefield isn’t your thing, Hardline isn’t likely going to sway you with small changes.

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Battlefield: Hardline

  • Available On: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3
  • Published By: Electronic Arts
  • Developed By: Visceral Games, DICE
  • Genre: First Person Shooter
  • US Release Date: March 17th, 2014
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Battlefield: Hardline is a lateral move for the series. Even with a more ambitious single player offering, multiplayer continues to steal the show, offering best in-class gameplay when it works."
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The Good

  • Themed competitive modes are great.
  • Ton of multiplayer replay value
  • Flexible yet deep progression system
  • Online connection problems seem to not factor in

The Bad

  • Can look equally good and bad at times
  • A lot of reused character models
  • Odd looking animations for NPC characters
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