A Battlefield game that works at launch?
3,656SRP: £54.99Videogames are risky business, especially when it comes to big budget AAA titles; spin-offs and leveraging existing properties is a good way to mitigate the risk of a new product. I wouldn't be surprised if that, or something similar, was the opening of a design document over at Visceral Games when pitching Hardline to EA. You have to wonder though at this point; after the calamitous launch of Battlefield 4, and the subsequent damage to the brand as a whole, does the Battlefield name actually help or hinder Hardline?
One aspect where the result can only be positive is in single player. Outside of the Bad Company games, campaigns in the series have typically been glorified 6 hour tutorials. Hardline fully commits, buoyed by being able to leave behind the constricting military backdrop and taking a side step into the much more relatable, human and highly militarised police force.
Does the Battlefield name actually help or hinder Hardline?
The ShieldThat said, having left behind the shackles of a military shooter theme, Hardline wastes no time in spinning the same cop tale you have seen hundreds of times before. Good guy, dirty cops, twist, despair, redemption, end. It really is that predictable. At the very least it pulls it all off with a reasonable degree of panache. The episodic presentation with its buddy cop freeze frame intro straight out of an 80s TV show, and its sweeping skyline intros, nail the Miami Vice feel they were clearly aiming for. While protagonist Nick Mendoza only just passed my "Can you remember the name of the character you just spent 10 hours playing?" test (had to Google that surname...), his rotating band of sidekicks fill out the cast of stereotypes well. It could have done with introducing the comic foil a few chapters earlier, but the voice acting and dialogue rise above simply creating a parody of the source material, and manage to generate a reasonable facsimile.
This change in setting has the ability to change the gameplay drastically if you allow it to. You are endowed with the ability to sneak up on enemies and flash your badge (or eventually just point your finger) causing them to freeze and drop their weapons. As long as you keep your weapon trained on them you can approach, throw them to the ground and slap on one of your infinite set of cuffs and send them to sleep. For the first few levels this arrest mechanic, coupled with some light stealth tactics like avoiding line of sight and distracting enemies with shell casings, makes Hardline feel like more than you average Battlefield game. Sure, you have weapons, but in your new law abiding role arresting suspects is just the right thing to do and it also happens to be quite fun.
The problems begin a few levels in, when you realise what you thought was the tip of a new type of gameplay for the series is in fact the entire extent of the changes to the formula. There is an Arkham-esque detective mode where you collect evidence, tag suspects and identify high value targets, every now and again you will jump into a vehicle for a high speed chase and they even manage to shoe horn a reason in to drop you in a tank at one point, but once the thin coat of paint wears off, it's painfully obvious you have played this Battlefield game before. The stealth veneer is a welcome change but I found myself waiting for deeper reason to do any of it.
Slap on one of your infinite set of cuffs and send them to sleep
Cold CaseThe reward system is your expert level which goes up by completing objectives, scanning objects and other such activities. Your main source of this XP though is performing arrests, you don't get any reward for killing people. Which is fine; you're here to play a new type of Battlefield game, let's do this. The problem is if you use the arrest system most of the time you will hit Max level around halfway through and all XP then becomes irrelevant. To make matters worse, almost every single item unlocked by the expert system supports the complete opposite play style than Hardline encourages, but reminds you exactly which franchise it exists under. Congratulations, you just stealthed your way through that entire level disabling alarms and arresting everyone; have this P90, an MP5 and an assorted selection of sights and attachments that you won't need at any point!
This lead to me losing absolutely all interest in trying to play the game as it was intended, the mechanic is fun, but without any real motivation or reward for it, it becomes little more than a repetitive requirement that just took more time than the short melee animation. In fact, by the end of the campaign I had subverting the stealth down to an art. My class consisted of a suppressed sniper rifle, pistol and an ammo box which provided infinite ammo. I would make my way to the high point, typically provided at the beginning of a level, and mark out all the targets as usual. However, instead of making my way through the maze of AI paths and encounters, I would simply snipe everything that moved until I was given the all clear by my mini-map and walk to the next encounter. The AI was stupid enough to let me get away with it and it was just easier for everyone involved that way.
There are some interesting moments; with some good set pieces and character moments which stop the campaign from truly becoming a chore, but it certainly hasn't been improved enough to warrant more than the lone six hour play through either.
Straight off the bat the good news is that it just works
Burn NoticeWhich rather predictably brings us to the multiplayer. Straight off the bat the good news is that it just works. The one good thing to come from the endless patching and tweaking done on Battlefield 4 is that they have finally been able to launch a Battlefield title on on the new consoles with relatively little issue. Games connect quickly and reliably, performance in match remains steady and consistent; even in the first week of launch when servers are usually inundated with new players.
With that said, structurally the rest of the experience aligns very closely with the previous game. More of an emphasis is placed on infantry, smaller urban maps, fewer vehicles and higher body counts. The standard conquest, team death match and capture the flag variants appear as standard, but a few extra modes lean into the new theme for good measure. Blood Money has you stealing cash from both a central stockpile and your enemies' stash to see who can get to the target amount quickest. Hotwire takes the conquest formula mobile by making flags vehicles you must drive at high speed to capture. They even included some short 5v5, single life competitive modes like Crosshair where one person on each team gets designated the VIP and the game ends with either of their deaths.
In terms of moment to moment action, grappling hooks and zip lines provide some verticality but beyond that all your favourite Battlefield elements report for duty as expected. The unlock system has been modified slightly so you spend the cash you earn each game to unlock weapons and equipment in any order; but other than that it's the same classes, same weapons, same attachments... you get the point. If you have played either of the last two Battlefield games you know exactly what you are in for, the only question is are you ready to give it another chance yet?
The only question is are you ready to give it another chance yet?
- Some good campaign moments
- New modes are a welcome change
- Conflicted campaign game play
- Predictable cop tropes
- Carbon copy multiplayer
Battlefield Hardline Xbox One ReviewBattlefield Hardline is little more than an exercise in mitigating risk. Visceral could have easily developed Hardline untethered from the Battlefield name and really explored the ideas they flirt with here. Instead we get a single player that is conflicted between the type of game it wants to be and constantly playing it safe in both structure and content. Meanwhile, multi-player finally delivers the type of performance we expect but remains basically the exact same game with new maps and some extra modes thrown in that the majority of the player base won't explore anyway.
I have been looking for a Battlefield game which created a decent narrative since the days of Bad Company, and Hardline might just be the most disappointing of all the recent releases in that respect. Not only does it fail despite all the things it did right, it reveals that as long as the Battlefield name is on the box, the core of what that means mechanically for a game inherently restricts it from becoming what it needs to be to succeed. It needs to be more than just another Battlefield game, which is exactly what this is.
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