Battlefield Hardline Review
The first half or so of Battlefield: Hardline is like a playable version of any given police procedural that networks use as standard filler in their lineups. The second half then turns into something approximating a Michael Bay film. Somehow, this mix works out, and for the first time in years, Battlefield has a decent campaign. Credit for such newfound competence can be traced to the smart decision on EA’s part to yank the franchise away from longterm bunglers DICE in favor of Hardline developer Visceral, a criminally underrated studio which clearly knows how to do single-player stuff (Dead Space, Dead Space 2).
Given a current political climate where any cop involved in any sort of violent police action is automatically assumed to enjoy feasting on the hearts of black children with their morning tea, there was a lot of preemptive pearl-clutching when it was announced the next Battlefield game was going to be doing a cops-and-robbers thing. The collective games press was Very, Very Concerned that this first person shooter would end up being about blowing away hordes of dark-skinned people, in lieu of the military first person shooter staple motif of blowing away hordes of dark-skinned people. Hardline wisely punts on the non-issue of how video game beep boop pew pews “should” represent real-world clusterfucks with a so-stupid-it’s-awesome narrative that forgoes social commentary for a comprehensive collage of every police drama cliche imaginable. Every cop is corrupt? Check. Token street-smart superhacker? You bet. Will your character be set up midway through the game, losing his gun and his badge as a result? Absolutely. Your main character (a rugged Cuban ex-pat detective with a Mysterious and Dark Past) even has a Hot Asian Chick partner (who may be a double agent). For God’s sake, the New And Dangerous Street Drug (™) you’re trying to stop is called “Hot Shots.” My only disappointment with the story came when the main antagonist — the head of a police PMC literally called “Preferred Outcomes” — didn’t end up being the father of my character, a possibility the game strongly hints at even in the last level. Also, not even a single character in this game is One Day From Retirement, which I think represents a huge missed opportunity, but that’s what sequels are for. (The game shamelessly sets itself up for one, in the most ridiculous way possible. You know how at the end of the Dark Knight Trilogy, Robin finds the Batcave bequeathed to him? I don’t know whose idea it was to transplant that kind of plot note onto police procedural nonsense, but I applaud their lunacy.)
Hardline’s attempt to introduce stealth gameplay to the Battlefield series is novel. It’s done through a mechanic where you flash a badge at an enemy to make them freeze and then keep your gun trained on them while moving in to take them down. If you’re attempting to arrest more than one perp, you’ll have to perform a sort of balancing act by making sure you move your gun among the group, so that nobody ever reaches full alert and calls for backup. It’s a ridiculous mechanic that makes little sense if you think about it at all, but it does provide a rewarding little feedback loop that is tied to unlocking new character levels and weapons. This game is more Law and Order SVU than The Departed, so its silliness is a feature, not a bug. Of course, if you’re of a mind to just shoot the hell out of everything that moves, that remains a viable option. The firefights in Hardline feel more intense than in past games, as your primary weapon for most of the game is a pistol, with beefier guns relegated to backup. This focus on tense, small-scale sidearm fights sort of falls away by the time you’re driving a tank in the back part of the game, but I still felt the attempt allowed Hardline to sidestep the trap of being another phoned-in military shooter campaign with a different coat of paint.
As implied earlier, Hardline’s motif is playable trash TV and the game wisely owns up to it, even opting for a TV-style opening credit sequence at the start of each level and a Netflix-style next episode countdown at the end. This extends to the voice actors, a group of moderately well-known character actors mostly imported from shows like The Shield. Such casting ensures the players involve know exactly what kind of material they’re working from, and the performances benefit greatly from this awareness.
Don’t misunderstand: If you’re not into multiplayer, Hardline absolutely can and should be blown through in a weekend rental. Unfortunately, I’m not the guy to tell you whether or not multiplayer is any good. Battlefield 4 had a notoriously disastrous launch and I have no interest in going back to that well. Regardless, I’m looking forward to more games shifting away from poorly emulating beloved movies to doing their best at emulating mindless television. Hardline is a good start in this direction.
Day One, Buy Cheap, Rent or Pass: Rent
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC