Battlefield Hardline Review (Xbox One)
EA's Battlefield series has been a staple on the shooter scene for more than a dozen years, but it's rarely dipped outside the confines of global conflict. With Battlefield Hardline, the scope and scale of the series has been reined in to be a more intimate affair. Visceral dialed back a bit on the outrageous action movie vibe, but added a few new wrinkles to the franchise's trademark combat and multiplayer. Even with that shift in focus and a different studio behind it all, Battlefield Hardline doesn't feel all that different from previous efforts.
Drugs are bad, mmmkay? The criminal element that controls them is bad, too, but it's the corrupt cops that work alongside the pushers, dealers and kingpins. In Battlefield Hardline's version of Miami, there's only one man standing in the way of the problem--Nick Mendoza. As Nick, you'll fight back against local criminal element in Miami, right up until the point you get betrayed by literally every single cop you've worked with through the first few missions of Hardline's story. You get sent off to federal prison for three years, only to be sprung out by a few of the same people you put away. In a twist of ironic fate, it turns out they were spurned by their co-conspirators, too.
The story is so-so, and has more than a few twists and turns. Unfortunately many of these big reveals fall a bit flat thanks to the lack of any real characterization or motivation. The episodic nature of the story works well to a degree, but there's little incentive to keep you interested in finding out what happens next thanks to the rote narrative. There are some solid action set pieces, too, which should sate the appetite for destruction of many a Battlefield veteran.
The real meat of what makes the Hardline single-player so interesting is the way it completely subverts the previous standard for Battlefield gameplay. To this point, Battlefield and most of its FPS brethren have all been about going in guns blazing. Sure, there have been slower-paced sequences in past entries, but almost every single mission in Hardline requires you to be measured in your approach. Hardline rewards you for being stealthy and smooth; keeping your finger on the trigger, but never pulling it. Making arrests earns you experience, very much in the same way shooting people in the face used to in previous entries. It takes some getting used to, but it does make for a rather interesting way to play a Battlefield game... when it works.
No matter how great you are at making arrests, there's always going to be one big shootout in just about every chapter of Hardline's story. The gunplay is still very tight, and the weapons you can earn and unlock through making proper arrests are definitely varied and nice to have on hand. However, despite there being a battle each episode, you get no experience for being adept at combat. You are forced to play through these shootouts, but you aren't rewarded for succeeding. It would be understandable that Hardline wouldn't want to reward you for being a cop that mows down endless numbers of drug lords if there was an alternative solution, but there isn't. This is particularly questionable when Hardline moves from being only slightly exaggerated to full-on Lethal Weapon territory closer to the conclusion. Why were we supposed to be so careful and by-the-book for so long if everything boils down to piling up the bodies and causing massive explosions anyway?
Fortunately, Battlefield Hardline's multiplayer portion makes no bones about its franchise roots, and is a fun-filled and action-packed experience. It's actually a strange dichotomy in that one half of the Hardline experience wants you to be a very well-behaved police officer, and the other wants you to shoot until your trigger finger falls off. The multiplayer component isn't anything like the offline game, and follows more directly in the footsteps of Battlefield 4. In that vein, the online aspects feel much more like a slight iteration on the familiar Battlefield brand of multiplayer, but that certainly doesn't make it any less enjoyable to play.
Conquest and Team Deathmatch make their return, but the other five multiplayer modes included in Hardline are all new. Hotwire takes the core concept of Conquest, but puts the onus on players to capture vehicles rather than flags. The longer you and your team can keep the cars, the better your chances of winning. Blood Money gives each team a home base vault and drops a big pile of money in the middle of the map. Factions then duke it out over who can grab the most cash, while also defending their vault from the opposing team. Crosshair pits two teams against each other, with one having to protect a randomly assigned VIP player from attack.
All three of these modes are appropriately chaotic and fun, allowing you to do your own thing while also helping the larger cause. However, with Rescue and Heist, you better come to the table with a competent team that knows how to work together if you hope to succeed, Rescue involves you and four other teammates playing as either SWAT or criminals, with the SWAT team in charge of rescuing hostages, while the criminals are trying to stave off the police force from doing just that. You only get one life, so caution and communication are key. Heist, as has become rather popular in recent months, puts one team of criminals on a map against a force of cops, with the goal being to make off with the most money possible. Heist does a nice job incorporating all the big aspects of Battlefield (driving, demolition and gunplay) into one place, while also offering a more strategic mode than the more standard PvP fare.
Your progress carries over with your online persona no matter what modes you spend the most time in, and the earnings you pull in can be used to purchase new weapon upgrades, secondary weapons, and other accessories for customization. Leveling up and performing well also earns you Battlepacks. Players who spent a lot of time with Battlefield 4 will no doubt be familiar, but newcomers can think of these as random loot chest drops. Each is filled with an assortment of camos, patches, and limited-use boosts to use in-game. The boosts don't do much to give you any real advantage on the playing field, but serve to help you and your teammates rank up and advance faster than you would normally. None of the extra items are limited by the classes you can play as either, so you don't have to worry about issues like you would see in a game like Destiny where the loot drop you got didn't apply to your particular character build.
Visceral's first attempt at a Battlefield game isn't a bad one, but there's little here to be excited about beyond an actual functioning online component. The single-player is a bit off brand, which wouldn't be a problem if ever found its narrative voice and wasn't so awkward. The real saving grace is the solid multiplayer, which combined with new modes, gives Battlefield Hardline somewhat of an identity different from its predecessors. Hardline just doesn't do enough new to truly stand out from what came before. Though it's fun, Hardline is hardly the must-play Battlefield experience fans have come to expect.
This review was completed with a retail copy of Battlefield Hardline provided by the publisher for Xbox One.