The cops versus robbers fantasy is as old as law enforcement itself. The idea of bringing the bad guys to justice, or sticking it to the coppers is something that is enjoyed from the playground to retirement homes, yet despite it being an age old idea, its introduction to the Battlefield series makes the franchise feel fresher than ever.
Hardline’s single player offering is split across ten episodes, each set in a different location mostly containing its own mini story, while still advancing the main ark – much like a TV series. The TV-like presentation is designed to ape that of cop shows, and it’s not just in its format that it does this. Camera techniques (such as quick cuts) along with handy “previously on Hardline” and “coming up next time” mini-videos offer handy reminders of what has happened, or help set the story for the next episode whenever you exit or enter the single player portion of the game. Add in some impressive acting talent such as Beniro Martinez (that guy from House of Cards who you will recognise but probably need to Google) and Nicholas Gonzales (who has appeared in everything from The Flash to Modern Family – and even BoJack Horseman) and you have a experience that really does feel like you are playing a active role in a TV cop show.
The story itself is a bit of a mixed bag, though. None of the episodes can be classed as overly detailed stories on their own, and the main plot is fairly predictable. Things start out slowly in the prologue, but pick up slightly as you run around Miami trying to end a vicious drug war. Half way through, a major plot twist occurs and the story really becomes much more interesting, bringing some new brilliant characters in, and fleshing out some previously met compatriots into interesting characters. Hardline probably won’t be winning many awards for its story, but it’s a fun and enjoyable romp, with a decent run time and some interesting ideas thanks to its episodic format.
Unlike many other shooters, playing single player is an entirely different experience to that of multiplayer. Instead of just running round mowing down hordes of bad guys (which is technically an option if you want to do that) Hardline encourages you to take a slower, more methodical pace. The ability to take down enemies stealthily, along with the option to flash your badge to freeze up to three foes while you put them in cuffs makes slowly working through areas and remaining undetected the best and most enjoyable option.
Taking the stealth approach is how I played the entirety of the single player, with only a few instances where I was forced into open combat. This made silencers a must, with a bolt-action sniper rifle being used to take out individuals from afar, changing to a SMG for closed environments. Being able to select exactly what equipment to use is a nice option, and the frequent equipment stations mean changing mid-episode is usually fairly easy. As a balls-to-the-wall typical shooter, single player Hardline isn’t the best out there, despite having some brilliant set pieces, but as a stealth game it does a very good job – although probably not one you would want to play through multiple times.
In the multiplayer, the cops versus robbers fantasy is more obvious, especially in game modes such as Heist where it’s literally a team of bank robbers trying to escape with loot as the cops try to stop them. The other flagship game mode is Hotwire, where your team must drive around in the five golden vehicles to score points. Hotwire is where those of us who aren’t quite good enough to go on an eighteen kill streak can still contribute significantly, as driving in a car for the whole match can see you end up top of the leaderboards.
The 5v5 competitive modes are another highlight of the multiplayer, offering more tactical gameplay on a quicker turnaround as both only give you one life per round. One sees a team holding hostages with the other trying to rescue them, while the other sees one player become the VIP who needs to get to the extraction point to win – if he is killed the opposition take the victory. These two modes are the more competitive focused options, and offer a lot of fun if played correctly. Conquest and Team Death Match also make an appearance but feel somewhat out of place in the cops versus robbers theme, while Blood Money offers up interesting and entertaining new ideas, but can become a bit of a slog on certain maps.
Perhaps Hardline’s biggest issue is that a small group of modes don’t work on certain maps and as a result become boring to play. Generally, all the smaller maps work quite well, but it’s some of the larger ones that become an issue as they aren’t overly interesting, and in many cases are so large that finding an enemy to shoot can be difficult. The larger maps work much better when playing Hotwire due to needing space to drive around, but when playing Conquest or Blood Money things just become too spaced out and slow.
Shooting the many weapons that are on offer feel (as you would expect) great. Each gun has its own mannerisms, and most weapons feel significantly different to others. A few do feel slightly overpowered, but hopefully a balance update will fix those. It all feels slightly faster than previous games in the series (especially when in a vehicle), but not so different that it changes the tried and tested formula too much.
Battlefield Hardline’s single player is a joyous surprise, offering up a surprisingly competent stealth experience if a slightly disappointing typical shooter experience. The story is not the worst out there by any means, but there’s always room for improvement, and the episodic TV style is an interesting a different way of doing things that I hope more games utilize. The multiplayer is certainly a mixed bag, too. When playing one of the better game modes on a map that works, it’s incredible fun and one of the best competitive online shooter experiences available, just be sure you avoid maps that don’t suit certain modes.
As a complete package, Hardline is one of the best FPS experiences out there, and is certainly the best Battlefield game in recent years. The cops versus robbers theme could be used a little more at times, but it adds enough to make Hardline feel different, while the surprising stealth gameplay is a welcome change of pace. It’s by no means perfect, but is incredibly enjoyable when at its best.
Great stealth single player gameplay.
Shooting feels as good as ever.
Lots of new ideas make multiplayer feel fresh.
Some online modes don’t work on certain maps .
Story could be improved.