Hardline's campaign is stark-raving bonkers. It might as well be a Grand Theft Auto game, so far does it stray from the idea of policing. The final mission takes the biscuit. With a tropical island setting ripped straight from Far Cry, it sees you sneaking through patrols of henchmen to set up a final encounter with Captain Dawes, who apparently goes from David Aceveda to Ernst Blofeld in the space of about seven hours, living in a security compound that would give James Bond pause for thought. All through this madness the game somehow keeps a straight face, determined to hold you up as the hero. It's dreadful stuff. Nasty, pig-ignorant twaddle which completely fails to establish its own personality either in its story or its systems.
So that's the campaign. Onto the multiplayer, which within about five minutes demonstrates itself to be far superior in design, although much of that is simply down to better foundations. At its most basic level, Hardline takes the framework of Battlefield, replaces the tanks and helicopters with speedy police interceptors, SWAT vans and, er, other helicopters, while trading its khaki combat gear for waterproof police jackets and novelty robber masks.
Rather than radically alter the formula, Visceral's work goes mostly into new modes and new maps. To be fair, there's plenty of both on offer. Heist is the mode where you'll find most players. Here the robbers must break into a vault at the centre of the map, then carry their ill-gotten gains through police lines to a pair of extraction points. The police of course must prevent this from happening. It's essentially a remixing of Capture the Flag, but made interesting by Battlefield's extensively destructive scenery. Breaking into vaults often involves blasting great big holes in buildings, and then navigating the mazy rubble to approach the extraction point.
Although Heist is the most popular mode, it isn't the best. That award goes to Hotwire, which is essentially Conquest, but the capture points are all vehicles that must be driven around the map in order to deplete the opposing side's resources. Hotwire is crazy fun, as cops and robbers smash their vehicles into one another, lay traps to blow up passing opponents, and work together to collect and drop-off squadmates at the capture points. None of this makes any sense at all, but it lets you play with Battlefield's vehicles in a much more freeform manner, and consequently works very well indeed.
The remaining modes are a little less successful for various reasons. Blood Money involves both teams grabbing fistfuls of dollars from a large stack of cash in the centre of the map, then transporting it back to their base. At the same time, the teams can steal directly from each other. Frankly it's a messy mode that fails to encourage much in the way of teamwork. The centre of the map is a confusing melee, and the fact that opposing players can so easily get around you means you're constantly getting shot from behind.
Rescue and Crosshair are far better conceptually. Rescue is framed around a hostage situation, and focussed on a small number of players, while Crosshair takes its cues from Counter Strike's VIP escort mode, seeing the police protecting an informant while the criminals attempt to kill him. Sadly, these modes appear to be somewhat neglected by the community, making it difficult to find a game of either. There's also a cops 'n' robbers version of Battlefield's traditional "Conquest" modes, which is unsurprisingly excellent, but nothing new.
Despite its variety, I really don't think Hardline does enough to make the most of its theme. The weaponry remains predominantly militaristic. Bank robbers generally don't come equipped with rocket-propelled-grenades, and even the most heavily-armed SWAT team is unlikely to be busting through doors wielding an M79 grenade launcher. That said, without these things would it still be Battlefield? Herein lies the conflict which Hardline's multiplayer struggles with at almost every turn. It's telling that the community focusses on the big modes with the big guns, rather than those more intimate modes better in-line with the police setting.
A couple of other quick points worth mentioning. Hardline's multiplayer appears to be far more stable at launch than Battlefield 4's bug-ridden fiasco. There were no apparent connectivity issues, and at no point were XP or levels suddenly forgotten about. Having to launch the multiplayer and singleplayer outside the game is still a colossal pain, however, especially given how you must quit the game every time you want to try an alternative mode.
In addition, Visceral have tweaked the way XP is earned, allowing you to speed up your rise through the ranks with the use of "Boosts" earned in the singleplayer. Boosts increase XP gains for playing certain modes in certain ways. To me this seems a little like cheating, but at least there is some way to speed up Battlefield's interminably slow level grind, always something that frustrated me about the series.
As I said at the start of this review, Battlefield Hardline is not a terrible game. But the vast majority of its good bits are down to the "Battlefield" aspects of its personality, rather than the "Hardline" bits. Either way, I don't think it does anything like enough to justify the whopping £50 price-tag. Its multiplayer is half-decent cop, its single-player is bloody terrible cop. As a result Battlefield Hardline ends up stuck awkwardly in the middle. It is mediocre cop.