First Impressions: Battlefield: Hardline
Anders Howmann / Mar 17th, 2015 No Comments
There’s a reason why police officers don’t regularly patrol around in tanks: they’re bulky gas guzzlers built for the sole purpose of destruction, not neighborhood crime fighting. But Visceral Games’ newest title, Battlefield: Hardline, attempts to do just that. The franchise’s signature class-based multiplayer warfare has been repurposed into a more civilian offshoot. Think Law and Order and The Shield with the action setpieces of Bad Boys II.
The concept was likely a marketing win: bring the glitch-tainted Battlefield name back to the forefront under a new subtitle and theme. The newest installment gives Visceral an opportunity to breathe new life into the series while renewing fans’ faith in the franchise’s multiplayer stability.
But after a few hours of preview gameplay, it’s obvious that Hardline lacks a clear sense of identity. The game attempts to tell an intimate dirty cop drama while bearing the burden of over-the-top gunfights and destruction. Prepare to take the red pill: You’ll have to seriously suspend your disbelief for this installment.
Much like its inspiration, Hardline’s single-player campaign is structured into a series of episodes. You play as Nick Mendoza, a young Miami Vice detective and Cuban-American, who is traveling across the country to stop his corrupted former partners and bring them to justice. You’ll take down the bad guys using military-grade firepower and high-tech gadgetry.
A few cornerstones concept of proper law enforcement are mentioned, but do your best to ignore them. You’ll be trespassing, conducting illegal searches and exercising dubiously justified lethal force on more than a dozen occasions throughout the opening episode.
Good Cop, Worse Cop
The campaign kicks off with Mendoza bound in shackles and an orange jumpsuit on a prison-bound bus. A quick exchange between Mendoza and the guard reveals that Mendoza is a convicted detective — how much would you like to wager that we’ll return to this scene just before the plot’s climax?
Flashback three years earlier to a dingy apartment building in Miami. You’re pounding on a drug dealer’s door with your partner. But before busting into the room with sidearms and big boy voices, there’s a comedic bit about what you will be eating for lunch after you bag the baddies. A suggestion to eat Cuban food is followed by a slightly racist comment:
“Cuban? Jesus Christ Nick you’re in Vice now,” Detective Stoddard says. “You can afford better than beans and rice. Here’s an idea: I pick the place. I promise, you’ll never go back to eating plantains ever again.”
What’s wrong with Cuban food? I digress …
You’ll arrest a few suspects before being ambushed by a woman who bursts from the bathroom spouting buckshot and f-bombs. You must gun down the assailant and the remaining suspects and gather evidence from their corpses. After the dust has cleared, an additional suspect opens the door to see you and your partner standing over a handful of dead bodies.
You chase him down the hall. A car chase follows.
“You’ve got pursuit training, right?” Detective Stoddard asks above a roar of a muscle car engine and blaring hip hop.
“Maintain distance, try not to kill anyone,” Mendoza answers while blasting through fences and narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic.
Simple enough, right?
Probable Cause? Who Needs It!
The rest of the hour-long episode leads you through the slums of Miami. It’s an obvious tone-setting moment, and Visceral relies heavily on quick-but-clumsy exposition instead of oozing atmosphere. The residents you interact with along the brief patrol speak only of crimes and domestic disputes. The dinginess of each block is heavily exaggerated.
A quest to find a link between a low-level drug dealer and kingpin named Tyson Latchford quickly leads to the infiltration of a gang hideout. You and your partner use stealth, handguns and a suspect tagging gadget to take down a few dozen suspects.
You eventually make your way to Latchford’s home and kick down his door without a warrant. A gunfight follows and you must administer first aid to your partner while furiously shooting down a wave of bad guys. A SWAT team arrives shortly to rescue you.
For a Battlefield campaign, this first chapter serves as a strong opener. The shallow storytelling is disappointing, but there’s hints at developing the characters and the inevitable plot twists. It serves as a nice distraction from the game’s multiplayer — and who buys Battlefield for the campaign anyway?
Let’s Get to the Good Stuff
Battlefield: Hardline’s confused sense of identity is even more pronounced in its multiplayer offering. The series’ iconic 64-player conquest mode is back, but feels out of place when paired with the new cops and robbers theme. Think a re-skinned version of Battlefield 4 with less heavy weaponry.
There are still plenty of great multiplayer moments to enjoy, however. Driving around Downtown Los Angeles in a sports car as a handful of teammates shoot out of your passenger windows creates perhaps the most memorable Battlefield moments since the marriage of dirtbikes and C4.
Hardline’s new Hotwire mode is the game’s strongest offering. The objective mode tasks teams with taking control of selected vehicles spread across the map. Said vehicles are “captured” by driving them at high speeds. It’s a mode that embraces the insanity of Battlefield and fits within the new theme.
The game’s focus on infantry combat feels better than ever thanks to Visceral’s attentive tuning. Guns sound and feel terrifyingly real and the emphasis on close-quarter map design make SMGs and shotguns sound options when entering the fray. Rocket launchers and heavy machine guns are now only available to players via battle pickups.
Visceral has made some notable changes to Hardline’s leveling and upgrade systems. Instead of unlocking guns and gear based on weapon usage, players can now unlock items using cash. Both cash and experience are doled out for completing standard Battlefield tasks, such as killing enemies, capturing flags and reviving squad mates.
The new cash system is fitting with the cops and robbers theme, and allows players to prioritize which weapons and class items they want to unlock first. Some weapon attachments require you to rack up a certain number of kills before you can purchase them, however.
A Step in the Right Direction
Aside from my jabs at the single-player campaign, my first impressions of Battlefield: Hardline were generally positive. Visceral’s attempt at creating a fresh narrative is appreciated, even though its quality will likely be B-movie at best.
The game’s multiplayer suite feels like a professional Battlefield 4 mod, but it’s still fosters the mayhem and carnage that the series is known for.
Despite hours of glitch-free matches, I’m still skeptical of the game’s multiplayer stability. It’s going to take a few successful releases before I forgive the franchise for the fourth installment’s missteps.
tags: battlefield hardline , first impressions , multiplayer , preview , Visceral Games