Someone probably should have told EA that releasing an incredibly over-the-top and violent version of cops and robbers carrying the Battlefield moniker at a time when police forces across the United States are being accused of racism and police brutality was maybe not a good idea. Now, I don’t think EA did this because they’re evil or The Worst Company in America (I mean, c’mon, Bank of America is way worse). I do, however, think this game just happened to get shown off at a bad time, and EA said, “Well, we’d better just release it and get it over with.”
Battlefield Hardline will always be saddled with those comparisons, but it doesn’t really deserve them. The campaign is more focused on aping Miami Vice and Bad Boys 2 than addressing any of that, which is a smart move on the part of developer Visceral Games. The story places you in the boots of Nick Mendoza, a cop of Cuban-American heritage, running drug busts in Miami (see, I told you) with his partner Khai Minh Dao, and the game even breaks everything up into stand-alone episodes, complete with “Previously on Battlefield Hardline” segments. The duo sniff out evidence of a corrupt cop who’s helping to run Miami’s drug trade. What follows is a myriad of car chases, shoot-outs, and arrests as Mendoza and crew travel from Florida to LA and back again to set things right.
"Sneak up behind an enemy and Mendoza can flash his badge, forcing up to three enemies to drop their weapons and put their hands in the air, allowing you the time to use his near limitless supply of handcuffs to arrest everyone.
It’s all pretty standard stuff, as far as corrupt cop stories go, but it’s fairly compelling and well-acted and has enough twists and turns that you’ll want to see how it plays out, despite the fact that you’ll probably be able to predict a lot of it beforehand. The game really just wants to be an action movie, and that’s fine, but it’s an action movie you’ve seen before: there’s the obligatory stealth mission inside of a big house, the big turret sequence, a fight in a mall, a sequence that requires you to break into a large corporate office, and more vehicle segments than you can shake a stick at, including one with a tank.
What you may not be expecting is that Hardline is secretly more of a stealth action game than a full on action title. In most missions, it’s better to sneak around your enemies’ limited vision cones (think Metal Gear Solid) than it is to engage in a full-blown firefight. Sneak up behind an enemy and Mendoza can flash his badge, forcing up to three enemies to drop their weapons and put their hands in the air, allowing you the time to use his near limitless supply of handcuffs (which persist long after having them makes sense in the plot) to arrest everyone. Still, you’ll have to keep your gun on them while you inch forward to bring them to justice. Leave one along too long, and he’ll get ideas – and pick up his gun and start firing, to boot.
Many of the game’s systems are built around the idea of arresting crooks rather than shooting them. Mendoza can distract enemies by tossing a spent shell casing, and has access to a scanner that has information on wanted suspects throughout the level who provide bonuses when arrested. Each arrest awards “expert points,” which unlock new weapons and gear for the player to use. There’s also evidence to collect and cases to solve, all of which deepen points of Hardline’s story, and award more coveted expert points. All this talk of sneaking doesn’t mean that you won’t engage in any firefights – this is a Battlefield game, after all – but going in guns blazing just isn’t as rewarding as doing things quietly.
"Those looking for an experience that’s more Battlefield than cops and robbers should feel right at home in Hardline’s Conquest mode, which preserves Battlefield’s large player count and focus on vehicular combat.
The only issue is that the stealth segments aren’t as free-form as they should be. Many areas only feature one or two viable paths if you want to stay hidden and arrest everyone, and you’ll only find many of them by trial and error. This becomes particularly grating in the later levels, if only due to the sheer amount of enemies you’ll have to go through, and because failure will result in restarting that entire section from the beginning.
Still, Hardline’s campaign is fun for what it is, even if what it is isn’t all that memorable outside of a few key sequences and the odd bit of humor. Like every other Battlefield game, Hardline’s heart and soul is its multiplayer, which remains strong, even if it has changed a little bit. The game’s new gadgets, like the grappling hook and zip line, give soldiers on the ground a ton of mobility, which means that Hardline has a more vertical feeling then previous games.
Fans of the previous entries in the franchise shouldn’t worry, though. Those looking for an experience that’s more Battlefield than cops and robbers should feel right at home in Hardline’s Conquest mode, which preserves Battlefield’s large player count and focus on vehicular combat. The more traditional Team Deathmatch makes an appearance as well, as does Commander Mode, which has been renamed “Hacker,” and allows you to drop tear gas, hijack cameras, and generally disrupt the other team.
"Both Rescue and VIP only allow you one life, and the intimate maps and team sizes feel best suited to the kind of game Hardline wants to be. They emphasize teamwork, patience, and skill, and the fast-paced nature of the modes means that every second counts.
By far the most interesting and compelling game modes, however, are the ones that are new to Hardline. Heist tasks a large group of criminals with cracking into vaults, stealing bags of cash, and escaping while the cops try and stop them. Hotwire requires both teams to capture marked vehicles and drive them around the map to deplete the other team’s tickets. The only issue is that the cars have to been driven at high speed to count. Think Conquest combined with Speed, and you have the right idea. Blood Money, meanwhile, charges both teams with retrieving and securing bags of cash in various vaults that have to be protected, lest they be pilfered by the opposing team.
My personal favorites were the ones that eschewed Battlefield’s traditional gameplay for smaller, five-on-five engagements. Rescue asks a group of cops to free at least one of two hostages and extract them to a safe area, while the criminals are charged with either taking out the cops or running down the time. VIP, on the other hand, has the cops trying to escort one player, who is designated as the VIP at the start of the round, to an extraction point, while the criminals are tasked with taking him before he has a chance to snitch.
Both modes only allow you one life, and the intimate maps and team sizes feel best suited to the kind of game Hardline wants to be. They emphasize teamwork, patience, and skill, and the fast-paced nature of the modes means that every second counts. They’re tense and exhilarating, and by far the best thing Hardline has to offer.
"If there’s one flaw that permeates all of Hardline, it’s that it doesn’t feel unique enough. It feels like Visceral wanted to make a stand-alone cop shooter, but were forced to make a Battlefield game featuring cops and crooks instead.
Of course, all of this is wrapped up Battlefield’s trademark audio and visual excellence, and best of all, the multiplayer runs perfectly. This ain’t no Battlefield 4. I connected to every match I played in, no joke, less than ten seconds, and every single one ran flawlessly for the duration.
If there’s one flaw that permeates all of Hardline, it’s that it doesn’t feel unique enough. It feels like Visceral wanted to make a stand-alone cop shooter, but were forced to make a Battlefield game featuring cops and crooks instead. Hardline has a lot of cool ideas, but it never goes far enough with them. Everything just feels like Battlefield with a slight twist, instead of a truly unique game with its own systems, which is a shame because the ideas here have a lot of potential.
What it all adds up to is a semi-unique game in the Battlefield franchise that features an enjoyable, if forgettable, campaign and a great multiplayer mode. Those looking for the more traditional Battlefield experience will still find it in Hardline, and those interested in Hardline’s unique take on Battlefield will find a lot to like here, especially in the smaller modes. In short, Visceral’s got something here. Now all they need to do next time is expand on it without courting more controversy.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Fun, if forgettable, campaign. Excellent multiplayer. New modes emphasize smaller player counts and objectives that make for intense matches. Classic Battlefield feel in Conquest. Multiplayer runs flawlessly. Impressive visuals and sound design.
Stealth segments in the campaign are pretty restrictive. Forgettable story and characters. Doesn’t do enough to capitalize on the cops and robbers premise.