Battlefield is known for being a military shooter but Hardline is looking to change all of that by completely shifting the setting and tone of the game to the tried-and-true Cops versus Robbers instead. Even traditional Battlefield game modes for multiplayer have been tweaked to make for a new experience, and while longtime fans of the series might be thrown off initially, give it a chance and you'll most likely think Hardline is the good cop instead of the bad one.
+Hotwire Mode is very refreshing and a fun twist on Conquest.
+The Cops vs Robbers campaign is a great new angle instead of world factions against each other.
+New weapon unlocking progression is money-based instead of rank and time sinks.
-The 'flash your badge' mechanic in campaign works seldom when needed and seems silly at times.
-No big memorable set pieces for the campaign.
-Campaign tries to force you to play it as a stealth game instead of a true Battlefield.
-Aside from a few campaign sections, Hardline doesn't look current-gen at all.
Best known as a militaristic shooter, Battlefield Hardline changes the formula completely, which can be a little jarring at first but eventually welcomed once you learn its offerings and simply accept it. The multiplayer is once again present and easily the biggest piece of Hardline that will keep you playing, but the campaign also returns with a much smaller scale story instead of world factions fighting it out across the globe. Visceral Games has dramatically changed Battlefield's setting and tone, but the core multiplayer gameplay still feels like a Battlefield at its heart. The campaign though, not so much.
Hardline's backdrop is now the classic Cops versus Robbers setting, and with it comes a campaign full of clichés and a storyline we've seen a hundred times before. You play as Nick Mendoza, a newly crowned detective, and with your partner Kahi (voiced by Kelly Hu) you need to follow the supply of drugs coming into Miami and put a stop to it from the source. Even though the campaign is completely full of clichés and tropes that have been done a hundred times, the characters themselves are quite interesting and believable, wanting me to play each episode to find out what happens next.
The campaign is divided into 10 episodes set up like a cop drama complete with the "next time on..." and "previously on..." introductions any good TV show would have. The voice acting from all of the main characters is quite well done and one of the highlights from the campaign itself. For a campaign though, Hardline plays completely different from any of the other Battlefield games, mostly because of a few of its odd design choices.
Firstly, since you play as a cop, you have the ability to flash your badge at a group of unsuspecting bad guys to make them freeze in their tracks and submit to you (in theory, anyway). If you sneak up on three or less enemies and press LB, you flash your badge and aim your gun at them, forcing them to submit to you, though only if you keep your gun pointed at each of them individually periodically. Here you can then arrest them for big points (which go towards your overall campaign score and unlocks) or simply shoot them if you desire. It's a bit silly to have three hardened and coked-up criminals instantly submit to you when you're alone and simply wielding a pistol while they all have automatic weapons, but you're just supposed to go with it. Also, it's a bit odd that Nick somehow carries around more than a dozen pairs of handcuffs on him, but again, just go with it.
Even though Hardline is set in modern day, you have an incredibly high tech piece of gadgetry that allows you to instantly scan the area for any bad guys, target them and keep them on your HUD, and also be able to instantly analyze pieces of evidence. Each episode will have specific targets that you should be on the lookout for with outstanding warrants, and if you're able to scan them and arrest them (not kill), you get massive experience and other bonuses.
You're able to see on your minimap the range of the enemies' vision and their cone of sight, so using this to your advantage is going to be a must in certain sections. This is also weirdly how the campaign almost forces you to play Hardline like a stealth game instead of a traditional Battlefield where you shoot anything that moves. Yes, you CAN play it that way, but you're not rewarded nearly as much if you do since you get many more points for takedowns and arrests instead of straight up kills. Some sections can be done completely without firing a shot, but it will take some patience to do so and you will at some point be spotted by a random enemy. I found it odd that the game rewards you for being stealthy and playing the 'good cop', but the rewards you're given ask you to play completely the opposite when you're given big and noisy weapons in return. If you end up playing like a standard shooter, you won't unlock the better guns and attachments quite as quickly either, so it's an odd unlocking progression that seems to contradict itself.
The campaign was a mixed bag for me. On one hand I loved the new direction and smaller story, but the simplistic AI and the forced stealth gameplay simply doesn't make it feel like a Battlefield in a sense. Almost every mission has you with a partner of some sorts, so the lack of any type of co-op also feels like a complete miss. The story is filled with clichés and tropes so you'll see the twists and twists-within-twists coming, but you'll oddly still want to see Nick's and the other characters' outcomes as episodes progress.
While I'll dive into the multiplayer component shortly, I was happy to see the Levolution mechanic from Battlefield 4 make a return. These are events that happen and can completely change the layout of gameplay of a specific map if you decide to destroy certain aspects in a level. The Levolution in Battlefield 4 actually completely changed most of the maps' gameplay and how you played, but in Hardline it feels more like it's putting on a show than purposely changing the maps. There are a few exceptions, like in the 'Downtown' map where a crane can collapse and destroy a building, causing highways to buckle and create new paths, but there are also other maps where a few buildings collapse and that's about it, no grand spectacle at all.
It's been quite some time since Battlefield multiplayer has allowed you to scale buildings, but the long-awaited return is finally here. Now you can equip your class with a grappling hook and/or a zip-line to make traversing the larger maps much easier, or simply use it strategically to get the jump on your enemies. These are great tools for snipers to get on top of high perches, or to stop a sniper and sneak behind him unexpectedly. Radio controls in vehicles (most but not all) also makes a return and there's a decent set list of songs that varies different genres, but there's nothing quite like hearing "Sound of Da Police" by KRS One while barreling down the highway at top speed, getting chased by a chopper, hoping your other teammates in the car will repair your vehicle as soon as possible.
For online multiplayer modes (the staple of the series), Conquest returns, but I was quite surprised to see Rush nowhere to be found. That being said, there are a handful of new modes that Hardline has that is sure to please almost everyone and can be quite thrilling given a good team:
Rescue: This is a 5 vs 5 competitive mode with no respawns and is only a few short minutes long. The SWAT team must try and save the hostages while the criminals must eliminate all of the police to win. It's quite odd playing a 10-player Battlefield game, but those that gravitate more towards Counter-Strike should feel a little more at home here.
Crosshair: With the same respawn restrictions, 5 vs 5, and short time limit, this mode is essentially the opposite of Rescue and has the SWAT team trying to keep a VIP alive and getting them to the extraction point while the criminals try to eliminate them and the VIP.
Blood Money: This frantic mode has each faction trying to steal money from a central crate and then bring it back to their own vault. The catch is that players can also raid the enemies' vault to get more money or stop them from winning as well. The team with the most money deposited at the end of the time limit or reaching the goal of money stolen wins. There's a lot of layers of strategy to this mode and a really good squad can make all of the difference in a match. Teamwork is a must.
Heist: Just as the name implies, this has the criminal team trying to break into a bank or armored truck depending on the map and then stealing all the cash and bringing it to the extraction points. If the criminals manage to extract all of the bags they win, so it's up to the police to stop them. This mode is also quite frantic and can become very exciting when you start to use the grappling hook or zip-line gadgets to create your own path in or out of certain areas.
Hotwire Mode: This mode alone made me fall back in love with Battlefield's multiplayer. I love my Conquest matches, but Hotwire is an interesting variation on the classic ruleset. Instead of the standard traditional and stationary flags that need to be captured, these 'flags' are now vehicles and are completely mobile. This tiny twist on the game mode is exceptionally amusing and you can garner a huge amount of experience points from simply getting one of these vehicles and cruising around (you need to be above a certain speed to gather points). There are non-flag vehicles on the map, along with a helicopter, so even if the enemy team has all of the lettered vehicles, they respawn quickly when destroyed and they will generally get destroyed one way or another. The bulk of my time has been in Hotwire mode and even though there's generally not a lot of standard shooting since you're always trying to destroy the enemies vehicles, it's quite gratifying to lay a breaching charge in the middle of the road, waiting for a car to drive over it, and seeing them explode in the process.
For those like me who loved the traditional Commander Mode in previous games, you'll be pleased to know that it returns in Hardline, albeit with a different name. Hacker Mode allows you to help your squad out from a top down view of the map by permitting you to hack cameras, scan an area for enemies, and use more quirky tools to give your team an edge.
Hardline feels like it's in an odd position. On one hand it's trying to do something completely new with its setting and direction, and in another, it's trying to still be Battlefield and give us that experience that we've loved for years over the course of many games. Battlepacks, vehicular combat, and large scale wars make a return, but the new modes makes it feel fresh at the same time. The campaign will be hit or miss for most and falls flat in many places, but I enjoyed my time with it overall. Even though there's only a handful of multiplayer maps on disc, and some modes like Hotwire don't even use all of them, I'm still enjoying getting on every night with my regular squad and playing some Battlefield. That's where it succeeds. Will you play good cop or bad cop?