Like many of you, when I think of a Battlefield game, I think of tanks blowing up buildings, and fighter jets being blown up in the skies above, and driving a jeep of C4 into a group of soldiers, and amazing sniper shots, and that one a**hole in a helicopter that can't fly the damn thing. I've vowed to never be that a**hole again. I associate Battlefield with modern warfare, vehicular combat and large-scale destruction.
Visceral Games, best known for the Dead Space series, plans to change your perception of Battlefield with Battlefield Hardline. Don't worry, there's still Conquest mode, vehicles and destruction, but the theme is changing; and with a theme change comes gameplay changes. The theme of Hardline is cops and robbers. In both the single-player campaign and the robust multiplayer, you'll find yourself on both sides of the law in a more fast-paced Battlefield than you're used to, though the core game is still there.
The theme translates well to Battlefield, and it actually enhances the single-player. In fact, Hardline has the best single-player campaign of any Battlefield game I've played. Presenting the campaign as a TV police show, it takes place across 10 episodes. The TV approach to the theme feels very native, and high-quality cutscenes enhance the feel even more. Little touches like "Next time on" and "Last time on" when you leave and start the game drive the point home.
The story is a little predictable at times, but excellent. There's a good amount of character development for the diverse cast of characters. The star of the show is the writing and dialogue. Visceral Games worked with people from shows like Justified, Empire, The Americans, The West Wing, House of Cards, CSI, The Shield, Castle, Hawaii Five-O, and Bones. You'll recognize talent not only for their voice, but their likeness too. Alexandra Daddario and Benito Martinez are dead giveaways. The writing feels like an episode of Justified, with enough grit and seriousness to help the drama, but some genuinely funny moments sprinkled in, especially from Eugene Byrd. The music is also perfect, and the last episode will feel awesome when the music kicks in. While a lot of it can be hard hitting, it scales back at the perfect moments to mirror shows like Justified and True Detective.
The campaign has a little bit of everything. While Hardline has been shown as a fast-paced, giant 80s/90s police action film with car chases and shootouts, the campaign isn't reflective of that. In fact, there's only one or two car chases. There's a good bit of strategy, and you're free to approach the missions how you see fit. Both playing it stealthy and going in guns blazing are legitimate strategies. I played most of the game in stealth, arresting and taking out enemies with silenced firearms. In fact, the last mission I skipped most of the 2/3 of the possible combat areas by sneaking around the enemy. Most of that was thanks to the handy scanner you're equipped with that tags enemies, objects you can interact with, targets with arrest warrants (who will give you extra experience if you arrest), and evidence for cases you're working. Each level has a certain number of evidence/collectibles, so if you miss some, you can always go back later to that specific level to find it.
Most of your missions you will have an AI team or partner with you. For the most part, the AI is excellent. However, there are times where the AI would walk right in front of an enemy and it wouldn't alert them. The Last of Us also had instances of that with Ellie, so it's hard to not give some leeway with the wonky things that happens. One thing I can't forgive, though, are bugs that cause gameplay interruption, and I encountered that twice. In one instance in the Everglades, after a gun fight I was making my way to a piece of evidence that was behind a door. I opened the door… and then I couldn't move. I couldn't look around, couldn't aim, couldn't walk — nothing. At that point, I was forced to restart from the last checkpoint, replay the entire gunfight, and then it worked. The other time was even worse. I was about 85 percent of the way through episode 8 when I died in an action sequence. Normally, you get brought to the loadout screen, press back, and it brings you to the last checkpoint (usually right before the fight you started). All of that happened, but after I pressed back, the screen went dark and the loading symbol just kept spinning. I gave it 10 minutes of spinning before I had to exit the game. When I went back in, I chose to resume from my checkpoint in episode 8; again, loading screen just kept spinning. I actually had to restart the entire episode from the beginning, which was about 30 minutes worth of gameplay — and I couldn't skip cutscenes.
Honestly, those were the only two problems I encountered that serve as blemishes in an otherwise stellar single-player campaign. When I finished the campaign, I found myself HOPING that there would be more story DLC released. Visceral did an amazing job with all the talent they brought in, and the little nod to Dead Space in one level was good for a chuckle.
Then there's the multiplayer — the area I believe most players will have the hardest time accepting that it is a Battlefield game. The multiplayer feels a bit bipolar, at times trying to shoehorn the theme into a Battlefield game and engine, and other times feeling like the game that Visceral Games discovered they should have been making halfway through development. Certain maps and game modes really shine with tons of tension and memorable moments; there are other parts that can make you yawn. The things that work are the progression system (as always), the smaller maps with 5v5 matches, and the smaller scale destruction — especially when considering the theme.
Battlefield Hardline is the first Battlefield game to feature four factions. It doesn't exactly come into play much, but the factions make sense according to the map that they are on. Each of the sides, cops and criminals, have different weapons available to them, but they both have the same type of classes. While you're never going to be able to add rocket launchers or heavy machine guns to your loadouts, those types of weapons are available on the maps — though rare. So they are something that can potentially be fought over. You can also put powerful weapons in the trunk of some of your vehicles when they spawn. Speaking of vehicles, there are 27 vehicles, and (outside of jets from previous Battlefield games) they all feel much faster. There is an overall emphasis on speed with everything in Hardline — you run a little faster, respawn faster, and the vehicles move faster. Seeing as how Visceral wants multiplayer to live out your 80s/90s action movie fantasies in multiplayer, the stress on speed and car chases makes Hardline feel unlike any other Battlefield game. Whether that's a good or bad thing will depend on how attached you are to traditional Battlefield gameplay.
Personally, I liked the more fast-paced feel, with one exception — and that exception comes in the mode that uses vehicles the most… Hotwire mode. In Hotwire mode has both sides grabbing marked cars, driving them around and staying in them as long as possible, thus earning points. To stop the other team, blow up the car so a new one spawns that your team can potentially get. The Hotwire maps are bigger than the other ones, so you can get some pretty epic, long car chases that end with a grenade launcher to the chassis. Unfortunately, that's really the only way you'll stop a car. Your instinct will be to crash another car into it, but because of the physics of the engine, that doesn't really do anything. Barely any damage shows, and you usually just bounce off of each other and keep moving. Kind of takes the luster away from those car chase scenes in the movies. That said, I've still had some pretty epic moments in this mode.
Two other new modes — Heist and Blood Money — have the teams working together to get money and either bring it to their vault or drop point. The struggle over cash feels like the craziest version over the movie Heat you've ever seen. Just make sure you GET IN THE VAN! My favorite modes, though, were the two modes designed for competitive play — Crossfire and Rescue. They provided the most thrilling, heart-racing and memorable moments. Both are five-versus-five game modes with no respawns and a best out of nine rounds format. In Crossfire, one player on a team is the VIP. That person no longer has their loadout, and is instead equipped with a gold pistol. The objective is to get the VIP to one of two extraction zones within a certain amount of time. The enemy team is of course trying to kill the VIP. When the VIP escapes or dies, the round ends. There eventually is a halftime where the two teams reverse roles. Rescue on the other hand, has the bad guys holding two hostages, and the police have a certain amount of time to either kill the entire enemy team or rescue one of the hostages and get them to the extraction point. Both modes take place on smaller maps, and they were designed as more eSports-style matches for very competitive players.
As for Conquest and Team Deathmatch, I found those the most boring. First off, Team Deathmatch, while I understand its inclusion, feels out of place. And it was by far the most frustrating mode with poor spawn points and small maps. It was not a recipe for success. Conquest is just kind of there, but sometimes it's nice to play.
There's still tons of destruction, just smaller than you saw in Battlefield 4. Across the nine maps, each designed for different modes and tactics, destruction will take place in smaller explosions and structures being torn apart by bullets. You're not safe behind walls, that's for sure, especially when someone can blow a hole in the wall with explosives and create a new entry point. Levolution makes a return, but this time it's a gas truck blowing up, or a hurricane coming in, or a sandstorm obstructing your view to a few meters, or a crane between skyscrapers crashing down that I totally thought I would beat in my car, but came crashing down on me.
A few new features I liked were the ability to take health packs off of a player that has them equipped, that way they don't have to drop them; blasting the radio in cars so that other players around you can hear it; and the ability to interrogate enemy players so it shows the location of teammates — though I always die when I attempt it.
I'd comment on lag and server stability, but the multiplayer sessions I had was in a controlled environment hosted by EA. Therefore, I will be holding off a review score until I see how the game plays once it is live. Meanwhile, there's a lot to like about Battlefield Hardline, while there's stuff there that won't thrill you. It feels like Visceral really discovered the game they wanted to make during development, so you see some brilliant ideas that make for great gameplay, but while also being stuck with what is expected of the Battlefield franchise. The single-player is among the best for a first-person shooter, with quality storytelling, writing, acting and characters. But the multiplayer is the meat and potatoes, and the refocusing will likely drive away some hardcore fans, while bringing in others.
As for the visuals, because at this point they seem like an afterthought, the game runs smooth and looks pretty, but there are some jagged edges here and there that you will notice. That's especially true when cars collide and you find your car inside the other car, which happened more than I'd like.
Stay tuned in the coming days for our completed review.
Reviewed on provided PlayStation 4 copy