It’s 13 years since the first Battlefield game was launched by Electronic Arts. And in the course of that time the location has changed – from World War II through Vietnam and the Middle East to the near future – and the underlying technology has become much, much more sophisticated. But the underlying premise has always remained the same: you take up arms as a soldier on one of two sides, gear up in some variation of green or grey battledress and run, drive, fly, stab and shoot your way to victory in some variant of a capture the flag-type game.
Until now. Battlefield: Hardline is the first real variation on a theme that was – if we’re honest – getting a little tired. Sure, Battlefield 4 had awesome collapsing buildings and impressive looking seas, but it wasn’t really all that different to Battlefields gone by, was it? Hence Battlefield: Hardline. Not so much a field as streets. And not so much streets as corners, in fact. Because this is old-fashioned cops’n’robbers, given the Battlefield twist.
The game itself came out a couple of weeks ago, but we decided to give it a fighting chance before we wrote about it. Because the premise is new to Battlefield and there are a number of new modes in the multiplayer section that require some time to come to grips with, we thought it would only be fair to give Hardline a bit of time to allow ourselves to test everything as thoroughly as possible.
It’s a hard-knock life
Games that have a huge multiplayer component often suffer from a lack of creativity and originality in the single player – and previous Battlefield’s have had utterly skippable campaign modes attached which frankly only serve to distract you from the real fun to be had online. Arch-rival Call of Duty – which started out as a single player game – has always been far more compelling in terms of plot and adventure than the straight fight-em-up of Battlefield, and nothing changes here.
The plot is an almost-predictable journey into the dark world of dirty cops and backhand deals, and naturally it is up to the hero to save the day and expose the corruption that has been plaguing the Miami police department.
Playing as detective Nick Mendoza, you are partnered with Khai Minh Dao (played by Kelly Hu) after a drug raid with your previous partner goes a bit south. As it turns out, most of the officers in the Miami police station are a bit crooked, and as the story unfolds you have to figure out who is behind everything and end it.
There is nothing that Mendoza couldn’t have done if he wasn’t a police officer, and so the game fails to convey that feeling of actually being a cop. As a result, Mendoza comes across less like a police officer and more as a rogue vigilante on a quest for personal justice.
The mechanics of the single-player campaign also follow the standard Battlefield formula, which consists of a number of “clear out and escape” missions interspersed with some driving bits that are hugely annoying.
It would have been fantastic if you had to chase down some bank robbers at 160km/h on the highway, but instead the driving parts have you trying to outrun gang members and missile-firing helicopters. GTA VI this ain’t.
Not very cop-like
Besides the pre-determined, linear way of storytelling, the game at least allows you to approach hostile situations in a number of ways: you can either go in guns blazing and shoot up the whole place, or you can approach it with stealth, silently apprehending suspects as you make your way through the level.
While you are free to choose, the game not-so-subtly encourages you towards the stealth option, as you will earn more experience points that way. Nevermind that the enemies are all quite obviously involved in criminal proceedings, if you shoot them without warning, you earn almost no experience points.
The accumulation of said experience points go a long way in the game: they contribute towards your overall rank, with the maximum being Level 15, and each rank rewards you by unlocking better weapons and gear which can then be swapped out mid-mission. I managed to hit the level cap on the seventh chapter (there are 10 in total), leaving me feeling the levelling mechanic was not yet properly balanced.
As you get closer to your final goal, the missions vary between indoor and large outdoor areas, so at least you are not confined to just having to track down your suspect through boring corridor after boring corridor.
By far the silliest part of Hardline’s single-player campaign is the way Mendoza apprehends bad guys. Whenever he yells “Freeze!”, every single suspect, without fail, obediently freezes, puts their hands up and submits to being cuffed. Immediately upon hearing the cuffs clink closed, they all fall asleep, with a line of ZZZZZZZZZs floating upwards from their mouths to indicate they’re kipping.
By the end of it all, the single player campaign proved rather disappointing. The basic shooting mechanics like hit-detection, weapon handling and damage dealt work well enough, but the overall feel of the campaign was a bit off. That’s partly because of the obedient and sleepy bad guys but mostly because you could replace the “cop” element with a “lone wolf crusader on a mission for justice” type story without affecting the plot too much.
There are also none of the cop things we would have liked to see, like calling for backup, shouting into a megaphone “You are surrounded”, or actually hauling suspects off to jail, and even if taken from a detective’s point, there is no way that a rogue detective would get up to all the things Mendoza does.
With a bit of tweaking and perhaps longer consultation with their local police force, Hardline’s single-player could have been so much more. As it is, it’s disappointingly dull.
With a little help from my friends
Being a Battlefield title, there is a huge, vocal and very active online community. For years, thousands of players have spent countless hours trying to reach objectives, hunting other players and blowing things up, and Hardline stays true to these core principles, but adds in some new modes specific to its new cops-and-robbers theme.
Viseral, the EA studio behind the game, introduced a number of new game modes that make surprisingly good use of the cops vs bad guys dynamic, while also maintaining the usual Team Death Match and Conquest modes that are the historical fallbacks of the series.
This mode can be a lot of fun, but only if you work in a team of like-minded players.
The premise is simple: you either have to break into a vault, steal two bags of cash and make it to the extraction point (if you are the robbers – cops obviously have to stop you nicking the stuff).
The key here is to work as a team, and that can be somewhat difficult if you are are not familiar with the people you’re playing with.
This new mode is very similar to any Capture the Flag (CTF) game you care to name, just with mobile capture points. Here, playing as a cop or a robber doesn’t make much of a difference, as both teams have to commandeer several vehicles scattered around the handful of maps and use them to whittle the opposing team’s tickets down.
Once a vehicle has been driven for a short time, it becomes a mobile objective point. The longer you manage to hold on to the car, the faster the opposing team’s tickets will deplete. The first team to reduce the other team’s tickets to nil, wins.
Hotwire is an incredibly easy way to level up your online character, earn cash and unlock better gear, as you will get experience points and cash for just riding along. If you are a mechanic and can repair any damage along the way, the bonuses will be even bigger.
It is an interesting take on an old game mechanic, but in a strange way it kind of works.
It must be said, though, that while it is great for making a quick buck, the mode can become a bit monotonous after a while as there isn’t a lot of skill involved while driving the car, or in simply riding along and hoping the car doesn’t blow up.
This mode is similar in style to Heists, but instead of one team trying to get to the money while the other team has to stop them, Blood Money sees both teams going for the same pile of cash.
It is one of the more frantic modes in the multiplayer line-up, as both teams have to make their way to a central stack of bank notes and then escape to drop it off at their own vault. It is once again a mode best enjoyed with friends, as you will need to co-ordinate your plan of attack since you’ll need to make several trips to the cash.
As the name implies, the team of five robbers hold two hostages for ransom, and the team of five police officers have to move in on the building where they are being kept, and rescue them.
The matches are only 3 minutes a side, but what makes it really interesting is that no respawns are allowed – once you are dead, you are dead. Criminals win by eliminating all the cops, while cops win by rescuing at least one hostage.
It’s a fun mode if you just want a quick fix, but it can be hugely frustrating if you are the first person to go down – nobody wants to be that guy. So just don’t be that guy, and you’ll be fine.
Out of all the modes, Crosshair is probably the least played mode according to the empty servers we’ve seen, as it is slightly different from and not as much fun as the other modes.
It is similar to Rescue, but instead of the cops having to save the hostages, they have to escort a VIP – who is a randomly selected player on the team – to an extraction zone.
The criminals just need to kill the VIP to win, while the cops need to defend him every step of the way to the chopper. There are also no respawns on this one, making it quite a challenge for the cops and a relative breeze for the bad guys.
Best with friends
As with any multiplayer game – but especially a Battlefield title – jumping into a multiplayer match with friends is the most fun you can have.
The variety of multiplayer modes is all fine and dandy, but the problem is they all end up feeling very similar, and there are only about five or six maps in each rotation.
Hotwire proved to be the most enjoyable of the new modes, not because it was especially new or adrenaline fuelled, but because we found ourselves just cruising around, chit-chatting about other things as we tried to take the objectives. Perhaps it’s a sign of getting older, but it was the one mode we kept coming back to.
Still the same but different
It is always great to see developers taking a risk with new modes and game themes, but gamers rightly expect the results to be daring and exciting. and, most importantly, different to what came before.
Hardline seems less convinced of its own merits, and ends up leaning far more on Battlefield’s legacy than it should; as a result its efforts to take the franchise in a new direction come across as disappointingly mediocre.
The Call of Duty franchise is a stellar example of how to spin off one central idea off into three differently-themed but similar games – Modern Warfare, Black Ops and Advanced Warfare – but EA doesn’t seem to know yet how to get it right with their own IP.
The single player campaign, while it was entertaining in the moment, doesn’t leave a significant, lingering impression, and the multiplayer could have been so much better if EA and Visceral had come up with modes that actually put the player in a decent cops vs robbers scenario.
Hardline is a lot of fun if you’ve never played a Battlefield game before, but once a veteran has sunk their teeth into it for a few hours, you’ll start to ask yourself why you’ve paid full whack for what’s essentially a DLC or mod for Battlefield 4. Sorry, Visceral.