Played on: Xbox One.
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 & Xbox One.
Originally this article was a feature piece called “Why you might not want to play Battlefield Hardline… yet”. I was going to be all smug in my opening line saying something like “Because it’s not Bad Company 3. Oh, you wanted a little more? OK then, I guess that’s fair…” Well, one thing led to another and now here I am with a copy of Hardline in my Xbox One and this review.
When I previewed Battlefield Hardline back in February, off of the back of its last beta phase, I gave it a tentative thumbs up and suggested that Hardline might be a Battlefield game worth buying on day one, particularly if the single-player lived up to the cops and robbers hype it was generating pre-release. Whilst the multiplayer was perfectly fine in the Hardline beta the new non-military theme, new maps and new game modes hardly justified another £50 price tag (or just shy of £90 with the Premium Membership Season Pass added on), as everything was fundamentally so similar to Battlefield 4 (and to a large extent Battlefield 3 also).
Visceral Games’ Battlefield Hardline launched in the USA on Tuesday 17th March 2015 to a muted fanfare, garnering at best average critic and user review scores. Now normally I avoid professional reviews, user scores and video playthroughs, making my day one purchase, and arriving at my own conclusions. But, as Battlefield Hardline had been out for so long on pre-release early access, and came out a few days earlier in the USA than the UK, I found myself accidentally wandering into the spoiler and opinion filled world of the internet. I wasn’t too interested in what the critics had to say, but the comments from the community members really caught my eye.
The Battlefield community, like any gaming community, has its good and bad elements, but a lot of the players have been with the Battlefield franchise for years and share my thoughts about Bad Company 2 being the last great Battlefield game. Battlefield 3 wasn’t bad mind you thanks to its fantastic multiplayer, but it represented the beginning of a decline in the franchise as decent gaming became less of a priority than trying to beat Call of Duty to market dominance. This ethos led to 2013’s Battlefield 4, with its boring and brief campaign and familiar, yet totally broken, multiplayer.
What is the community saying about Hardline then? Well firstly that the multiplayer is just a rehash of Battlefield 4’s, more worthy of a DLC package than a full retail release. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t do anything hugely new, even omitting some of the best aspects that make a Battlefield game a Battlefield game. This all comes as no real surprise, echoing my own thoughts from both the alpha and the beta. Secondly, and most importantly for me, the community members are saying that the single-player just isn’t that good. Not bad necessarily, but certainly not coming close to matching or bettering Bad Company 2’s. In my beta preview I stated that any recommendation for a day one purchase of Hardline from me would have to come from the strengths of the single-player campaign, especially if you already own Battlefield 4. So, having heard this news and having watched some gameplay ahead of Hardline’s UK release, I was disappointed to discover that this general feeling of mediocrity from the community was justified. Yep, I went out and bought Hardline on day one and you know what? Here’s “Why you might not want to buy Battlefield Hardline… yet”.
I’m finding it hard to disagree with the general feeling in the community after spending several hours with Hardline. The single-player still offers some big action, but the new stealth mechanics are deeply at odds with Hardline’s gunplay; the story makes you question the morality of being a police officer thanks to all the corruption, whilst gleefully providing you with the means to rack up a body count that would make even John McClane envious. At least, though, McClane wouldn’t lecture you about any moral wrongdoings whilst pumping a full clip into someone’s chest. The stealth mechanic, whilst encouraged, isn’t even that good, taking just a flash of the old police badge to make enemies give up and fall asleep (with stupid little “zzz’s” above their heads) and I can assure you that reports of Hardline’s campaign being beatable without killing any crooks are grossly exaggerated. If this is what being a Miami police officer is like, it’s hard to believe that there’s any crime over there at all, firstly because criminals are so easy to arrest, and secondly because if they do dare to resist they’re shot dead, no questions asked. The episodic and setting-hopping nature of the single-player campaign does work at times though, with decent moments of action to enjoy throughout, and a nice cop show styled “next time on Hardline” video preview of the next episode (or level) showing when you quit the campaign. Additionally, the pseudo-stealth elements do add a new dimension to Battlefield’s gameplay instead of just asking you to shoot absolutely everything. In truth though, Hardline’s single-player still feels like it’s trying too hard to be Call of Duty with its mostly linear nature, action movie moments, and heavy-handed grit. The loud, brash and open-environment fun of Bad Company’s single-player campaigns are nowhere to be found and it’s a real shame Visceral Games haven’t capitalised on their chance to add a really memorable single-player campaign into a franchise where this element normally goes begging. Simply put, there are much better single-player first-person shooter experiences available, or coming soon, which means Hardline isn’t worth £50 if the campaign is what you’re most interested in. It’s actually alright, but it’s not £50 worth of alright, especially towards the end when it descends into more typical Hollywood action.
You would expect that there’s a lot more mileage available in Hardline’s multiplayer then, and that this is where the game justifies its cover price. However, Visceral Games are not bringing anything substantially new to the first-person shooter genre, or even to the Battlefield franchise itself in Hardline, and in fact the reduction in the game’s weapon and vehicle variances means Battlefield loses some of its unique edge. There are a few new game modes in Hardline, such as the short and snappy Crosshair mode, the tactically-themed Rescue mode, and the game’s saving grace: Hotwire. The likes of Conquest and Team Deathmatch are also available, with game modes taking place across 9 different maps complete with their own levolution features. It’s hard to really talk about these maps in detail, mostly because it really is beginning to feel like once you’ve seen one modern warfare map from Battlefield, Call of Duty, or any of the other modern warfare games, then you’ve seen them all. They’re all fine, if sometimes a little flawed in design and not particularly memorable. The other new game mode Heist also isn’t as exciting as advertised, with the vault robbing action falling short of Grand Theft Auto V’s Heists, or Payday’s signature gameplay.
Crosshair and Rescue are fun modes that capture Hardline’s new cops and robbers theme well though, with the former focusing on witness protection and the latter on hostage rescue. The other game modes make little use of Hardline’s new setting though, which is a shame and further exacerbates the lack of distinction from Battlefield 4’s multiplayer. The only exception to this is Hotwire mode, which is where the diamond in Hardline’s rough is found. Taking command of mobile Conquest points and battling it out for map dominance is genuinely fun and exciting, and whilst I’m generally apathetic to Hardline as a whole package this is one idea that deserves to find its way into future Battlefield games. It’s the new Rush, even if Hotwire is cheapened slightly by the poor map design that sees you driving at break-neck speeds down roads that take you out-of-bounds on several maps. It’s just a shame the omission of powerful weapons, jets, tanks, and the like, only serves to diminish Battlefield’s multiplayer experience out of necessary lip service to the new cops versus robbers theme.
As for Battlefield Hardline overall, the graphics are quite nice with some decent facial animations, and, with the exception of some of the most hectic maps packed with 64 players, the frame-rate is mostly solid. The frames can take a couple of dives throughout the single-player campaign, and the lower resolution on Xbox One may be off-putting to those who can notice it, but otherwise the presentation is good. The contextual theme of the game is perhaps the more worrying aspect. Hardline is a game that’s all about the morality of being a police officer, but yet the campaign takes you through very murky waters and the multiplayer gleefully endorses police brutality, murder and urban warfare; “service with integrity” indeed. Yes, this is just a video game, but there’s still an important social context to consider around Battlefield Hardline. At a time when American police forces are being accused of acting violently towards civilians and endorsing police brutality, do we really need a game that asks you if you’d rather stab a criminal to death or run them down with your squad car?
Whether this social context bothers you or not, the ultimate truth is that Battlefield Hardline just isn’t a worthy upgrade from Battlefield 4. It says a lot about Hardline that the only real way to reach a conclusion on whether the game is good or not is to ask whether it is good value for money. The campaign is better than the last couple of Battlefield games’, but it’s not good enough to warrant playing for any reason other than to unlock packs to use in the multiplayer. The multiplayer, however, isn’t worth playing over Battlefield 4’s as it takes out some of the best Battlefield features and only adds in a few new game modes that ultimately only shake up the Battlefield gameplay a little. Hardline feels like a game that started life as DLC, or as a small downloadable game like Battlefield 1943, but somehow ended up as a bloated and lacklustre full release. The community warned me, but I didn’t listen, and now I’m out of pocket to the tune of £50. And thanks to features like Premium you could be out of pocket for almost double that.
What we need next is Battlefield Bad Company 3. With Bad Company’s brilliant character-driven campaigns, humour, tight shooting, set pieces, and fully-fledged multiplayer modes, this may be the only way to redeem this ailing franchise with the fans. At least Hardline works straight out of the box though, without the need for a year’s worth of patches and fixes, unlike Battlefield 4. Still, heed the communities warnings, and my own, and wait for Hardline to drop in price or pick it up preowned. If you can get it for about half the recommended price, then Hardline begins to seem like good value for money and it’ll be worth owning and playing.
Battlefield Hardline is not a terrible game. It is in fact fine; it doesn’t shine, but it doesn’t get anything majorly wrong. Hardline is about as middle-of-the-road and average as a video game can be. And that’s its big problem. Battlefield is now basically an annualised franchise and paying £50-£100 for an average game might just make you feel like you’ve been robbed. If EA wants gamers to come back to Battlefield year after year then each entry needs to be a tour de force in pushing the boundaries of the first-person shooter forward. Battlefield Hardline is a distinctly average game and average just isn’t worth paying £50+ for anymore. £25? Maybe then you’ve got a deal. Ultimately though, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare wins the first-person shooter war hands down this time. And if you know me, you’ll know how I feel about Call of Duty and why that last statement is such a big deal.
I’ll see you on the battlefield at some point, no doubt, but for your sake I hope it isn’t until Hardline has had the chance to enter the sales and/or preowned section of your local video game store. And EA, if you’re listening, then yes, we all really, really do want a Bad Company 3, so can you just get on with it please, or I’ll be giving my money to Activision next time.
Images from http://www.battlefield.com/hardline