Battlefield: Hardline Wot I Think-In-Progress, Part 1

Me, in the event anyone ever asked me to give this game a score

Battlefield: Hardline [official site] went on sale in the US today, and unlocks for the UK on Friday. We didn’t have access until today, so I’ll run this review in chunks to give you some sense of what we make of it without having to wait too long. In this first part, I’m looking at the first half or so of the campaign, which details a Miami police officer becoming embroiled in an escalating drug war with a side-helping of corruption in the force.

It’s OK to want to be The Shield (Hardline does, so much so that pock-marked old Captain Acevada’s in its supporting cast). But if you’re going to try and be The Shield, be The Shield. To meaningfully investigate amorality, you have to be unflinching about it, but Hardline (so far) is flinching at every turn. It wants to be heroic far more than it wants to be challenging, but oh, it so wants to be foul-mouthed and cocksure and steeped in blood. It wants a bodycount to discomfit a dictator, and it wants that to happen at your hands, but it wants you to be a shining, gleaming bastion of morality too. It wants you to murder a hundred men then be appalled when a colleague beats up one, it wants you to shoot dozens of suspects in cold blood without consequences, then feel disgusted when you’re offered a bribe.

Maybe all this pulls together in the last act of the game. I’m sure there will be TWISTS and BETRAYALS and DILEMMAS, but at the very least, any last act cleverness would be deeply at odds with the messy, contradictory tale of Miami cops embroiled in drug war that Battlefield Hardline has screeched at me so far. Even when it’s not asking me to forget about the trail of corpses in my wake so it can be all appalled about some infinitely lesser crime perpetrated by a fellow officer, it’s choppily scene-jumping with chaotic abandon, feeling like a patchwork of action movie and police procedural vignettes stitched together at random (or, perhaps, a more coherent on-paper tale torn into tiny pieces then haphazardly glued around the edges of extended shoot-outs).

It’s a hot mess as a first-person shooter too, which I’ll get into shortly, but it seems sensible to declare at this point that I’m somewhat enjoying Hardline despite its many, various and sometimes ridiculous failings. I am not accustomed to first-person shooters with ‘Battle’ or ‘War’ in the title attempting to be anything other than straight-up gunplay interspersed with the sort of hoo-ra patriotic bombast that even latter-day Clint Eastwood would frown at. Hardline is genuinely trying to offer a little more choice, and while its stealth aspect might come across like toddlers playing hide and seek compared to the Metal Gears and Thiefs some of us were raised on, and while its ‘open’ aspects might be pale, tiny and stiflingly mechanical imitations of Far Cry 3/4, it is sticking its head above the parapet and seeing if that huge audience of digital gun nuts are prepared to try something a touch more substantial.

Perhaps it shouldn’t seem absurd and almost special to complete a level of a game like this without having killed anyone. Perhaps we should have had these options long ago. We have it now, though. I did some thumping and some tasering, but I spilled no blood. Sadly, the in-game chatter and the post-mission response from fellow officers seemed to believe I was spraying bullets everywhere, but maybe that and the game’s disinterested shrug when I do commit mass slaughter suggest that Hardline exists in an alternate reality where every police action routinely involves hundreds of casualties. Still, my satisfaction at having been non-lethal is its own reward.

To be clear: Hardline’s stealth is woeful. You can flash your badge at an enemy stood some ten feet away from one of his allies, at which point he’ll shout something pithy but lower his weapon, leaving you free to knock him and cuff him while his chums remain oblivious to noises which could wake half a street. You can chuck a shell casing to lure a foe elsewhere, but only ever a single foe – lob it near a group of three baddies and the other two will just hang around. You can fire grappling hooks and ziplines directly in line-of-sight of an enemy, but so long as they’re more than about 20 feet away he simply won’t notice. You can leave a trail of unconscious foes with pretty little Zzzs streaming from their mouths, and the guys just around the corner will never, ever notice.

It’s ridiculous. I thought it was atrocious to start with, but gradually I adapted – both into having a clear sense of the rules of this world and how to use them to succeed in my bloodless quest, and into finding it an amusing experiment. What’s the shortest range at which I can knock-out a guy without his friend noticing? Can I build a pile of ten tasered men? Can I basically just walk right to a level’s end just by keeping a bit of distance? (Yes). Seeing a COD-type game lumber around trying to do stuff that’s far beyond it is almost sweet, like if the dude from Nickelback tried to sing opera or Keanu had a go at Hamlet.

Something (or someone) deep inside Hardline clearly wanted to make a non-lethal approach the ‘true’ approach, given that stealth takedowns and arrests yield extra progress towards unlocks, whereas the straight-up killing which is otherwise infinitely better-supported (some levels are impossible without lethality, there are dozens of lethal weapons on offer, and perversely even more lethal weapons are the sole reward for extensive non-lethality,as far as I can establish) has no such rewards. And, of course, the narrative concerns itself with the one good cop in the system, not with a psychotic mass murderer who gets a bit grumbly about very specific types of corruption. I hope that whatever, or whoever, motivated this aspect of Hardline gets to come more to the fore next time around, but in the meantime I am glad to see a game like this leave its comfort zone even this much.

When I did opt to shoot my way through, I found the gunplay routine and a little meatless, not having done anything to meaningfully differentiate between (over-familiar) military and police in anything other than theme (and maybe there’s a metaphor for modern America in there somewhere), whereas the rudimentary, near-comical stealth did offer a new form of challenge. It’s not actually easy, despite its limitations, as getting spotted even once will stick everyone in the area into perpetual high alert, forcing some extreme caution and quick-thinking if you intend to remain non-lethal. The taser is very slow, very limited range and only has ten shots, so using that once it all kicks off is a game in itself. (Sadly/strangely, clobbering with a baton is considered lethal if done when an enemy can see you, so tasing’s your only post-alert option). The stealth is bad. The stealth is bonkers. I kind of like it.

The other thing I’ve been enjoying is the regular switching up of environments. Hardline’s art department visibly burn money at a staggering rate, as is latter-day Battlefield and CoD’s wont, but whereas this stuff usually just winds up being an excess of pointlessly glossy background detail, there’s something more to be said about stealthing around a drug neighbourhood at night one minute, and boating around the Florida swamps the next.

This ties into Hardline’s episodic structure, which even entails Previously On and Next Time On… cutscenes (the latter shown when you exit the game – a genuinely lovely touch amidst what’s otherwise some pretty clumsy TV-aping), freeing it up to have big thematic switches as the cops move on to a new case or the next stage of an investigation. It manages to feel a little different every few hours, and it isn’t anything like so reliant on huge, contrived setpieces to do this as so many CODs are. Instead, it mostly just transplants its guns/stealth choice to the new setting and sticks a police procedural cutscene either side of it. And, you know, there are car chases and grappling hooks and alligators. It really goes for it, and if nothing else I’m in for more just to see what it throws at me next.

I’m less positive about the unlock system. Some stuff you get for meeting objectives, others for levelling up via non-lethal takedowns, and others still for finding ‘evidence’ in the levels. This is achieved with a Scanner gadget that shows distance to and quantities of local evidence, and the result is I spend half the time playing in green-screen, crawling about looking for a piece of paper or a bag of drugs that will help unlock some gun I don’t even want but feel compelled to win. In other words, it all gets a bit Batman: Arkham – the impossibly important mission gets waylaid by trying to hoover up all these scattered goodies. The evidence system just isn’t fleshed out enough to be anything like detective work, and so I’d much rather win my goodies by meeting certain targets than keep getting distracted by a tiresome treasure hunt.

Yes, so far it’s felt a bit of mess, but a reasonably ambitious one, and not actually a disastrous one. Its dialogue is peppered with cliché and the sort of mindlessly repetitive, meaningless swearing of boozed-up football hooligans, but its lead characters manage to be surprisingly amiable company despite this. The actors are decent, the graphics tech does reasonably human things with facial animation, and the lead pair have a few conversations rather than simply shouting orders or grating bon mots. From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t know that I’d go all the way to recommending Hardline to anyone who historically bounces off CoD or Battlefield campaigns, but I certainly wouldn’t be actively warning them off it either. We’ll see how it all winds up as this (probably three-part) review series concludes, but right now, Hardline feels like a step forwards. It has all the bombast of any of its peers, but it is very clearly trying to have more substance, and in some cases it succeeds.

More soon, including on the all-important multiplayer.

62 Comments

  1. applecake says:

    Seems like the “press x to arrest” mechanic would get tiresome pretty quickly, and it’ll be tempting to just shoot your way through the game.

    Also – what’s up with these early access reviews popping up everywhere nowadays?

    • misterT0AST says:

      The fact that games get reviewed gradually, when they’re still incomplete nowadays, is related to
      the fact that games get marketed and sold gradually, when they’re still incomplete nowadays.

      • Boothie says:

        Think its more that rps is trying to get a review out as quick as possible to generate views

    • suibhne says:

      This is not an “early access” review. It’s quite the opposite: EA didn’t give any reviewers access to review copies, which usually (not always) happens when a publisher doesn’t have faith in critical judgments of a game’s quality. In other words, it’s more like a “late access” review.

  2. Napoleon15 says:

    I believe the message here is that somebody needs to make SWAT 5 already.

    • Legion23 says:

      I would be happy already if Swat 4 would show up on GOG.

    • Pantalaimon says:

      And let Spoony do an official commentary track for it.

      • Improper says:

        Only if they keep the camera-wand-thing for looking under doors, along with squadmates who pester you while you’re trying to actually use it.

  3. xfstef says:

    Are those flashy big gaming sites quotes actually relevant anymore ? Do people still rely on the “big guys” in the press to tell them that a game is “really, really fun” ??? I know it’s off topic but that trailer nearly damn well gave me a seizure and I’m sure that I won’t touch the game, at least not the single player.

    I can’t understand why Battlefield and COD still exist, as in yearly new versions of them exist. I guess that people buy them, the obvious reason, but WHY do they buy them. The Single player is shit, it always has been and will always be. The multiplayer is just a mod in my honest opinion. We’ve had vehicle combat + fast paced shooting for literally decades now. I get that we’d like to see better graphics, ok, but these yearly iterations make nu freaking sense. Nothing changed ! They’re just reskinning the game and making you pay for it again, year after year after year.

    • April March says:

      COD and IGN are still big fish, as sad as we may find that.

    • gunny1993 says:

      The games exist because they’re easy, unchanging and safe. They’re the equivalent of Dan Brown books or Micheal Bay films, they throw out some ideas that, on the surface feel fancy and straight cut, but when you look at them with any kind of perspective fall apart into a million trite, asinine parts.

    • montorsi says:

      It’s a reskinned game!!!!!!11 said anyone who’s never actually played it. Don’t want it, fine, but you sound wildly uninformed at best if you think it’s just a mod. It’s not.

      • xfstef says:

        The argument “someone who hasn’t actually played it’ is irrelevant given the amount of possibilities we have today to explore the content of all games (youtube, twitch, review sites).
        If you don’t believe me that this new Battlefield looks like a mod for the old one, then ask a competent and experienced modder. See what they have to say.

      • rcguitarist says:

        As someone who played the crap out of the last beta…I have to say that this game DOES feel like a reskinned BF4 with a couple of multiplayer mod scenarios added on.

      • SuicideKing says:

        If you’ve played any CoD or BF since CoD4:MW, any of these will likely feel like a reskin. “YOU’VE NEVER PLAYED IT” doesn’t apply to these games, because everyone has, and now has stopped because they either didn’t like them for their gameplay, story or their broken state. In many cases all three.

        • rcguitarist says:

          But seriously, I felt like I was playing a new DLC for BF4. Everything felt exactly the same.

          • James says:

            My experiences match this. Though these days I consider COD a game not a franchise. It just gets skins and a dog every few years. Cities ‘One X per reskin’L falls into that catagory too.

            I won’t deny that it wasn’t fun its just that it offers absolutly nothing over Battlefield 3, which whilst not exactly innovative, just did the FPS genre really quite well (just avert your eyes from the single player).

    • M3GA says:

      I agree totally. Years ago this would have been considered a TCM (Total Coversion Mod) and released free. Now everythings a money grab!

    • Sacarathe says:

      Making you…. Exactly how are they making you….

  4. Anthile says:

    Do you get at least called a loose cannon at some point?

    • Dilapinated says:

      CHIEF: “Dammit, you’ve gone too far! Gimme your badge and your gun!
      ALL: …
      CHIEF: “Wait, not your gun. I didn’t mean- Ohgod, I’ve ruined the game, I can feel myself.. Melting.. Polygons.. Disintegrating..”
      *blub blub*

  5. gunny1993 says:

    What I want is Dredd vs Death again, I want to go around shooting people I’ve arrested for “Unlawful goldfish ownership” in the head.

    • Ruindur says:

      Dredd Vs. Death is on sale on Steam right now as part of a (pretty good, overall) “Cyberpunk sale”. Just sayin’.

  6. Premium User Badge

    DuncUK says:

    There’s definitely a gap in the market for a decent police ’em up, combining police procedural investigation stuff and open world elements, a sort of middle ground between classic Police Quest and LA Noire with a healthy dose of The Wire. This game clearly isn’t it though.

    • Pantalaimon says:

      Sounds a bit like Condemned although that was more of a hobo beat em up simulator.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I thought L.A. Noir got pretty close to being a good semi-open world police procedural, but I eventually got tired of some of the game mechanics and didn’t finish it. I should probably go back and try again some day. Not many (any?) other games like this around.

      It would be fun to see the Miami setting used for a noir detective game set in the 1950’s, something like a John D. McDonald book in the Travis McGee series. It would combine detection, some stealth bits, revenge themes, and occasional violence. Maybe not enough violence for the current videogame market, but at least one of the novels (“The Green Ripper”) had a lot of gunplay.

  7. Ryuuga says:

    “I wanted arms, but all they’d give were these weird beige tubes”

  8. Oracizan says:

    “You can chuck a shell casing to lure a foe elsewhere, but only ever a single foe – lob it near a group of three baddies and the other two will just hang around.”

    That actually makes sense to me. Why send an army to investigate an odd noise? One person will do. Then again, it might make more sense to employ a buddy system instead of splitting up like you’re in a horror movie, in which case groups of three or fewer would have to stick together so the odd person isn’t left out.

    I may have just talked myself out of my disagreement.

  9. montorsi says:

    Whoa, there’s more to the singleplayer than the first room where you fiddle with video settings before exiting out to multiplayer?

  10. cylentstorm says:

    So, it’s another disposable SP campaign with crap AI and silly scripted events, right? M’kay–par for the course, then. I swear–it’s almost as if people have forgotten the gargantuan gap between solo-focused FPS titles (like Half-Life and Bioshock) and this sort of game, an online multimurder (mostly) First-Person Shooting Gallery that only includes an offline component for shits and giggles–or simply to give console players something to do while they wait for the MP component to install.

  11. Zenicetus says:

    Someone needs to tell the art department that there are no hills anywhere near Miami (the burning hills background at around 10 seconds, and the distant skyline shot from a helicopter flying over a hill below). Also the downtown architecture looks a lot more like Chicago than Miami.

    I guess it won’t matter to most gamers, but still… as someone born in Miami and who lived there most of my life, I’m not getting much “Miami” vibe from that video. If the studio couldn’t afford a plane ticket for location scouting, they could at least have watched a few Miami Vice episodes for the locations and flavor.

  12. rcguitarist says:

    You have to love how video game companies take quote slivers to make the game sound great when it really isnt good at all.
    PC Gamer quote from video: “Really Really Fun”
    I could not find a single article, news blurb or anything on their website that says really really fun in it at all. This is most likely a paid, off the record quote.

    Another notable quote they could have used in the video instead (from their actual review in progress): “Your job is to deal with long loading times (and a spinning loading thing that never seems to go away) in pursuit of some dumb drug operation.”

  13. Chorltonwheelie says:

    What’s “sweet” is the sight of somebody trying to shoehorn a sites overarching paradigms into a review of a game they can’t help liking. Awwww, bless.

  14. poetfoxpaul says:

    RPS, where the least interesting yet most heavily funded games get multi-part reviews, while lesser known but way more interesting and poignant games are glanced at then forgotten. What happened, RPS? Did having children and losing Kieron really quench the spark that made this place wonderful? When did that critical eye shut?

    If you aren’t getting paid by EA you certainly should be.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      This has become common practice for these big, AAA games that have review embargos. RPS gets the code late, they break up the WIT in parts to get information to people as close to release as possible. Trying to be helpful, etc.

      But yes, obviously, the only clear answer is they’re on take. Bought, paid for, etc. You’ve really sussed it out.

    • RARARA says:

      Hahaha! This is hilarious! Chorltonwheelie above you is accusing RPS of trying to be AAA-shunning hipster platform, while you immediately after him are accusing them of being sellouts.

    • gwathdring says:

      It’s a hot mess as a first-person shooter too, which I’ll get into shortly, but it seems sensible to declare at this point that I’m somewhat enjoying Hardline despite its many, various and sometimes ridiculous failings. I am not accustomed to first-person shooters with ‘Battle’ or ‘War’ in the title attempting to be anything other than straight-up gunplay interspersed with the sort of hoo-ra patriotic bombast that even latter-day Clint Eastwood would frown at. Hardline is genuinely trying to offer a little more choice, and while its stealth aspect might come across like toddlers playing hide and seek compared to the Metal Gears and Thiefs some of us were raised on, and while its ‘open’ aspects might be pale, tiny and stiflingly mechanical imitations of Far Cry 3/4, it is sticking its head above the parapet and seeing if that huge audience of digital gun nuts are prepared to try something a touch more substantial.

      If EA pays for that kind of reception, wait till I tell them about this guy from the Nigerian royal family ….

  15. Spider Jerusalem says:

    If this were an add-on a la BFBC2’s Vietnam, I’d be all over it. The conquest mode with the cars and the hotwiring is wonderful. But I don’t care a whit about Battlefield’s singleplayer, and the rest of the MP modes (that I’ve seen) are completely forgettable.

    Hotwire is truly a gem, though.

    • rcguitarist says:

      Hotwire was the only mode that I found to be fun as well. Not $60 fun, but fun nonetheless.

  16. Spacewalk says:

    That man in the suit with the “ZZZ” above his head must be a cowboy because only cowboys sleep with their eyes open but where is his hat? Did the police steal it, is this what the bribe you get offered is, cowboy hats? Is one of the missions you have to suffer through breaking up an illicit hat ring which corrupt officers are skimming from? It’s no wonder that people can’t trust the police no more if they are taking hats from honest cowboys.

  17. Daniel Klein says:

    Did that sniper rifle in the intro just eject an unfired round? Come on, videogames, you’re better than this!

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      It’s blurry but I’m pretty sure it’s the neck of the empty brass.

    • -funkstar- says:

      An unused pistol round, too, it looks like.

  18. aircool says:

    I’ve never heard of this… is it related to the Battlefield games?

  19. Listlurker says:

    I agree with the reviewer and many of the commenters — gamers could certainly use a police game like this one, but this one isn’t the police game we actually need.

  20. simulant says:

    I’m done unless they can deliver an experience in which someone won’t scream F4g or n1gger in every game.
    Pretty sure this isn’t it.

    I know that the game publishers want to think that rampant racism & assholery in online multi-player these days isn’t their problem but it partially is. It’s also ours for continuing to play with these shit heads.

  21. flashlight_eyes says:

    Clint Eastwood got a little unjustified heat in this article. People often forget the movie Unforgiven, which Clint Wood directed, produced, and helped write. It remains the best critique of violence in cinema I have ever seen.

  22. Dezztroy says:

    That ballistic vest is pretty funny. Don’t worry about protecting the upper chest/neck, gotta have some cleavage!