Battlefield Hardline is not a reimagining of the Battlefield series, but rather it takes everything it has learned up to this point, and uses intelligent design to make a fun and unique game. Multiplayer has always been the major draw to the series, but for the first time the single-player campaign truly shines, and truly shows just how changing the formula can really make an interesting and engaging game.
Hardline’s story is one of the best FPS stories of the last few years. Very few shooters have intrigued and hooked me in as the newest Battlefield has. I didn’t want to stop, and it felt too short, but in a good way because it was simply that well done. You play as Nick Mendoza, a Miami cop, and along with that comes some massive plot twists and turns. There is not one time in the story you will not be questioning yours or another character’s motives. The story itself is gripping and constantly has you fully engaged and wondering what is going on. Instead of regular “levels,” the segments are cut into episodes, each one telling a different story while all connected just like a TV show. This was ingenious, because we are used to these types of games being more like movies, stretched across 8+ hours, but breaking them into short stories works so well and I hope many more shooters adapt this system. There is even a “last time on” before each episode to catch you up if you forgot something, and a preview of the next episode to keep you teased and wanting more.
In earlier interviews the devs have stated that they wanted the single-player to be more driven by characters and situations versus just a written story, and they nailed it. The characters and world are so beautifully flushed out that you are driven to continue playing because you start to care about finishing Nick’s story, or helping out the other characters. It is a very linear story and has no choices that will affect the outcome of the game, but it actually works better that way. The writers have a very specific story they want to tell, and they are able to do just that. And it is a story worth telling and playing. Very few times have I felt as much anger towards certain characters as I have in the last five episodes of Hardline. There are also so many mixed feelings about the characters that they feel real, and there is a massive blur between who is good and who is screwing you over. It creates a unique dynamic in which you feel these characters are real and trying to decode them becomes a complex game in which you have to just wait until the finale.
With characters really being the driving force behind the whole campaign, it all came together because of the voice actors. Hardline had some of the best voice acting I have ever heard in a shooter, and it really helped mold the characters and world around you. Kelly Hu (X-Men 2, Arrow) is convincing and truly complex as Khai, one of the main leads and your partner. Another standout performance is Benito Martinez as Dawes. Benito delivers some of the best voice acting and one of the overall best performances of any game. Every other character within the game is also excellently voiced and performed extremely well, making this one of the strongest casting choices I have ever had the pleasure of playing through.
The pacing of Hardline’s single-player campaign is also very well done. Don’t expect the story and cutscenes to simply be a way to get into the shooting; they are slow but allow time to take in the world and truly mold the characters. There was never a time during the cutscenes that I felt bored, it was always intriguing and they never outlast their welcome. The playable parts are the same way: expect some slower segments and banter between characters, not just action non-stop.
Hardline also separates itself from previous installments by giving the player more options in how they play. Being a cops-and-robbers-type game, you have a few abilities to take down enemies non-lethally, which is both exhilarating and tense. The first main option is the stun gun, which is a one-shot takedown. You can also flash your badge if you sneak up on one to three enemies and freeze them, then arrest them. To make you want to use non-lethal takedowns there is also a warrant system in which you can scan enemies, find one that has a warrant, and if you take them down without killing them you get bonus points which can add up to new weapons, modifications, and gadgets. I found sneaking around and arresting whoever I could to be fun, and it made the game feel unique and not just another shoot-em-up Battlefield installment.
Hardline is a gorgeous game, and the graphics and sound help push the intensity of the whole game. The maps are laid out very well and are more diverse than ever. The smaller maps really cater to urban warfare with tight-knit areas and plenty of nooks and crannies. For the most part the game looks great with the exception of some muddled textures up close and some clipping problems in the animation. Some of the set pieces are phenomenal like the hurricane level or the dust storm in multiplayer. Just like in previous Battlefields the sound design is great. From the boom of a shotgun, to the voice acting, to the ping of ammo dropping. Everything just sounds right, and when guns are going off and buildings are being leveled the beautiful sounds of destruction Hardline has created are hard to ignore.
Multiplayer also really steps up its game, although it is more hit and miss than in the story. It has seven modes and some of them really shine, while others just feel like a reskinned Battlefield 4. I constantly found myself wishing more had come through the single player into the multiplayer. That’s not to say it isn’t a solid and fun experience, it just fell a little short.
If you are a veteran to the Battlefield series, you will feel right at home in Conquest and Team Death Match. Working best on the larger-sized maps, these game modes feel tight and play smooth. It is almost too familiar, however, as not much has changed from previous installments, and having massive maps with all-out warfare does not seem to work well with the cops-and-robbers formula. It just feels out of place, and both modes could have been so much better with some tweaks and changes to make them fit the game better. They both feel like they were added simply because they are Battlefield games and people expect them, rather than doing something different.
Heist and Blood Money are two modes that do just that. Blood Money is a game in which the robbers try to steal money from a central location, while cops are taking that money at the same time. Both sides are trying to get as much cash as they can back to their own safe houses and it almost plays like a capture the flag type mode. If you get killed, you drop your cash and the other side can steal it from you, and they can also take cash directly from your safehouse. It is a frantic mode, however it seems to really just become a massive shootout around the central stash, while the rest of the map is mostly abandoned. Although fun, it certainly is not for everyone. Heist is something a little different and has much more diverse options. Needing more teamwork, Heist has the robbers trying to break into a vault and steal a stash, then trying to make it to a getaway point. It allows teams to play more tactical, if they want, and pick routes to escape. This is also the mode where the grappling hook and zipline shine the most. Using them to make a fast route to the getaway zone feels creative and can make or break a team. Heist is one of the best modes that Hardline has to offer.
If you are looking for something even more tactical, however, Rescue and Crosshair are intense five-versus-five games that have no respawns. Not for everyone, Rescue and Crosshair are more competitive modes that have been vacant in past Battlefield games, and it was a blast to play. Forced with a 3 minute timer, Crosshair forces both teams to accomplish an objective, get a VIP to a getaway zone or kill the VIP, without losing all the members. If the VIP gets away or all the players on one team are eliminated, it is game over. Rescue has the cops trying to save one of two hostages, while the robbers try to protect them. Both modes are extremely intense, and require a gameplan and teamwork to truly become good at. Firefights are much more engaging due to the fact that there are no respawns and the clock is ticking away, creating much more tension throughout the game.
The star of Hardline is Hotwire. Hotwire has the two sides fighting to control specific cars and trying to hold onto them as long as they can. Much like Conquest the cars act as capture points and allow the other team’s points to tick away faster. It is fast and perfectly fits the cops-and-robbers feel. Speeding around the map in a muscle car and having a passenger firing out the window at other cars makes for a fast-paced and extremely exciting game. It was also the one mode I could jump into the action the fastest and didn’t feel like I was walking around trying to find something to do. I have never had as much fun in a Battlefield multiplayer match as I did while playing Hotwire. They really took the action and speed of the single-player and mixed it with the Conquest-type gameplay, and ended up molding something unique but familiar. I wish the other modes had captured this same feeling, versus just being simple Conquest or Team Death Match.
The guns and gadgets are also very well done, in both single and multiplayer. The two main new gadgets are the zipline and grappling hook. They really add a new dimension and allow greater movement around the map. My biggest complaint in multiplayer, however, is that where these gadgets would be most useful, there is usually one that you can pick up at that location, making it almost useless on certain maps to actually have them using up your equipment slots. It also makes it so everyone can use it at the best spots, instead of only those willing to lose slots to have them. The guns have also been revamped, and in very good ways. The guns of the same class now feel much more diverse, and each gun has pros and cons. It is no longer about unlocking the best weapons, but unlocking the weapons that play to your playstyle. I found the first shotgun to actually be the best for me and enjoyed working towards unlocking modifications for it, rather than waiting to unlock the last one. Each gun feels and reacts differently, and finding the right gun for how you play is actually fun. Every gun feels like it has a place, and nothing feels overpowered at this point.
Battlefield Hardline has an amazing single player campaign, with some very unique ideas. Where it fails the most is when it quits trying to be different from past installments.