Who needs to shoot a gun when you have handcuffs?
The Battlefield name is synonymous with developer EA Digital Illusions CE as much as it is with expansive multiplayer options, but Battlefield Hardline marks a shift for the series. Visceral Games takes over as the lead developer and in turn the series pursues a distinct cops-and-robbers structure. The new premise affects both single-player and multiplayer elements, and though the additions to the typical Battlefield formula don't always work, they provide Hardline with its own identity in the expansive and well-recognized franchise.
Plenty of audiences play Battlefield games with multiplayer as the sole interest, but Battlefield Hardline presents a healthy chunk of content in its single-player campaign. It tells the story of Nicholas Mendoza, a new Miami detective who finds himself embroiled in the world of drugs and crooked cops. The game initially presents Mendoza as a beacon of light in a morally gray world, but even he faces his own inner conflicts when allies become villains and vice versa. Hardline tries to emulate the success of popular cop dramas, but the predictable plot and flat characters fail to deliver. It all feels a bit stale and robotic, even when the game introduces brief moments of humor in its second half.
Hardline also stumbles in the delivery of the campaign, which plays out like a television series. There are 10 episodes in total, and all of them feature a “previously on Battlefield Hardline” and “next on…” dubbing to drive the point home. On paper it sounds like a great idea, as video games share a lot in common with television as far as levels and overall length are concerned. The execution in Hardline leaves a bit to be desired, though, with uneventful and occasionally sudden transitions from one episode to the next. The edge-of-your-seat anticipation from fantastic TV dramas is nowhere to be found in Hardline, which is a shame since I see promise in its episodic structure.
Fortunately, the mechanical additions to the campaign prove far more successful. The new emphasis on stealth in particular benefits the player's role as a cop—not every law enforcement officer can be a badass who just shoots a path of murder through buildings. Battlefield Hardline allows that option, but it only takes a handful of shots to put Mendoza down. Instead, the game encourages a more silent approach. Typically when I see a room full of bad guys, I open fire and hope for the best. In Hardline, I crouch, sneak around, and press L1 to flash my badge. Then I hold the enemy at gunpoint until I make the arrest and move on to the next guy.
Players can only arrest three criminals at once, so strategy boils down to surveying a room and finding the best route to take out all enemies in a non-lethal manner. Mendoza also comes equipped with a scanner to point out alarms/hazards and a taser which provides another opportunity to incapacitate criminals without resorting to gunfire. It all contributes to a far slower and more deliberate campaign, but the satisfaction of non-lethal takedowns compliments the methodical pace. Audiences who still want action-packed sequences don't have to worry too much, as Hardline still features a few moments of explosive destruction to add variety to the campaign.
There's also plenty of destruction in multiplayer, and fans of the series know what to expect when it comes to online Battlefield. Hardline continues the tradition of adrenaline-pumping multiplayer with large groups of people, and familiar modes like Team Deathmatch and Conquest make appearances. If the idea of intense competition with 63 other players on a large map sounds enticing, then Battlefield Hardline delivers.
The game also includes meaningful additions to the multiplayer suite as a result of its cops-and-robbers structure. More specifically, the new game modes showcase the transition from warfare to crime and provide plenty of entertainment outside of the traditional Battlefield experience. One of the more prominent examples is Hotwire, a mode in which vehicles take center stage. The goal is to obtain cars and drive them at top speed for as long as possible while opponents try to do the same or disrupt the many joyrides taking place on the map. It's a more fast-paced mode that establishes a sense of speed not typically associated with Battlefield.
Heist stands out as another welcome addition, and it's a mode that requires careful teamwork to ensure success. Criminals try to rob a location while the cops do their best to protect it, and the clear centers of pronounced activity urge players to work together—taking the lone-wolf approach in Heist just doesn't work.
Two of the new modes, Crosshair and Rescue, introduce another unique spin in the form of short rounds with no respawns. The best-of-nine format features a series of three-minute rounds with a halftime period in the middle of the match. In many ways it feels like a mix of Hotwire and Heist with the former's emphasis on speed and the latter's required teamwork. Crosshair games can be a little too quick as the goal simply requires the VIP to reach the extraction point. Rescue's emphasis on hostage rescuing stands out as far more compelling and fun.
Nevertheless, Crosshair and Rescue distinguish themselves from the crowd with lower player counts, specifically 5v5. The nine multiplayer maps follow suit with some even shrinking/growing according to game mode. Some players will still prefer the larger matches that Battlefield does so well, but Crosshair and Rescue demonstrate Visceral's ability to create multiplayer options on a smaller scale.
The combination of the stealth-focused campaign and many multiplayer modes establishes Battlefield Hardline as a worthwhile standalone entry in the popular FPS franchise. A few of those multiplayer modes shine more than others and the cops and robbers theme fails to save the story from its dull tendencies, but the rest of the game utilizes the new setting in some smart and meaningful ways. Although Hardline probably won't result in any Battlefield converts, it will provide fans with plenty of entertainment.