Developer: Visceral Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: March 17, 2015
Hardline is the latest release in the long-running Battlefield series. Battlefield titles normally focus on large-scale war settings, but Hardline breaks the mold by creating a struggle between police and criminals, and what kid hasn’t played “cops & robbers” in their backyard on a hot summer afternoon? No one since the 1970s, but developer Visceral Games aims to have players around the world put on either a badge or a ski mask and hit the virtual mean streets.
Officer Nick Mendoza is caught in the middle of a Miami drug war and it’s up to him and his partner, Khai Minh Dao, to chase down the drug runners while confronting dirty cops and double-crossers along the way.
Language: Insane amounts of foul language abound in this game. Every character uses every swear word you can think of, including a very large amount of F***, S***, and GD. At times, it seems as if the dialog drops the F-bomb with the same frequency that I say “um” in conversation.
Violence: As a first-person shooter, this game is full of realistic depictions of violent, gory shootings. Players use a variety of firearms and other weapons to kill enemies. Blood splatters from enemies throughout, including in close-range, execution-style shootings. In one scene, a corpse is shown with its limbs torn off.
Drugs and Drug Use: Some enemies are shown to snort cocaine or smoke marijuana. Large amounts of cocaine and other various drugs are shown during the game, along with numerous drug references (the “war on drugs” being the central focus of the story).
The story mode of Battlefield Hardline plays out in the style of a cop-drama–a generic, lazy, poorly written cop-drama. That may sound harsh, but Hardline is far too predictable for anyone who has ever seen even a single TV police drama. The “plot twists” and double-crosses can be seen coming from a mile away. Dialog between characters is clunky and full of cheesy one-liners. Nick Mendoza, the officer you control in the game, is so one-dimensional that it’s hard to connect with him or even care about him as a protagonist. The entire cast falls pretty flat, not because of poor acting or voice work, but because of the weak story and cookie-cutter dialog.
The actors actually do put on a good performance, considering the shortcomings of the story and writing. The cast fits the setting and the motion-capture is fairly well done. Levels are split into Episodes, and even give you a “Previously on Hardline” segment when starting a new episode. At the end of each episode, there is a countdown timer until the next episode starts, as if you’re watching a show on Netflix, which is a neat touch that adds to the TV drama motif. However, you’ll be done with the story faster than you can binge-watch a season of your favorite series, clocking in somewhere between 6-8 hours, depending on if you want to pursue the pointless case files or not.
Case Files are Hardline’s lazy attempt at side quests, and serve to duct-tape an hour or so onto your game time. They merely involve using your scanner to find different items of interest scattered throughout the levels, and maybe listening to an audio file pertaining to the mission. The problem is, these aren’t interesting and add absolutely nothing to the game. In the end, they feel like a massive waste of time.
One of the main gameplay mechanics you use as a police officer is the ability to sneak up on enemies, force them to freeze, and take them to the ground for an arrest. While this does add to your score and make for some strategic stealth gameplay, it gets stale pretty quickly.
Hardline then becomes hours of:
Step 1) Sneak up on enemy
Step 2) Press L1
Step 3) Press R3 to arrest
Step 4) ?????
Step 5) Profit!
This works well for taking out bad guys, but it doesn’t make any sense that, once hand-cuffed, enemies just lay there. They don’t try to alert other enemies, they don’t get up and try to fight back or resist, they just give up. Even when you’re discovered, or just have to blast your way through waves of baddies, the game just seems so easy. It doesn’t really matter what gun you have, you can just walk right through and blow everyone away.
The level objectives themselves are repetitive and extremely linear, and while there are some really cool moments, you’re not even in control for a majority of those moments. Hardline just follows the same exact trend as Call of Duty campaigns have been doing for years and years. Explosions, jump out of a building, turret section, car chase… it’s all very predictable and formulaic for the modern first-person shooter. I was really hoping that Hardline would be different, allowing the campaign to unfold uniquely depending on what choices the player makes as a cop or a criminal, but this game just spoon feeds you and holds your hand throughout the entire process. I didn’t feel like I was playing a game a much as I felt the game was happening to me. Then, at the end of the game, after all this buildup, there is no final showdown, no epic climax, just an abrupt end. There are a couple of points in the story that feel like a “hype up” for a big important battle, but said battle merely unfolds through a cutscene, and that’s just frustrating and unsatisfying.
Single player campaign aside, Battlefield’s bread and butter has always been the online multiplayer. Hardline adds a few new interesting game modes that shake things up. Heist requires criminals to break into a vault to steal money and return it to a point, while police try to stop them. Blood Money mode has players from both sides trying to grab money from one central location to take back to their own trucks, with the first team to acquire $5,000,000 winning the match.
Other new multiplayer modes don’t fair as well, like two modes that attempt competitive gameplay with e-sports in mind, both with 5v5 teams. Rescue has players find and rescue hostages, and Crosshair is a VIP escort mission to an extraction point. Both of these modes are far less fun, not to mention poorly designed ripoffs of Counter-Strike that seem like a lazily tacked-on afterthought. I don’t think we’ll be seeing MLG Hardline any time soon.
While gameplay feels good and runs well online, Hardline doesn’t play too differently than Battlefield 4; however, it’s missing the grand scale of war with fighter jets and tanks. Hardline just has a few cop cars, sedans, motorcycles… and a couch. The difference at launch between BF4 and Hardline is that Hardline actually works; however, BF4 is now a more complete and satisfying online experience with much more to offer than its newer counterpart.
Battlefield Hardline looks okay, but not mindblowing. On the PlayStation 4, the game runs at 900p, with a pretty decent framerate during gameplay (though the framerate during cutscenes seems a bit off sometimes). As was previously mentioned, the motion capture of the actors looks pretty good, and most main story character models and facial expressions look realistic. This is easily the best visual part of the game, but the graphics as a whole don’t look all that “next-gen.” The visuals definitely don’t push the envelope of the newer console hardware and might be disappointing to some that are looking for a truly gorgeous new shooter.
The soundtrack is predictable and annoying. The score of the story mode sounds like it was ripped from an episode of CSI: Miami and is completely forgettable. What’s worse is that every time you hop in a car, a few repetitive, licensed rap songs play, and I just don’t want to hear them. Music in a first-person shooter usually isn’t an issue, but it shouldn’t detract from its enjoyability, either. On the other side of sound design, the guns sound effects are spot-on, making it satisfying to light off a few rounds at the enemy team. Other sound effects (such as footsteps) could be better, and too many are reused (most enemies in the story sound the same).
Battlefield Hardline has the core of a solid shooter with a lackluster, new coat of paint. The multiplayer doesn’t differ enough from Battlefield 4, and the single player isn’t tight enough to carry the game on its own. While Hardline does have its share of moments and flashes of brilliance, it’s hard to justify a full-price purchase for something that feels like more of an expansion pack of Battlefield 4 than its own completely separate release.
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The Bottom Line
While Battlefield Hardline is fun and has some cool set pieces, it's not really an improvement over Battlefield 4. Weak story, poorly written characters, and scaled down multiplayer make Hardline feel generic and rushed.