Game Review: Battlefield Hardline
Southland. NYPD Blue. The Shield. Hawaii Five-O. These police shows from days past may sound familiar. All feature the same hallmarks such as the hard-nosed captain, partners with their own rules, seedy criminals battling for money and territory, treachery, intrigue, double-crosses and the like.
Battlefield Hardline - the latest entry in the long-standing franchise from Visceral Games – recreates this experience and puts control of the “show” in your hands. This game switches gears from its wartime predecessor Battlefield 4 by having the action revolve around the timeless battle between cops and robbers, as well as good cops and dirty cops. You can craft your gaming experience by choosing to play as a Rookie, Officer or Veteran, then hit the ground running.
Hardline’s campaign mode centers on Nicholas Mendoza played by Nick Gonzalez (Sleepy Hollow and Jane the Virgin), a former SWAT member turned detective with the Miami Police Department. Miami is besieged by a violent drug war reminiscent of the Miami Vice days, minus the awful pastel suits and 1980’s synth-pop. While everyone in the seedy underbelly of The Magic City is on the hunt for a new drug, the police department is battling its own war with officers on the take and trying to determine the allegiances of those serving.
Keeping with the theme of police procedural shows, one feature that separates Battlefield Hardline from its predecessors is that the campaign mode is laid out in episodes like an actual television show. Cut scenes between episodes have "previously on"/“next on” segments highlighting the action and a Netflix-style timer before the next one starts. It breaks up the narrative, making it seem less like a long movie and more like clips of action instead.
For the first five episodes, Nick and his partner Khai (Kelly Hu of Arrow and X2) skulk through the projects, commandeer airboats in the Everglades and investigate numerous warehouses and abandoned buildings in search of a new drug flooding Miami – all under the watchful eye of Captain Julian Dawes. After those five episodes, the story takes a sharp turn, characterizations and motives become muddled and it begins to look like a big-city crime drama that’s had an identity crisis and doesn’t quite know how to clear a path to the end of the story.
As a first-person shooter, Battlefield Hardline is satisfactory. The campaign’s plot although entertaining, feels uninspired. It fails to introduce anything innovative or new to separate itself from any of the current shooters on the market. Narratively it plays out like Michael Bay’s Bad Boys and has the gritty aesthetic qualities of New York Undercover or Justified. The game play is solid and has noticeably better weapon customization capabilities, but just like the Battlefield games before it, checkpoints are few and far in-between, vehicle control can be awkward (especially during high-speed chases) and AI can glitch, hindering progress and requiring a checkpoint restart.
Similar to Battlefield 4, Hardline’s campaign features a woman as a main character who is essential to the main story line; and just like Battlefield 4, she’s unplayable. Adding this option would have taken the elevated the gameplay experience without taking away from the story. Visceral should take note to include playable female characters in their next installment.
Battlefield games don’t sell solely on the basis of their campaign stories. Just like those that came before it, Hardline’s multiplayer options are where this game actually shines. It features a traditional shooter ranking system that allows the player to progress and earn in-game funds based on experience. With eight different game choices ranging from heists to traditional capture the flag battles, and customizable players based on the cops versus robbers roles, there’s something available for every level of player from novices to experts. (Another note Visceral should take for the next installment - multiplayer mode should have options to customize female characters also.)
Despite the flaws in plot, gameplay and character development, Battlefield Hardline is an entertaining game. The unique episodic show-within-a-game setup makes it worth a visit, but it’s the intense multiplayer features that are truly worth sticking around for.
Available on: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC
Rated M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language and use of drugs