Battlefield Hardline - Review

http://invisiblekidreviews.blogspot.de/2015/03/battlefield-hardline-review.html

Even in the wake of annual military shooters, there are occasional entries that aim to try something new. While the Call of Duty franchise tries to go the futuristic route, Battlefield remains in the modern day era yet now with a new focus on the police and its war against crime.
Battlefield Hardline, now being mainly developed by Visceral Games instead of DICE, therefore shifts the usual military setting from war-torn China and Russia to the criminal underworld of Miami. With an episodic TV-show like storytelling, Visceral aims to greatly improve Battlefield's campaign, while also redeeming the foul taste of Battlefield 4's disastrous launch with a new and more dynamic multiplayer.
Being mostly known for games that focus soly on the singleplayer experience, Battlefield Hardline should be quite a challenge for Visceral Games. With plenty to improve on the singleplayer side and having to serve something fresh for the multplayer, there are big expectations for Hardline.
Is it a game that can keep up with the main entries of the franchise? Or is it just a reskin of Battlefield 4 with a different setting?   



Story

The plot:
Miami is embroiled in a drug war and Officer Nick Mendoza (Nicholas Gonzalez) has just made detective. Alongside his partner, veteran detective Khai Minh Dao (Kelly Hu), he follows the drug supply chain from the streets to the source. In a series of increasingly off-the-books cases the two detectives come to realize that power and corruption can affect both sides of the law.
(source: Wikipedia)



Battlefield Hardline's campaign puts you into the shoes of Miami police officer Nick Mendoza. Following the recent trend of episodic storytelling, throughout a total of 10 episodes/missions Nick Mendoza fights in the war against drugs in Miami. With the help of detective Khai and other more shady partners with criminal backgrounds, Mendoza fights and investigates his way through to the true mastermind behind Miami's drug dealer underworld.

The story is basically a mix of Bad Boys and Street Kings.

With Visceral now being the prime developing force behind this latest Battlefield entry, Battlefield Hardline's storyline and overall campaign is without any doubt the best of the series to date, especially compared to the series' previous efforts.
Even though the storyline itself holds very little in terms of surprises or true narrative novelties, the story feels much more grounded and much more personal than before. Putting a central focus on its characters and their relationships, this is the first time in a Battlefield game that you actually care about characters and get invested in the campaign's narrative progression albeit being very clichee regarding its several utilized cop drama tropes and plot devices. Sure enough, you will see predictable double crossings coming at you from miles away and notice quite some cheesy and uneven dialogue parts here and there, but it nevertheless makes for a fun campaign with well acted performances. With such a new setting and surprising weight put on the characters, Hardline very often even feels like its own IP in many ways.
This however makes it only the more unfortunate when seeing how much the game slowly devolves into generic military FPS territory around the half-way mark. Hardline's set-pieces are overall varied and exciting enough to be entertaining but feel very forced and simply unfittingly overdone during the game's second half.

With that said, though clearly not adding anything new to the cop drama genre, Hardline delivers a well round up yet predictable and partially uneven storyline that nevertheless is a big step up from the franchise's previous campaigns. Whether the episodic structure of the campaign was necessary though remains debatable.

Well, that escalated quickly.


Gameplay
 

Due to the fact that a Battlefield game is far better divided up into its singleplayer and multiplayer component, this section of the review will mostly focus on the fundamental gameplay mechanics presented in the singleplayer campaign and how the campaign gameplay itself holds up.
Everything about the multiplayer gameplay is written in the according "multiplayer" section.


Core Campaign Gameplay - "Far Cry Flashbacks"

Mostly thanks to its more grounded setting focussing on a cops vs. robbers theme, Hardline's gameplay resultingly feels much calmer and more streamlined in a way. Especially with the fluid 60 FPS thanks to current-gen consoles, Hardline definitely feels like a blend of traditional COD- and Battlefield gameplay. Especially in Hardline's campaign, players will notice that the gameplay feels much more focussed on the moment than in the messy shootouts from previous entries.

With that said, missions in Hardline's 7 to 9 hour campaign alternate between tactic focussed levels and action heavy set-piece moments.
Looking at the tactical missions, instead of directly hitting enemies with all the firepower you have, you are given a bigger array of options in how to tackle situations. Much like in the recent Far Cry games, scouting out your location and tagging enemies is certainly not obligatory but in most cases very vital to put the odds in your favor. This is mostly thanks to newly added stealth mechanics in Hardline's campaign.

The first Battlefield game in which you can bypass enemies altogether.


Stealth Mechanics - "The Almighty Police Badge"

Thanks to the new stealth mechanics like luring enemies away through distractions or arresting them, stealth is indeed a very useful tool in getting rid of enemy forces and gaining XP points in the process.
Using the Arrest mechanic, you can flash your police badge to up to three snuck up on enemies at once and hold them at gunpoint, but if you act too slowly afterward (indicated by a filling red bar), they will resist your arresting attempt and open fire. The Arrest mechanic is not only probably the biggest novelty the gameplay in Hardline has to offer but also gives Hardline's campaign a surprising amount of freshness. The mechanic is admittedly fun and trying to stealthily take out an entire enemy filled location can be very addicting. To take things further, throughout each episode there are specific characters with arrest warrants that are worth bonus points and unlocks to your arsenal. And even though the stealth mechanics are therefore a very welcome change of pace, they are also admittedly very barebones, easily exploitable and become fairly repetitive since arresting enemies is the only way to gain points in order to unlock new items.
However, what unluckily really pulls much motivation out of playing the game stealthily the whole way through is especially the very puzzling way the game rewards your gained XP by arresting foes: Through your gained XP (which can be only gained through arrests - killing enemies don't grant you any points) Hardline rewards you with unlocked lethal weapons for you to use in the campaign like new rifles, pistols, shotguns, etc.

"Freeze! I am all alone and got a tiny pistol! So, i got the upper hand here!"


Though unlocking things always feels nice, playing the whole time as a good cop by arresting enemies only to be then granted lethal weapons for you to actually kill enemies with (instead of unlocking new NON-LETHAL devices) feels completely contradictory to the way you played the game to earn them.
Sure, just shooting your way through each mission will undoubtedly result in a more action-heavy experience for some players, but unlocking deadly firearms by playing the game stealthily will certainly feel like the new stealth mechanics are somewhat forced onto some players, limiting them in the gameplay freedom that was previously introduced.

Another aspect that puts a rather minor dent in Hardline's fun but uneven stealth mechanics is the sheer lack of realism that pulls you out of the immersion in some situations. No matter what gun you are equipped with, enemies will absolutely always freeze and drop their guns when you flash your badge at them. This means that even when you are only equipped with a single pistol you can even make up to three enemies with full body-armor and machine guns easily drop their guns and arrest them. Additionally, it should be mentioned that handcuffed enemies lying on the ground won't alarm or scream for help. In those instances, the arrest mechanic can make Hardline feel a bit too video gamey for its own good. More realism sure would've made it more difficult to make the stealth mechanics work more smoothly, but some surprises like some enemies occasionally simply resisting your arresting attempt would have been very welcome.

"Good thing you guys are too stupid to scream for help or anything."


Set-Pieces and Evidence Scanning - "Police Brutality"

The other side of Hardline's campaign offers players the standard FPS shooter fare complete with numerous set-pieces. Though this is of course in some way expected from a Battlefield game's campaign, the calm and more theme focussed police vibe the campaign starts out with more and more disappears as the game moves on. Most notably after about half of the game is over, the campaign seems to take a drastic narrative turn which seems to almost entirely abandon the low-key police vs. robbers theme in favor of generic military shooter gameplay. And even though Hardline features a nice variety of settings and set-piece moments that rival the ones of Call of Duty, its cops vs. robbers theme in the end feels somewhat limited or restrained due to the fact that "it's a Battlefield game" and isn't allowed to stray too far from its core military shooter roots.
If it's any indication, in its later missions, Hardline even manages to somehow include an AC130 turret section and a tank battle in the campaign!

Lastly, there is also the mechanic of evidence scanning that supposedly grants greater context to the game's storyline. By finding and scanning evidence items that are spread throughout the game's missions, you can piece-by-piece solve specific cases to unlock more items to your arsenal. While nice in theory, evidence scanning mostly fails in extending the main storyline substantialy and feels a bit tacked on. It simply comes off as busy work that you need to do to unlock fun gear rather than intel that you actually want to find to know more about the story.

Apparently, tank battle sections are obligatory for any Battlefield game.


Multiplayer 


Multiplayer in Hardline tries to follow the game's cops vs. robbers theme and manages to pull it off only in a very limited way, making large chunks of Hardline's multiplayer mostly feel like a DLC to Battlefield 4. With that said, almost none of the unique cop mechanics like flashing your badge or arresting enemies is translated into multiplayer which robs the multiplayer a big amount of its own identity. Thus, most of the changes made in multiplayer mostly come down to the new modes introduced. 


Maps and Modes - "Focussed But Trimmed Down"

Maps in Hardline are noticably smaller in scale compared to previous Battlefield games to keep the match's action dynamic going. Since vehicle variety is also quite limited due to the cops vs. robbers theme (meaning there are only a couple of cars and helicopters available) this is in some way understandable to distance Hardline's multiplayer more from the main war-driven Battlefield games.
Furthermore, destruction and Levoution are both toned down quite a bit. Destroying every building in sight is not as freely done in Hardline due to its larger focus on close quarter combat. Since many maps play in a city full of skyscrapers or in a mansion, understandably blowing holes into each wall would eventually result in a match being basically unplayable.
Additionally, Levoution is back yet also toned down. While it remains exciting to see a crane break down to the ground and destroy half a skyscraper along the way, Levolution events are far not as devastating in their effects on the map layout compared to previous Battlefield games.
In addition to weapons like rocket launchers and machine guns now being scattered across the map as battle pickups rather than loadouts, there are quite some changes that hardcore Battlefield fans might not appreciate. It's all certainly a nice change of pace but considering that a large emphasis on vehicular warfare was one of the big selling points that distinguished Battlefield from other military shooters, Hardlines new direction is brave but not necessarily something for everyone.

The crane breakdown is probably the most impressive Levoution event here.

Along with the usual suspect modes like Team Deathmatch or Conquest, Hardline introduces 5 new modes to the Battlefield franchise: Heist, Blood Money, Hotwire, Crosshair and Rescue.

Heist turns out as Hardline's most unique and hands down most enjoyable new mode.
Heist tasks the criminal players to break into a guarded location by planting a bomb with a 30 second fuse. After the breach, the criminals have to retrieve two packages and bring them to a randomly generated drop-off point.
It's the fact that Heist Mode features several phases that grant Heist matches a nice variety of tactics that both sides, cops and robbers, have to apply to. Heist matches therefore always keep you on your toes and have you adapt to situations on the fly. From attacking, over defending to escaping/chasing, Heist does a good job of encouraging teamwork and keeping things exciting.

Blood Money is a mode that surely isn't as well structured as Heist but nevertheless very fun due to its non-stop action dynamic.
In Blood Money, both teams have to steal money from a central point of the map and return to their base with the cash. The main kicker here is that the money stash can also be looted by the opposing team adding somewhat of a risk vs reward element to matches. Blood Money matches though most of the time result in a big chaos in the middle of the map that surely hasn't as much to do with tactic rather than just shooting your way through to the goods and escape as quickly as possible. It brings a whole lot of non-stop action into the match and is probably the most frantic out of all the new modes.

Thanks to its phase structure, Heist is undoubtedly the best new mode.

Hotwire aims to put vehicle chases on the center stage of the match, yet it sadly fails successfully in doing so.
In Hotwire, there are specific vehicles on the map that act as mobile conquest points and simply driving them at high speeds accumulates points. It's therefore somewhat of a modification of the well known Conquest mode.
Unfortunately though, it isn't overexaggerated to call Hotwire a broken mode: On smaller maps, it practically always boils down to the players in charge of the valuable vehicles constantly driving around in circles and gaining ridiculous amounts of points in no time. And since there are hardly any weapons designed to directly take out vehicles, there's not much that one can do about it. Hotwire mode is very easily exploited by players since it grants players about 3 to 4 times the points one would get from a usual match simply by driving in circles. It's truely baffling how this exploit hasn't been patched yet, even when it was already mentioned during Hardline's beta phase by players. 

Lastly, Crosshair and Rescue are two quite similar modes that accompany Hotwire as the most dissappointing new modes in Hardline.
Crosshair and Rescue are aimed at the E-Sports community and want to emphasize teamwork. While in Crosshair the goal is to make a player controlled VIP escape, in Rescue, the police has to escort guarded NPCs to one of two extraction points. With no respawns and small 5v5 teams, both modes come off as weakly designed copies of Counter-Strike's similar Hostage mode. The main reason why both modes essentially fail is that none of the small maps they take place in are specifically designed for these modes. Instead, Crosshair and Rescue take place in maps that are just smaller sections of the bigger maps in Hardline. This results in many matches simply having the police teams rush to the extraction points without any tactics whatsoever making most matches, especially in Crosshair, only last a couple seconds - seriously. Carefully designed maps with well placed vantage points and routes are nowhere to be found in the two modes. Both modes therefore ultimately feel rushed, unfinished and like playing a cheap version of Counter-Strike.

It looks like a chase, but really they are just driving around in circles.


Levelling System and Launch Stability- "Small Steps Into The Right Direction"

Thankfully, levelling up and progressing through Hardline's ranking system to unlock more weapons is made far more accessible and easier to handle.
Instead of having to play each class for multiple hours to unlock each of the weapons assigned to the specific class, Hardline has you earn cash that you can freely spent. With this money you can simply buy any weapon you like to unlock it for your use. Getting the weapons that fit your personal playstyle is therefore way easier. Yet at the same time, it's a shame that Hardline puts somewhat of a damper on this improvement by only offering roughly half of the weapon variety from Battlefield 4.


Lastly, EA seems to have taken one or two notes from the horrible Battlefield 4 launch disaster:
As of now, Hardline's online performance is pretty stable and fluid without any notable launch issues. Just how it should be.

Finally, i can just buy what i really want!


Graphics
 

The lines between Call of Duty and Battlefield further disappear with the help of current-gen hardware. Battlefield Hardline therefore boasts impressive and consistent 60 FPS along with impressive visuals thanks to the Frostbite 3 engine.
Especially in locations like the dirty suburbs of Miami with citizens roaming around and rain puddles everywhere that make use of the game's great lighting effects, Hardline does a great job of immersing you into the game. Just be prepared for occasional clipping glitches here and there, most notably when approaching water or during arrest animations. Yet this is rather a nitpick since it's nothing too annoying. 


Sound
 

Hardline may not look like a Battlefield game at first glance but it boasts the very same magnificient sound design that has now become a trademark staple for the franchise. Each gun sounds realistic and at the same time has an impressive "oomph" to it. It makes each gun (and especially shotguns) feel very powerful and intimidating. It's complete with greatly utilized sounds of bullets flying over your head during shootouts and nice vehicle sounds.
Even though dialogue is mostly a hit and miss affair during the campaign, characters are well acted and lines delivered in a credible manner.

Sorry. But no jackpot for you, Hardline.


The Verdict

Overall, Battlefield Hardline's singleplayer is without any doubt the best part of the game's entire package. Visceral's efforts truely show in the much improved character driven storyline and newly introduced stealth mechanics. Though neither the still very predictable storyline nor the barebones stealth mechanics will revolutionize the FPS genre or Battlefield itself, Hardline's campaign is mostly a very welcome breath of fresh air for the Battlefield franchise.
Yet still, in many ways the game doesn't take full advantage of the possibilities its new cops vs. robbers theme offers. With that said, often the game feels very restrained and falling back into generic military FPS territory. This is especially the case in Hardline's very lackluster and trimmed down multiplayer.
While especially the new mode Heist indeed offers fun and tactic based teamplay between the cops and robbers due to its phase oriented structure, the other new modes, Hotwire, Crosshair and Rescue, feel utterly rushed and simply not thought-through. They are highly exploitable, mashed together and can completely break a fair multiplayer progression for players. Most notably after a beta phase such glaring exploits should've been already patched or tackled before launch.

On top of that, multiplayer in its entirety mostly feels like a toned down version of Battlefield 4's multiplayer that has been shoved into a cops vs. robbers setting without any substantial new additions that truely embrace this new setting (except Heist mode). From less devastating Levolution events and less destructive freedom, over fewer vehicles, to a way smaller variety of weapons, Hardline makes various cuts to the successful Battlefield multiplayer formula and sadly just offers too little new and exciting to make up for that. 
While it therefore somewhat respects its more grounded setting even in multiplayer, Battlefield enthusiasts ultimately won't necessarily appreciate this change since it's definitely not for everyone.

Battlefield Hardline is certainly a step forward for the Battlefield franchise in the singleplayer department. Regarding its multiplayer though, the toned down nature and many underdeveloped new modes will surely make many players understandably return to the bigger and arguably better Battlefield 4 multiplayer. 
Putting both, the singleplayer and multiplayer of Hardline together, therefore results in a servicable shooter that at least makes for an overall "okay" experience all things considered. But to qualify as something more memorable that stands on its own, Hardline just has far too many rough edges.

          
  
 Final Verdict: 6 out of 10 

Status: Okay




Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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