“Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police!” That catchy song intro was the first thing I heard when I jumped into Battlefield Hardline’s campaign. This take on cops and robbers was already facing an uphill battle before it even released, with publications such as ours stating that it represented “the absolute worst of our industry” by simply becoming another yearly cash grab and not really offering anything special.
Now, while I may not have been entirely right about, almost a year later, it still feels like not much has been done to change that impression. Getting into a car in multiplayer, I instantly hear the song kick up again and all I can think is, “Woop-woop! That’s the sound of a game that didn’t need to be released.”
Battlefield Hardline wants to change up the formula of the modern FPS by moving away from two warring factions and bringing the fight home. And so, both the campaign and multiplayer opt to be a modern take on the “cops and robbers” formula, which does spice things up a bit, at least for the single player portion. While it’s a nice change from the usual gameplay we see in the series, as far as multiplayer goes, you likely won’t be able to tell the difference without listening to some of the voiceover work. Simply put, the game’s online component is just another chance to have differing factions fight against each other.
Surprisingly, the campaign is where the real change really gets to show. We’ve all played countless FPS games where you can mow down hordes of enemies, but this is the first one that really seems to at least try to get the cop aspect right. Criminals respect the badge, so if you sneak up on them and flash it, you’ll get a chance to arrest them as opposed to simply just gunning them down. There’s also a new focus on stealth, where you’re going to want to scan a room before you enter it to mark the enemies and avoid their Metal Gear esque vision cones in order to get yourself in a better position. These elements alone are an interesting change of pace for the series and are certainly worthy of further exploration.
The problem from there is that campaign isn’t all that interesting beyond that and in several areas, it suffers from some very apparent design flaws. For one, the best way to unlock new and upgraded weapons is to be stealthy and arrest everyone that you can. Once you get comfortable with the stealth aspects, however, there’s not as much incentive to really use those weapons. On top of that, there’s really nothing offered here to help improve the stealth aspect. It just feels like you end up being shoehorned a bit and the rewards don’t adapt to your playstyle.
Levels are littered with evidence that you’re going to want to scan, allowing the guys back in the station to build a better case. Outside of a bit of additional narrative and some experience points though, the evidence doesn’t really influence the game. It’s certainly disappointing that the developers couldn’t have done more with this aspect of Battlefield Hardline, but it at least introduces an interesting mechanic that the series can take advantage of in future outings.
The story itself is pretty much the definition of old hat. It’s your typical vice squad/drug-peddling plot that has been done to death, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used one more time. Characters range from fairly interesting to almost insultingly one-dimensional. Coming across a group of criminals who have to wave the racist flag so blatantly, going as far as stating “You look Mexican, so I’ll assume you’re a burglar,” doesn’t really add anything to the story when it’s obvious the developers wanted to really drag you into a world that’s not black and white, but filled with shades of grey.
Granted, buying a Battlefield game for its single player is like hiring a hooker for conversation. Sure, they may be interesting, but you’re certainly not going to get your money’s worth. This series has always been about its multiplayer, but even here the game feels lackluster.
Loadouts feel more restricted from the get go. Although the idea of gaining cash that you can use to purchase unlocks across the board or for class specific weaponry is perfect, there’s simply not enough to spend it on. Classes feel more restricted in their weapon choices, and there doesn’t appear to be the same level of variety that we’ve come to expect from Battlefield games.
Battlefield Hardline does introduce some new multiplayer modes, but they’re kind of a mixed bag. Heist is a take on your normal capture the flag where the criminals have to steal two bags of cash from a vault and get them back to evacuation points. Blood Money is a bit similar but with a giant pile of cash in the middle that both teams are trying to take back to their bases. This may end up being the signature mode of Battlefield Hardline, as there’s really something to be said about sneaking across the battlefield in order to steal directly from your enemy’s personal cash stash.
There are two new “competitive” modes here as well that seem to cater a bit more towards an E-sports demographic, but they ultimately fall short. Rescue should be really familiar to Counterstrike fans as cops will be tasked with fighting their way towards two hostages in an attempt to extract them. Crosshair changes things up a bit as cops need to smuggle a VIP player to an extraction area while criminals have to assassinate them. Both of these modes are played with smaller teams and you only get one life per round, so they are definitely a bit more tense than the usual. The problem here though is that the player base simply isn’t following them. At the time of writing, servers for these modes are pretty barren, so I wouldn’t expect to see a hell of a lot of long term activity.
Hotwire is easily the highspot for me. Five vehicles spawn on the map as capture zones, and the only way to gain points is to drive them around at high speed. This leads to some hilarious moments where you have three team members hanging out of a sedan firing grenades at pursuing enemies on dirtbikes. Quite honestly, this is pretty much the only thing that I can imagine bringing me back to Battlefield Hardline for any real length of time, and it’s almost worth the price of admission. It’s silly, it’s tense, and it can be utterly insane. In other words, it’s what Battlefield should be.
The traditional modes, like Team Deathmatch and Conquest, both show up as well, giving the game some of that old Battlefield feel. There’s nothing really special to be found here, but no series really does Conquest as well as Battlefield.
The biggest complaint I still have with Hardline is that this entire game feels unnecessary. And unfortunately, nothing I’ve experienced in it has changed that for me. The game does show some nice polish, but there’s nothing here that couldn’t have been done by the community for Battlefield 4 if given some basic mod tools. I’ll agree that this isn’t a cash grab, as there was some serious work put into the title and it would be an absolute steal for $30 or so. I just don’t see the appeal here as a full priced title.
Visually, the game looks alright. We tested a PC version, and while 4k was a bit too demanding at times, at 1440p the game held up well. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call Battlefield Hardline out for its absolute horrid console resolutions. 780p on the Xbox One and 900p on the PS4 isn’t acceptable. I get that the consoles are a bit underpowered, but in the year 2015, we shouldn’t be having this conversation anymore.
Battlefield Hardline may not be represent the worst of the industry like I had feared, but it doesn’t represent all that much either. The 7 hour or so campaign is much more interesting than I’d expect from a Battlefield title, and the new Heist mode can be a pretty fun, but in a lot of ways, this feels like a step back. Unbalanced maps, more claustrophobic play areas, and that unshakable feeling that this could have been done by a dedicated community leave a grey cloud hanging over the game. If you’re desperate for more Battlefield, by all means give it a shot. However, if you’re on the fence about it, there’s nothing here that will really push you over.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with for review purposes.
While not as bad as many had feared it would be, Battlefield Hardline simply feels unnecessary and unless you'r a diehard fan of the series, there's not much reason to pick it up.