IBTimes UK will be reviewing the multiplayer portion of Battlefield Hardline
at a later date once the public servers are live.
Platforms: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC, 360, PS3
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: Friday, 20 March
Buy Battlefield Hardline on Amazon
Since the day of its announcement Battlefield Hardline had been labelled a glorified expansion pack for Battlefield 4.
Visceral Games' first entry in the series – filling in for DICE, who are off gallivanting in a galaxy far, far away – was revealed at E3 2014 with a public beta that played things a little too safe.
Speaking to IBTimes UK the game's creative director Ian Miller said the feedback from the beta prompted Visceral to do more with the license and stamp their authority. They certainly have done. Multiplayer includes five new modes that shake up the Battlefield formula, and then there's the single player campaign, an area where they could, and have, easily improved on past games.
Battlefield has never been about the single player and that has been evident in the lacklustre campaigns tacked on to each entry in the series to date, bar the Bad Company games which thrived due to their own distinct tone.
Hardline's main diversion from past games in the series is its cops and robbers theme, a theme that influences the game and its design choices throughout. Consequently there is less of a focus on big, hard-hitting military hardware, but not as much as you might think.
There are still stinger missiles and pimped out assault rifles, so it was inevitable given recent events in Ferguson, Missouri that the game would be called into question. Visceral's developers have tried to distance the game from that controversy citing that it is a work of fiction, but that's hardly an excuse.
Hardline doesn't take advantage of or revel in those horrific events, but it is indicative of the gung-ho culture that in part gave rise to more militarised law enforcement in the US. The game itself does nothing to offend, but poor timing will make it unpalatable for some.
The story however doesn't really fit with that debate. There are cops sure, and there are heavy weapons, but Visceral have done well to manage both and offer options that don't make killing the only answer.
Visceral have made a lot of the talent hired to help craft a story with a style and structure influenced by television rather than Hollywood. Bill Johnson and Wendy Calhoun, who have worked on Justified, The West Wing and Revenge, among others, both played a part in the creation of the campaign.
Visceral's theory is that television is an experience a lot closer to gaming than movies, and there's certainly logic there – but gaming has outgrown trying to emulate other mediums. So while their intentions were good and many positives have been born out of them, there isn't quite so much need for all the fanfare.
Players are put in the boots of Nick Mendoza (Nicholas Gonzalez), an idealistic cop plunged into a Miami drug war. Starting out small with a feel similar to any generic cop show, by the end the story has evolved into something closer to Commando as the plot turns from detective thriller to silly vengeance-fuelled action. To the writers' credit, that change isn't totally jarring either.
Their script is good if nothing special and it's all well-acted by a diverse cast of character actors from screens big and small. Clearly proud of their work there is a strong whiff of self-indulgence about the campaign. Sure the character models look great and the cutscenes are well put together, but they break up the gameplay too often.
Naff driving sections which are practically on rails also break up the moments of action, which are great in the moment but early on should have lasted longer. In terms of sacrificing gameplay for story this a million miles away from The Order: 1886, but there is a sense of the story getting in the way unnecessarily sometimes.
When there is gameplay, Hardline borrows heavily from Far Cry's outposts, with enemy encounters taking place in areas with a set amount of enemies (more if you're seen and an alarm is activated), and the ability to scope out each area beforehand, tagging criminals and objects of interest, including explosive barrels or tanks, and alarms you can disable.
This approach is a great fit for Battlefield and Hardline's cops and robbers theme, and it accounts for the campaign's best moments, particularly a final mission which could have been ripped straight out of Ubisoft's successful franchise. In that mission there's a cutscene at the start and at the end with nothing but fun, open gameplay between, as should have been the case with each mission.
If Hardline had cast players as a police officer and instructed them to blast their way through levels with wanton abandon then Visceral would have had a lot to answer for given those events in Ferguson, but the reality is a lot less sinister.
Sure the ability to engage in gunfights at any opportunity is there - it was never going away - but death can come quickly, so a quieter option is available. Being a cop, Mendoza has the ability to arrest suspects by ordering up to three to freeze with a tap of the left shoulder button then keeping each at bay with a pointed gun.
From there player can tap R3 to take them down and cuff them (using Mendoza's apparently infinite supply of handcuffs). "But Ben, wouldn't the criminals alert their buddies once arrested?" No... errr, because each one instantly falls asleep instantly and for no apparent reason. It's nonsense of course, but it doesn't take away from a viable and fun alternative style of play.
That approach also makes the gunfights less controversial. If you're spotted, enemies open fire, giving the police officer cause to fire back. That whole discussion verges on dicey territory, but it's a sign Visceral have considered the ideal role of a respectable police officer.
Without giving the plot away, things get more personal in the campaign's second half making the scenery-decimating shoot outs less of an issue in that context as Mendoza strays from his law enforcing beginnings. In fact the game gets better and feels more at ease with itself as the story moves away from cops and robbers and closer to the sort of action movie flavour we regularly see in such games.
The arrest mechanic remains (why is Mendoza arresting people and who exactly is fishing arrested perps out of an abandoned desert silo I have no idea) keeping the choice alive and allowing players to influence in their own way who the character is and what he is becoming. The story gives Mendoza a reason to go on a rampage, but the player can choose to keep him close to his policeman roots – it's not explicit, but it is there. The ending is also open-ended in a slight enough way to capitalise on this without starving the game of resolution.
In my play-through I was tactically considerate and arrested criminals much more than I fired the first bullet - and I enjoyed that. For a stealthy approach it is surprisingly robust and satisfying, as is the whole single player – which we haven't been able to say about a Battlefield game for a long time.