Battlefield: Hardline ReviewPrice:
PC, Xbox One, PS4
I'm not sure precisely when Battlefield Hardline stopped being about the police, but I realised this had happened when I found myself driving a tank. Having escaped from a decomissioned missile silo owned by a howling mad military fetishist, cop-turned-convict-turned-vigilante Nick Mendoza proceeds to single-handedly assault an airfield belonging to the same backwater general. In the ensuing battle, Mendoza mans the artillery gun of a defunct AC-130 reconnaissance plane, slaughters a small army's worth of enemies, and engages in a tank battle showdown with his redneck adversary.
Battlefield Hardline is not a terrible game, but it is an atrocious
police game. The single-player is morally repugnant, narratively absurd, and mechanically all over the place. The multiplayer fares better, going some way to adapt the familiar Battlefield formula to a Cops 'n' Robbers theme. But in Hardline's context the grand scale and thunderous combat which made Battlefield's multiplayer a success is as much a hindrance as it is a help.
Before we delve into that side of the game, let's discuss the single-player a little more. Boy oh boy it's a mess. Things start out with some potential. After a brief introduction which shows Mendoza dressed in convict's orange and on his way to prison, the scene flashes back to three years earlier, where Mendoza and his partner Stoddard bust down the door of a local gang. The arrest goes awry, and the pair end up in a high-speed pursuit ending with a teeth-rattling collision, one handcuffed perp, and several bullet-strewn corpses.
The fallout from this fudged arrest causes Miami PD's Captain Dawes (voiced by The Shield's Benito Martinez) to set Mendoza up with a new partner Kai. The pair grudgingly set about tackling a drug smuggling ring. As their investigation deepens, Mendoza becomes increasingly convinced that his former partner Stoddard is corrupt, while Kai is concerned that Mendoza's determination to rock the boat will land them both in alligator-strewn water.
The opening few missions make a half-decent attempt at police fiction. Line-by-line the script is fairly well written. It's sharp, it's witty, and its central cast of characters are well thought out. The police theme also extends to the systems, most notably in the ability to "freeze" enemies by showing them your police badge. This causes them to hold their hands up, letting you throw them to the ground and handcuff them. But this only works with a maximum of three opponents in the vicinity, and if you don't keep your guns trained on them, they might take a pot-shot at you. You're also equipped with a taser, which ostensibly lets you take down criminals non-lethally.
In theory this allows you to approach the game from a stealthy, non-lethal perspective. What's more, Hardline encourages you to do this through allocating "warrants" to specific enemies, who earn you big points if arrested, unlocking extra equipment. Unfortunately, in practice it doesn't work especially well. If an opponent spots you, all enemies in the area are automatically alerted to your presence, and there is no way to arrest a suspect apart from using the badge. Both your taser and your baton effectively kill criminals, and other non-lethal equipment such as flashbangs, bean-bag shotguns, are mysteriously absent from your arsenal.
One might argue this is because Mendoza is a detective and not a member of SWAT. But this claim holds no water when the game allows you access to grappling hooks and zip-lines, which the campaign explains away in the script as "Borrowed from SWAT". Incidentally, the campaign only makes a token effort at incorporating these items, occasionally giving you the option to climb onto a roof to gain a better vantage point.
Around halfway through Visceral must have realised making a police game is actually quite difficult, requiring a certain amount of mechanical nuance. Not because the campaign suddenly improves, but because it gives up on the police theme almost entirely. At the drop of a ski-mask you go from fuzz to fugitive, evading police searchlights in the desert, and breaking into a car-dealership owned by Korean gangsters. There's even a complex "heist" mission wherein you must crack a high-security vault to steal money because of reasons. This involves murdering dozens of legitimately employed security guards who, in reality, would probably be former policemen.