‘Hardline’ brings the war a little closer to home
“Battlefield” games aren’t particularly known for their single-player aspects. They’re also not known for being adventurous: You go in, you shoot, you leave. It’s an effective pattern that’s worked well for publisher Electronic Arts and developer DICE, judging by sales number and the generally favorable critical response.
So color me surprised by the change in the focus for “Battlefield Hardline,” developed instead by Visceral Games: Gone are the standard setting of military war zones and a hyper focus on the multiplayer to the detriment of the single-player experience. Instead, “Hardline” makes a strong splash with its dive into a surprisingly fascinating single-player campaign that asks a bit more from players than simply having good aim.
In “Hardline’s” eight-hour story campaign, you’ll control Nick Mendoza, a Miami vice detective tasked with discovering the root cause of a increasingly violent drug war running rampant in the city. But it doesn’t take long for Mendoza to realize that not everything is black and white, good guy vs. bad guy. As the story progresses across 10 TV-style episodes (which provide quick recaps when you return to the game), you’ll jump forward years in time and jump across the country as Mendoza contends with a situation that seems far beyond his capability.
While the story itself isn’t too inspired (you’ve probably seen the plot on TV more than once) and the dialogue can be cringe-inducing at times, it’s a interesting change in pace for a series that’s given short rift to its single-player components. My largest complaint is that the story fails to maintain a consistent tone. At times it takes itself so seriously, but it fails to confront serious questions about police brutality and corruption in power. Then the tone will get super light with outrageous action sequences (there’s even a tank), which runs counter to the theme of dirty cops and murders and redemption and perseverance.
Even with a competent single-player campaign, the game still is a first-person shooter that revels in quick thinking and plenty of chaotic destruction, plus an obscene amount of weaponry from which to choose. There is, however, one major change to game play mechanics: an emphasis on stealth and non-lethal takedowns. It’s not necessary to beat the game by any means, but “Hardline” goes out of its way to make sure you’re aware that you don’t always have to fire a gun to shove the problem.
Enemies have vision cones you can see on your mini-map, along with a meter that fills more the closer you are to being spotted. They also tend to make a lot of noise if they think they saw something suspicious, giving a sort of audio alert to your position being compromised.
If you do decide to take the stealthy approach, you’ll get the chance to employ a mechanic that shouldn’t be as fun as it is: You can arrest the bad guys. You show your actual police badge and use handcuffs and everything. But that’s only if you’re quick enough. Yes, they drop their weapons and raise their hands, but they only give you so long to act before they decide to take matters into their own hands. If you stun multiple suspects at once, you’ll also need to keep the additional ones at bay with your gun while you arrest them one by one. And all of this can be for naught if you’re caught arresting someone, usually with a gunfight breaking out almost immediately upon being sighted. (Of note: You can earn “expert points” if you arrest special targets, but it’s no easy task.)
But, what about the multiplayer, you ask? Well, if you’ve played a “Battlefield” game before, you’re going to be treading familiar territory here for the most part. Some changes include using non-lethal takedowns to gather intel and heist-style objectives, with most of this occurring in denser cityscapes rather than the typical, open fields of war. Combat will come across as a more intimate affair, with battles taking place in tighter confines than usual.
The game also plays around with its cops-and-robbers theme. Heist mode pits police officers tasked with defending a vault against criminals who, of course, would like to break into said vault. Hotwire, the game’s take on the series’ popular Conquest mode, has players seizing particular vehicles, which you then have to drive above a minimum speed (“Speed,” anyone?) to hold them.
And it should be said that while the multiplayer didn’t give me any problems (I did wait for the servers to get its first few patches before hopping on, though), I had a few problem technically with “Hardline’s” campaign. Bodies (mine and enemies’) would phase through floors and walls, and texture load-in was abysmal at times. In fact, an entire level refused to load in for me, causing me to have to uninstall the game, reinstall it and re-play the level over. While it was humorous to see a massive rainstorm inside a closed mall, that feeling only lasted a moment before I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to progress.
In the end, “Battlefield Hardline” finally paid attention to an aspect that the series long has neglected, and I feel Visceral Games did a solid job creating an interesting plot, even if it wasn’t particularly fresh (or entirely bug-free). The cops-and-robbers, good cop/dirty cop aesthetic works well in this context, even if the game misses an opportunity by not discussing the idea of police officers having weapons of war at their disposal. In effect, the long-running series tries something different, and while it doesn’t exactly nail it, it’s definitely interesting. And anytime I fight alligators is a win in my book.
Three “Drop your weapons!” stars out of five.