Battlefield: Hardline – The Battle for Tone and Execution
Sometimes all a compelling FPS needs is to immerse the player.
In trying to mitigate the disappointment that Battlefield 4 had caused, I decided to go back and try arguably one of the most-loved titles in the series’ history, namely Battlefield: Bad Company 2. One look at the game shows you that DICE had its pulse on the single-player more than anything but it was amazing just how much the game got right in terms of pacing, plot, characterization and tone. It was enough to make one forget about the often annoying set-pieces that would occur at times or some monotonous mechanics or even the fairly rote story.
"But even with the yearly focus on sequels, EA seemingly wants to get back the tone that embodied games like Bad Company 2."
The progression to a more multiplayer-focused game happened with Battlefield 3 but the seeds were planted with the success of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. We could no longer simply do with a great single-player campaign and average multiplayer. Consumers, it seems, just wanted an explosive, on-rails shooting experience as part of their story – with only a few bite-sized moments to carry going forward – and an expansive multiplayer mode with skill trees, XP, Perks and whatnot.
To its credit, Battlefield 3 achieved this transition rather seamlessly. It created its own unique niche for multiplayer, thanks to an expansive Conquest mode, and set itself apart with more realistic mechanics. For all the anger lobbed at the single-player campaign, which was no Bad Company 2, it was a significantly decent companion to the game.
Now that Battlefield: Hardline is due this year, it’s possible that EA is floundering a bit. DICE has already had a major Battlefield title in recent times with Battlefield 4 and is now focused on efforts like Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars Battlefront. Meanwhile, Visceral’s Dead Space series has been put on hold, giving it full reign to develop the next sequel. Battlefield is now completely in Call of Duty’s groove, releasing a sequel each year to capitalize on the popularity of the franchise.
Of course, Battlefield 4 was a mess in every sense of the word. The single-player campaign was embarrassingly simple and mundane while multiplayer was broken right out of the box. “Broken” would in fact be the wrong word since many of us couldn’t even play it to know how messed up it was. When your leading flagship shooter still isn’t perfectly patched after being out for almost a year, there are problems to be had.
"The problems will begin to arise when settle into a decidedly Battlefield-tone of doing things. This is marked by a disappointing single-player coupled with an over-hyped and under-achieving multiplayer."
But even with the yearly focus on sequels, EA seemingly wants to get back the tone that embodied games like Bad Company 2. The multiplayer of Battlefield: Hardline is primarily derived from its tone, which is urban warfare or SWAT vs. criminals. It looks to embody VICE-like properties with detective Nick Mendoza seeking revenge on his partner following a drug deal gone bad while hotspots and bank robberies are highlighted. The scale isn’t so much smaller as it is more personal and gritty.
Single-player may have long since been neglected for first person shooters, but with more and more games simply bypassing it and offering more compelling multiplayer – Titanfall and PlanetSide 2 come to mind – it’s slowly becoming obvious that the big companies need to step up their efforts. Perhaps this is why Sledgehammer Games managed to impress us with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s story and characters, something we haven’t said about a Call of Duty title since Modern Warfare 2 (and wow were we disappointed). This may also be the reason for a renewed single-player focus but for now, it’s all about the theme and how it will drive mechanics.
Battlefield: Hardline is thankfully taking its theme and trying things it’s never done before. There are multiplayer modes pitting cops against crooks in bank robberies and hostage rescues along with fighting in favelas for drug money. You could argue that these are simply re-skinned versions of classic multiplayer modes without any real change in mechanics but Hardline is attempting to leverage its urban environments by introducing grappling hooks and ziplines. For now, they’re trying and we applaud them for the same.
"Thus far, it has our curiosity. Will it have our attention eventually?"
The problems will begin to arise when settle into a decidedly Battlefield-tone of doing things. This is marked by a disappointing single-player coupled with an over-hyped and under-achieving multiplayer. Battlefield 4 wanted to be bigger than anything else out there and subsequently failed to support its own massive weight. Battlefield: Hardline wants to be something very specific and focused. It feels like we’re setting ourselves up at this point to be disappointed, honestly, but it all goes right back to the tone.
If Visceral can pull of an authentic tone to Hardline, then even if the game is relatively unfinished at launch, it will succeed in immersing players into the game. It will make them actually – believe it or not – like the game. Titanfall has had severe content deficiency issues since launch but what’s kept the game going? The overall tone and mechanics of the multiplayer which deliver a compelling, new experience that people can enjoy and be immersed. It’s amazing how much gamers are willing to forgive when they’re having fun for the right reasons.
This doesn’t mean Battlefield: Hardline should be unfinished or as buggy as Battlefield 4 at launch. It only means that Visceral will need to work a bit harder to convince gamers that its theme is cool, worth a look and eventually, worth falling in love with. Thus far, it has our curiosity. Will it have our attention eventually? We’ll need to watch at E3 2014 and for the coming months to find out.