Battlefield: Hardline Review
In case you forget while playing, Battlefield: Hardline is still classified as a first-person shooter. But you probably haven’t played a strict FPS quite so methodically before, sneaking about and using a scanner to target and track foes, and handcuffing high-profile criminals. Jumping into the multiplayer action will undoubtedly remind you of the genre’s core (hectic action fused with frantic teamwork) but for the campaign, you notice the obvious twist from the get-go. It’s a great concept; the only problem is that it’s bogged down by a bombastic yet mediocre story and some blatant silliness.
When it comes to graphics, there’s definitely a subjective element melded with the objective: For example, one can clearly notice the superior production values during certain segments in Headline, as the special effects slam into your TV like an out-of-control semi. There’s a lot of great character detail and choreography, too. Still, I find a certain stark blandness in some of the environments that reminds me of PC shooters. I’ve always said those games lack a certain richness of color and depth of shadowing that we find in some console games. That’s why I’m not quite as enamored with this particular visual presentation.
While I won’t say this is one of the most impressive graphical displays I’ve seen in the new generation, I will say there are flashes of brilliance. It’s these flashes that remain with you after playing, too, so that’s a huge positive. As for audio, we get the benefit of some excellent voice performances, a decent soundtrack, and those explosive effects that conspire to blow the headphones off one’s head. Personally, I don’t think the music plays a big enough role, as it typically takes a back-seat to voices and effects. That drives me nuts, especially when you’ve got a wonderfully effective score. And some of the guns sound too tinny to me. But aside from that, there isn’t much to complain about from a sound standpoint and overall, the technical aspects of this production are solid without being special.
”Is this really Battlefield?” I asked that very question after only a half-hour of play. At first, despite Visceral’s claim that this would be the “fastest Battlefield ever,” I was convinced it was actually the slowest entry yet. Well, depending on your definitions of “fast” and “slow.” If we’re talking only about the general speed of movement and control, then yeah, it’s pretty damn quick. But in terms of pacing, if you take the tactical, studious approach, Hardline is undoubtedly the slowest-paced FPS I’ve played in years. When’s the last time we played a mostly linear shooter that had us examining the area ala Solid Snake, remaining in a crouched position most of the time, and disabling alarms?
For the record, I want to make one thing plain: You don’t have to play this game slowly. You can just run in guns a-blazin’ if you so desire, but the game absolutely encourages you to take a slower and more humane approach. As a cop, you can flash your badge (L1) to freeze up to three enemies from a certain distance. As you come toward them with gun drawn, you keep moving that gun back and forth between the suspects so they don’t get antsy. While you take one down and slap on the handcuffs, your partner will keep the other one (or two) in her sights. Provided you surprise them, all enemies – even if they’re carrying automatic weapons and sporting bulletproof armor – will surrender. Obviously, they won’t if they’re already shooting at you.
By scanning the area, you can target the enemies. Some will have a pair of handcuffs over their heads, indicating outstanding warrants. Snagging these guys will quadruple the points you earn (1,000 points for a Warrant arrest as opposed to 250 for a normal arrest) so they’re a top priority. The more points you earn, the faster you’ll level up. If you’re careful and you don’t mind some trial-and-error, you’ll easily hit the Lv. 15 level cap well before the campaign is over. As for the actual mechanic of freezing with the badge and arresting, it’s not a bad idea at all…it’s just under-realized, I guess. Not only is it woefully unrealistic but it can lead to some comical moments. For instance, I froze these three dudes standing at the end of a dock and as I walked toward them, I fell off the dock into the water. But they remained frozen, waiting for me to get out of the water.
Yeah, funny stuff. Unintentional, unfortunately, and a downfall of the mechanic in question, but still humorous. The openness of some of the environments welcomes a more tactical approach, though. Plus, despite the barebones stealth system, it remains mostly functional and the result is a campaign that demands timing and thought. You can expect a fair amount of unavoidable firefights, too, and there are a few car chases as well. Those chases suffer from ridiculous physics but they’re not hard. As for weapons and gunplay in general, I actually found this to be quite authentic; the guns react as they should and unlocking them by upping your level is a lot of fun (you can also unlock weapons just by taking them from fallen enemies).
The episodic structure features coming-soon montages and the like, and reminds me a little of Alan Wake. Sadly, these ten episodes don’t boast a compelling or unique storyline; it’s predictable and in some ways, sort of stupid. On the one hand, I don’t mind because this is indeed a fast-moving action extravaganza and really, most people won’t care about the story. On the other hand, why bother with a structure that emphasizes plot and character development when both elements aren’t developed well enough? Still, the adventure has its moments and it’s pretty well-paced. One minute you’re engaged in a pitched gun battle inside a warehouse; the next, you’re zipping about a swamp, inspecting various drug installations amid the gators and crocs.
But of course, people don’t buy FPSs for the single-player action. Not these days. No, it’s all about the multiplayer for the overwhelming majority of fans, so it’s important to know that Hardline offers a robust array of entertaining and refreshing online multiplayer modes. There’s the standard Deathmatch and the return of Conquest (which is, in my opinion, one of the better multiplayer experiences available), but here it’s all about Hotwire and Blood Money. I appreciate any mode that puts a serious spin on the norm and both modes achieve that spin, and I also applaud the expansion of the vehicle concept. Battlefield is well known for its use of vehicles in multiplayer but let’s face it, they weren’t used for much besides dealing damage. They’re so much more in modes like Hotwire, where they operate as mobile capture points.
The maps just don’t seem big enough to contain the vehicles when they’re really flying, so you have to get used to the environments before you’re adept at Hotwire. It remains one of the better combinations of shooting and action that I’ve seen, especially because it boasts such a tremendous sense of urgency and tension. The vehicle plays a key role again in Blood Money, a cops-and-robbers setup that has one team robbing a bank and then attempting to escape in a getaway vehicle. It also prompts good teamwork, because a few guys might be tasked with sticking with the vehicle; one of whom can become the wheelman when the other team leaves the bank with the loot. The best part is that everyone feels useful just about all the time. I like that.
Then there are the 5-on-5 modes, Crosshair and Rescue. Here, more team-oriented activities are encouraged; you can’t respawn in either mode, and you must eliminate every member of the opposing team. In Rescue, the cops have to save one hostage that is being held by the bad guys at the other end of the map. In Crosshair, the police must escort an informant and obviously, that informant will be the target of guys who’d like him silenced. I would’ve preferred to have it more like reality, where a protective caravan actually escorts the valuable subject. Basically, everyone has guns, including the informant, and it’s more of a free-for-all. It’s still fun but I think it lacks the requisite structure to be really intriguing.
You could make the argument that not all multiplayer modes are created equal, and they’re not. These modes really don’t work well unless most people playing are of a like mind; lone wolves and just plain morons tend to throw a wrench in the works. And it’s not a funny wrench, either; it’s just insanely irritating. In this way, I wonder how long-time FPS fans will respond to the assortment of modes. If you want to run around and shoot everything in sight, you’ll miss out on the best parts of this multiplayer experience. But anyway, we can say that thus far, the new Battlefield hasn’t encountered those horrid online problems through which Battlefield 4 suffered. Everything appears to be running okay for the time being, so that’s a major bonus.
Battlefield: Hardline tries very hard to be something fresh in a world of familiarity. It just doesn’t quite have the chops to pull it off, at least from a campaign perspective. It’s cool to have enemies with cones of vision, the option to arrest without killing everyone in sight, and to encourage a more methodical, tactful approach. But that nifty, flashy episodic style doesn’t work as well when the story and characters aren’t as good as one would hope, and the almost complete lack of authenticity is comical (and not always in a good way). Still, the multiplayer is great – provided you’ve got some willing, able, and non-a**hole friends – and we should appreciate the FPS twisting we see in both the single-player and multiplayer. I’d like to see Visceral get another shot at this, and refine the concept further.
The Good: Some eye-popping visual effects and a bombastic set piece overall. Solid voice performances. Nice pacing and plenty of drama (even if it’s cheesy). The option to be non-lethal is a step in the right direction. An ambitious twist on the standard shooter formula. Top-notch and refreshing multiplayer modes.
The Bad: Story doesn’t deliver what it promises. Some multiplayer maps can’t hold those vehicles. Seriously stupid enemies in the campaign. Driving feels tacked-on and cumbersome.
The Ugly: “All I have to say is “freeze” and hold up a badge and I win? …not sure it works that way.”
3/18/2015 Ben Dutka