Wot I Think – Battlefield: Hardline

No don't shoot I've got something really important to say which will lead to an entirely abritrary plot twist

Concluding what turned out to be a two-part review-in-progress of EA’s latest big noisy man-shooter – part 1 is here. I wrote it in pieces purely because we didn’t have code until US release day and I wanted to be useful to people thinking of buying the game ASAP; there’ll probably be more of that sort of thing here.

Battlefield: Hardline is a stupid game. Clanging, colossal, cacophonous stupidity. It’s a morally ugly one too, implicitly endorsing the idea that American police should be Judge Dredd, free to take as many lives as they feel like without consequence, fighting the war on drugs as a literal war, celebrating American policing’s increasing shift towards the openly militaristic. Though, quite frankly, all that might just be a consequence of its unbridled stupidity. It really is very stupid.

I quite like it.

I’ve covered much of the singleplayer, including its attempts at stealth and why it’s not simply CoD with a police hat on in this previous piece, and further progress through the game hasn’t changed my mind too much. I’ll add a few extra thoughts before proceeding to multiplayer (though I don’t agree that multi is necessarily the main event; nor, clearly, do EA, given quite how ‘big’ Hardline’s singleplayer is). Unsurprisingly, later levels entirely take leave of what few senses the earlier ones had. Plot-wise, it’s like headbutting a pavement. Everyone backstabs everyone backstabs everyone but wait what about oh no backstab but wait oh, look, just murder everyone even though you’re a police officer, but now you’re a convict but look you can still arrest people if you want and no wonder half the world doesn’t take videogames seriously. But!

There is something to be said for stalking people with a taser through a sprawling shopping mall in the middle of a hurricane. There is something to be said for airboating around the swamps of Florida (though I was disappointed at the lack of Gentle Ben references) then ziplining between observation towers because something something drugs. There is something to be said for a stealth-escape through a ruined mountain town that looks like a Fallout offcut. There is much to be said for the size and openeness of Hardline’s singleplayer campaign – choosing a route and choosing an approach in a way that Gruff Man With Gun games rarely allow. Hell, you even get to open all your own doors.

The nonsense narrative, though well-performed by its voice cast and boasting some excellent face rendering (yes, top marks for Renderface), gets in the way of this. Though at least it’s big and brash enough to possibly distract us from a monstrous underlying sentiment that, so long as he’s not on the take, it’s absolutely fine for a policeman to murder anyone standing near a suspected crime scene. You’ll need to leave morality at the door and accept that you’re disappearing into a lurid Michael Bay fantasy which is, probably unwittingly, deeply insensitive with regard to recent events in America and, for less aware minds, might endorse some deeply sinister ideas about police powers.

There is, however, a pretty decent shooter campaign in there, at least by the standards of this series and post-Modern Warfare Call of Duty. It’s far less restrictive than the norm, and clearly a hell of a lot of time and money has been spent trying to make it more than the traditional tokenistic half dozen hours of mindless bombast put in to prop up new multiplayer maps. If you choose the stealth/non-lethalish route like I did, it’s also going to last you quite a long time. Far less so if you just blast your way through, naturally.

Onto multiplayer. It’s what an awful lot of people will buy Hardline for, and it both is and isn’t a big shift for the Battlefield series. Only a fool would interpret the police vs criminals theme as anything more than skin deep. This is still army vs army, with both sides having unfettered access to a huge variety of high-power weaponry and vehicles. It’s a police story only in the way that the latter half of Bad Boys 2 is a police story – men who identify as police behaving like a private army with limitless resources. (And also in that it is very visually dramatic but makes no sense, other than that it fetishises military might and extreme wealth).

That said, a shift from tanks and jeeps to cars and motorbikes and the occasional speedboat lends Hardline a madcap freneticism that Battlefield doesn’t traditionally have, even in its increasingly manic recent instalments. On some maps, it’s rough and tumble chaos – high speed car chases, giant tankers ploughing people off the roads, dudes grappling hooking to rooftops, and ziplining onto helipads… I missed the comparative calm and freedom to plan of early Battlefields, but sometimes I stood back and shook my head in disbelief at the widescreen carnage of it all.

There’s a decent variety of modes which stray a long way from Battlefield’s traditional Conquest point-control mode and into stuff like hostage grabbing, cash theft and car heists, and these do help keep things fresh, but it all boils down to a massive, apocalyptic dust-up. Maps are huge and ornate, riffing on major locales from the campaign – e.g. that big mall, those everglade swamps, a burning weed den – then turning them into elaborate death-traps. And there really is a lot of death, even by Battlefield standards. More indoor spaces and more verticality means so many places to hide and camp; so many devices with which to cause harm; some crazy imbalances based on what people have unlocked.

I laughed darkly, sometimes, at the frequency and unavoidability of my own demise, at how often I couldn’t even fire a shot before a rocket launcher melted my bones or a helicopter’s machine gun cut me to ribbons. But that’s part of the game, as much as I would learn to survive longer from extended play or by finding a steady team rather than just fetch up with unlocked-crazed, abuse-spitting randos. I caused my own fair share of sudden, presumably infuriating deaths too – Hardline is designed to be rolling, insane slaughter more than it is a co-ordinated clash of equally-matched forces.

The theme, loose and uncomfortable as it may be, also allows a little more liberation in the modes. Some revolve around the seizing of money, and in turn you get more car chases out of that, plus city streets which provide a more familiar pop-cultural touchstone than open landscapes peppered with future-tech. I mean, it’s Heat’s bank heist as re-enacted by Team America, but grab the cash and get out is far easier to get behind than go guard point A because some unseen general has decreed it.

The presentation and the atmosphere is so damned noisy, though. Hardline multiplayer is defined by, overwhelmed by its unlocks, by the stats and icons it batters you with either side of play, by the constant anxiety that the kit you have isn’t good enough. Add to that its maps not offering much breathing space – it’s all go, all the time – and I just generally feel this is a ranting, twitching fever pitch experience. Escaping a bank vault with a sack of cash in hand and a small army on your tail is thrilling, ripping a mansion that even Notch would blush at to shreds is spectacular, but I do miss the pace and tension of Battlefield as-was.

This really is Michael Bay in every way, entirely lacking in irony, entirely aroused by militaristic mayhem, entirely unrelenting. And with action on a scale few others can match. Any hopes of this being a police simulator in any sense are entirely dashed, but I don’t think a bigger, brasher Battlefield where barely a moment is spent not fighting is a bad thing. If this is Battlefield’s only future, that would be a terrible shame, but if treated purely as a mindless destruction derby spin-off it’s hard not to have a riotous old time with it. Its playing fields are humungous, its toys generate maximum mayhem, it will festoon you with new goodies even if you basically fail to do anything of note, and you get to drive a motorbike down a dried-up river bed like in Terminator 2.

Battlefield: Hardline is a stupid game. I quite like it.

83 Comments

  1. Wowbagger says:

    Kind of went off Battlefield after 4 was a car crash at launch, this doesn’t look like it’s the iteration to win me back either.

    • VileThings says:

      If BF4 got you off BF this one might be the one that gets you back on the wagon. Seriously, it’s loads of fun. I, too, didn’t enjoy BF4 as much as previous iterations but I enjoy Hardline a lot. Some of the modes are really well made.

      That being said, I think they managed to fuck up equipment unlocks even more so than in any previous BF. On paper it may sound awesome: earn money during gameplay and use that to unlock guns and attachments. While this works for guns (apart from the fact that some of them are rather pricey. especially if you don’t spend some time cruising around in Hotwire and are only unlocked for one class and one faction) it doesn’t work that way for attachments for said guns. You will have to unlock the option to even buy attachments by making kills with a gun. So essentially you have to make enough kills (like in previous BF games) but still have to pay to actually use whatever attachment you want.

      Unlock progression is something I always hated in a multiplayer shooter. Just give me the at least one decent weapon that fits my playstyle right away. That way I don’t have to crawl along with whatever standard weapon I am stuck with until I get something I can actually use.

    • DodgyG33za says:

      BF3 felt like constant death by random occurrence rather than by mistakes that I made in either weapon selection or in the moment. The only modes that ended up being fun where those with a quick respawn back into the action.

      I skipped BF4 mostly because of this (also premium). This sounds like more of the same.

      Unless EA move back away from insta-death and bling over strategy, I will remain on the sidelines.

  2. Rizlar says:

    ‘Randos’ = randy weirdos?

  3. Heliocentric says:

    Read too much like infomercial.

    Don’t get me wrong, having spent time in the beta, I don’t actually disagree with anything you said, but buzzwords man… Buzzwords.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Are you accusing me of something?

      • Heliocentric says:

        Yes, using too many buzzwords. It’s easy to fall I to.

        • DXN says:

          “Buzzwords”? Like what?

        • hamilcarp says:

          There weren’t too many buzzwords my friend, you might be having a corporatist hallucinatory episode… maybe you fell asleep watching infomercials again.

      • Heliocentric says:

        To be clear, I’m not calling you a shill, you just sound, over excited?

        • X_kot says:

          This comment amuses me given Mr. Meer’s supporter post from yesterday about the corrosive effect unlock-driven multiplayer has had on the genre. I expected him to criticize Hardline for slavishly continuing the trend and was not disappointed. That, in addition to the problematic theme, the ramped up tempo reducing the strategic planning that was once Battlefield’s forte, and the single-player schism between reckless and procedural playstyles.

      • Alec Meer says:

        I think you may have missed all the many criticisms in your rush to say something damning.

        • AbsoluteShower says:

          I don’t think what he was saying is ‘damning’ at all. Relax dude.

          • Pantalaimon says:

            Yeah I’m not sure where that came from exactly. These review pieces read balanced, credible positives and negatives.

          • Pantalaimon says:

            edit: referring to Heliocentric’s post.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            I really dont think the criticism is valid in this instance either. The review seemed balanced. It expresses enjoyment, sure, but I’m glad the parts about morality were in there as it will definitely affect my decision to buy. I like this review and it does not seem at all breathless or designed-for-soundbite.

          • April March says:

            And I cannot find a single instance of what I would refer to as a ‘buzzword’.

        • blind_boy_grunt says:

          Did you actually read the review and the comment? There is such a disconnect between those two things(“morally ugly”, “stupid game” vs. “reads like an infomercial”) that you have to attribute that to something. Stupidity or malice take your pick.

          • AbsoluteShower says:

            Still, hardly ‘damning’ of the review. Everyone needs to take a breath here.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            ugh, the last part i would like to delete now, because i don’t want to call op outright stupid or malicious. It’s just that quote.

          • Alec Meer says:

            “Infomercial”

            I’m long past taking personal offence at this stuff, but I’m increasingly exasperated that there’s a bunch of people who’ll barely even take a breath before popping up with (implicit or otherwise) RPS-is-on-the-take stuff these days.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            Someone accuses the writer of making an infomercial for the company without any basis, and you are saying asking what the hell op is talking about is unreasonable?

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            oh, maybe op expected something more in line of the anual John Walker CoD takedown. Compared to that this is of course a glowing recommendation

          • Heliocentric says:

            It’s that last paragraph, it felt familiar from copywritten write ups we are all used to seeing in consoles official magazines.

            Maybe my resentment for the series is spilling out into my reading of the review, heck it’s a balanced review, I said I agree with everything, it just feels very enthusiastic, maybe it’s the absence of lengthy takedown on quite how laborious and balance infringing the grind is.

          • ffordesoon says:

            @Heliocentric:

            Is a paragraph that really begins like this…

            “This really is Michael Bay in every way, entirely lacking in irony, entirely aroused by militaristic mayhem, entirely unrelenting.”

            …so similar to the windup of your typical oo-rah explosions out of ten IGN-style review? The paragraph that says Battlefield continuing in this vein would be “a terrible shame?” I don’t think the repeated insistence that the game is “stupid” would really pass muster in your OXMs and Game Informers, either.

            Frankly, I think you were way too quick on the draw with that comment.

          • Premium User Badge

            boundless08 says:

            “…RPS-is-on-the-take…” – Alec Meer

            well, if we didn’t know it before! Joke btw just in case anyone takes it seriously

          • DragonOfTime says:

            And as we’ve learned from Battlefield: Hardline, being on the take is the worst offence there is!

        • hypocritelecteur says:

          Haven’t you idiots ever seen an infomercial in your entire miserable stupid ignorant lives? They are FULL of lines like “Though, quite frankly, all that might just be a consequence of its unbridled stupidity. It really is very stupid.”, “ridiculous,” etc.
          If I was going to make an infomercial for my products that is EXACTLY what I would pay someone to say.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Oh, since editing is forbidden… Screw that business model, and screw that grind. Will not be buying, but I hope a more ethical developer learns from hot wire game type.

      • Walsh says:

        I dunno, I’m sort of ok with BF4s idea of grinding. Playing Titanfall which had almost very mild grind, once I unlocked everything I was sort of bored with it. BF4 gave me things to try to earn, it forced me to use weapons I wouldn’t normally use, which in turn made me feel like I got more out of the game.

        There is a very fine line though, and I like how you can buy Battlepacks with the ingame currency now instead of waiting super long for unlocks. I dislike how the Experience Bonus perks are specialized now, which seems like stretching out the grind for no particular reason..

      • Flopper says:

        What exactly is wrong with the grind? I’ve got less than 15 hours played and already have my Enforcer fully unlocked for everything I need. I also have all the guns for the trans chopper and both coup and 4 dar cars with rocket launchers…

        This is by far the least grind I’ve ever seen in a multiplayer FPS and you have a problem with it.

        Based on all your posts on this thread alone you clearly made you mind up to hate the game and not give it a chance long before it’s release. It’s ok.

        But don’t try to pretend your attitude isn’t a result of anything but that.

        • Heliocentric says:

          I played about 10 hours of the beta, didn’t hate it,haven’t said I hate it, maybe they tuned the XP rate in the release Titley.

    • hamilcarp says:

      What are you even talking about? Give the man a break, there was no egregious use of buzzwords and marketing lingo in that review. Do us all a favor and keep your half-baked complaints to yourself.

  4. VeritableHero says:

    Hell, you even get to open all your own doors.

    Love this line and think it’s silly (but telling regarding these type of games) that it needs to be said. Enjoyed this review!

    • Pantalaimon says:

      It’s good that they found a way to really push the boundaries of what we expect from these kind of games.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I meant to say that quite a lot of the door openings involve a short cutscene which was clearly intended to be a QTE at some point, but I guess they (wisely) decided against it. Though it’s a bit boring to watch your big hands very slowly crowbar open a door time and again.

      • EhexT says:

        They did this starting Battlefield 4. They are explicitly forbidden from doing mundane QTEs (good), but they’re still putting in lengthy filler animations for console load times without a way to speed them up for the faster PC load times.

      • April March says:

        That sounds bad mostly because I’d be continously reminded of Far Cry 2.

  5. GallonOfAlan says:

    Hands up, Ted Danson!

  6. Mara says:

    I like the multi-part reviews, please keep doing those.
    It allows us an early look at games we are on the fence about getting at release but also gives the reviewer a chance to look back at an earlier opinion and reflect.
    I’ve often had first experiences of games that were very different to my final thoughts on it (in both directions), and this is something that you don’t really see in a regular single-article review. You are, after all, presenting your opinion on a product, not the process by which you reached it.

    So yeah, great review, won’t be getting the game, just wanted to give some feedback on the multi-part structure.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Ta. It’s case-by-case basis for multipart stuff – there’s no grand strategy. Increasingly we can only get hold of the big publisher titles for release date or afterwards, so it’s either this sort of thing or publish something long after most people have decided whether a game is for them or not.

  7. Stevostin says:

    When will it be released ? I can’t find it on Steam.

    • Mara says:

      EA doesn’t release its games on Steam any more, they’ll just be on Origin… sorry.

    • Alec Meer says:

      It’s out now, but yeah, Origin only I’m afraid.

      • DragonOfTime says:

        Also uPlay for some reason, actually.

        • TormDK says:

          It’s because uPlay do not have the same restrictive DLC policies as Steam does, which let EA and Ubisoft setup a partnership where they sell each others games on their respective platforms.

          In theory at least. In practice I can’t find any other Ubisoft game than the AssCreed franchise.

  8. Gap Gen says:

    “endorsing the idea that American police should be Judge Dredd, free to take as many lives as they feel like without consequence”

    So, realistic?

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      Depends on the type of life they are taking, from recent evidence.

      • Themadcow says:

        Bad Boys II says it’s OK to drive your Hummer through a shanty town as long as you’re doing it to catch bad guys.

        • bill says:

          Action movies don’t tend to dwell on collateral damage. Most action movie car chases would result in dozens of dead and maimed civilians and grieving families. I guess it’s usually ok to gloss over that in the name of spectacle and entertainment.

      • hamilcarp says:

        Not sure what you’re on about here, but if you’re saying what :I think you’re saying, then you should know that kind of stone age mentality doesn’t get a lot of mileage on this website.

      • PigSkinsDeservedIt says:

        I feel the same way about 9/11

    • KDR_11k says:

      No, if it was realistic then even hurting a white guy would get you reprimanded, only blacks can be killed on sight.

    • bill says:

      Judge Dredd is starting to look scarily prophetic in a lot of ways.

  9. Linvail says:

    Played a few hours, I’m already bored of Hardline.

    I had high hopes for the BF franchise after Bad Company 2 – I really liked the tight design centered around the lower player count and the excellent map design, but now they seem more preoccupied with lens flare and HDR bloom than with making maps with any actual sense of pace.

    • AUS_Doug says:

      I had high hopes for the franchise after playing 1942 & Vietnam.

      “OK, just keep making the AI better, updating the theme of the game every couple of years and you’ll be good.”

      Then I played Battlefield 2, died a little inside and, despite having a play of every Battlefield game since, always find myself going back to the glorious simplicity – and, at the same time, complexity – of 1942 & Vietnam.

      I’ve not played Hardline yet, but I can’t see it breaking the cycle.

  10. James says:

    Thanks for the reviews Alec, they were very helpful and have made me rethink my assessment of Battlefield as something on the decline. However I suspect I’ll give it a miss. My insanity quota is met by Just Cause multiplayer and I don’t feel much like another FPS (which I suspect is the result of genre saturation, I used to love a good shooter). The fun pewpew-ing is something I can find in other games like Elite Dangerous. So, as much as I would probably enjoy it for at least a few hours, I can find what I want in other games.

    That said, thanks for bringing Battlefield back onto my list of franchises to keep an eye on.

  11. AngusPrune says:

    I played a few hours of the most recent open beta of Hardline and I quite liked it. The new emphasis on civilian vehicles really makes the game feel more united rather than having it so it feels like a few disjoint games happening on the same map.

    What I can’t get over is the price. 50 quid for the digital download while the physical version is 15 quid cheaper is taking the piss. I’m not going to get physical media like a peasant, nor am I willing to be ripped off to that degree. EA need to sort their digital strategy out pronto. Step one is to stop thinking of Steam like a competitor and treat them like any other retailer. No one is going to buy from Origin when they see how badly they’re getting taken for a ride, Origin needs to operate in a marketplace with real competitors.

  12. RARARA says:

    This really is Michael Bay in every way, entirely lacking in irony, entirely aroused by militaristic mayhem, entirely unrelenting.

    Someone hasn’t watched either The Rock or Pain & Gain.

    Aside from that, good read.

    • P.Funk says:

      How is the Rock not all about militaristic mayhem?

      Bay has a style that is unrelenting, even in something like Pain and Gain. Its his downfall.

    • bill says:

      I like The Rock. Maybe because at that point his style was fresh, and probably because of the actors. But I don’t think it has much going on in terms of irony.

      Pain & Gain I haven’t watched. I heard it was pretty good, but personally I found something a little distasteful about the idea of making a comedy about 2 real guys who kidnapped and tortured someone a few years ago.

      • RARARA says:

        When you compare The Rock with other more recent Bay outings, it’s nowhere nearly as masturbatory in it’s portrayal of the military. The bad guys are Marines who take up guns against the government because the the death of their compatriots aren’t recognized, the ‘good’ Navy SEALs get killed instead of saving the day, and the only people to the rescue are a civil servant and a foreigner, the latter of whom was held for 3 decades in an American prison without charges and then gets betrayed by the government to the very end. It’s not exactly Coppola, but a far cry from, say, Transformers and its military hardware wanking.

        I wouldn’t force anyone to watch Pain & Gain, because like almost every Bay movie it’s crass, misanthropic, objectifying – but it actually uses all these tropes to skewer The American DreamTM thoroughly. The only other movie to surpass it in that regard is last year’s Nightcrawler.

  13. cylentstorm says:

    Yep. That pretty much sums it up. One big stereotypical clusterfuck that–if not taken too seriously–is stupid fun.

  14. bill says:

    Why is this NOT a Judge Dredd game???

    Surely that would be pure awesome? All the issues would melt away.
    Please someone make a game like this but in Mega City One! Where I can arrest criminals, or blow them away by the hundred. Where I can ride a lawmaster around open levels and blow stuff up with bike cannons. Etc…

    Plus, at times, Judge Dredd does at least have some sense of irony. Though it can often be hard to tell.

    • bill says:

      PS/ and even when lacking irony, it at least has a sense of humor or it’s own ridiculousness. Or achieves it by the simple ridiculousness of its setting and characters.

  15. P.Funk says:

    “post-Modern Warfare”

    I like what you did there.

  16. rexx.sabotage says:

    Something something drugs-backstab. Look, here’s gratuitous munitions, just go blow all the shit up, OK?”

    This is one of the most enjoyable pieces of yours that I’ve read thus far, it had me in stitches. Your energy is infectious and a breath of fresh air as of late.

  17. Premium User Badge

    cairbre says:

    Good review. I’m glad the game doesn’t seem a total train wreck. But it’s just too expensive and they are even pulling the premium add on. Sorry I will pass there are to many other games out there and there is the small matter of gta around the corner

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