Battlefield Hardline: shooter campaign - Games Weekly

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Battlefield Hardline: shooter campaign

When it comes to first person shooters with a heavy multiplayer component that are of the, shall we say, military-based variety the single player campaign tends to be a handful of painful hours to acquaint yourself with the weaponry and mechanics before jumping in online. Most are instantly forgettable, leave a sour aftertaste as you muse on what could have been instead of what you actually played and are a necessary evil endured by trophy and achievement hunters. Paints quite the rosy picture now, doesn't it?

Visceral Games, with its roots in story driven narratives such as the Dead Space franchise, is looking to flip the script by providing a compelling plot line and multi-pathed approach to the latest addition to the Battlefield franchise as you retire military fatigues for a gun and a badge in Battlefield Hardline. Whether you follow the letter of the law or are a quick on the trigger loose cannon as undercover cop Nick Mendoza (we’re assuming his foil will be McBain) you’ll have the opportunity to protect and serve the public trust your way.

The handson session was split into two parts. The first part was the opening story mission acting acting as a tutorial, spelling out the new mechanics and setting the scene. The second was an incursion much later on in the piece with several different infiltration options, but we’ll get to that in due course.

The first mission kicks off atmospherically as you patrol Miami becoming acquainted with your boss, new beat and local criminal infrastructure. It provides an immersive snapshot of the streets with Explosions in the Sky inspired background tunes, ambient conversations and a multitude of mini-scenes each providing a colourful cross-section of what you can expect. There’s a real David Ayer styled approach to how the scene plays out with the chatter between law enforcers immediately setting the tone.
There’s a new drug wreaking havoc called Hot Shot and you’re making your way through The Projects looking for a specific dealer to flip for information. Now in any other Battlefield title this would be the point to arm up in some kind of 80s action hero movie montage and lay down a hail of bullets and grenades until everything stops moving. While gang wars over turf may make it seem like a warzone at times, that kind of spray and pray mentality doesn’t play if you’re a cop. Well, for most cops anyways. There’s that whole loss of civilian life thingy, innocent causalities and Internal Affairs to deal with, and then, oh my god, the paperwork. So much paperwork. You’ll need to play it a little more strategically and even less lethally.

Yep, that’s what we said. Less lethal. Remember you’re a cop after all. You’re out to make arrests and this less bullets to the face approach brings with it new toys and gameplay mechanics. The first is a nifty distraction technique where you toss a bullet casing to split up patrolling criminals or to just manoeuvre a perp, sorry, suspected perp, into position. This leaves them ripe for a sweet takedown, leaving them face down on the pavement awaiting an express ride to Sing-Sing.

You can also get the drop on the less law-abiding inclined by flashing your badge and effectively momentarily freezing, ahem, stunning those in your direct line of sight. This doesn't immediately become a ‘press X to cuff’ situation. You’ll need to keep your weapon drawn and badge aimed at each suspect, get them both to assume the position and slap on the cuffs individually, quickly. It’s a lot harder than it sounds with the tension palpable as any loss of concentration usually leads to a quick draw and it all rapidly goes downhill from there.

After getting the fundamentals down pat we were charged with tracking down a dealer and nabbing some Intel. Here’s where recon comes into play. With your super smartphone you can tag criminals so they stay highlighted on your screen and it will vibrate via the controller when you’re near some clues or other points of interest. From then on, you’re on your own. Even this early scenario had numerous entry points with bonuses for nonlethal, aka collapsable baton, stealth and Taser takedowns, though you renegade mavericks can just drop bodies if that’s more your thing.

Adopting a kind of aggressive stealth, the compound was mostly cleared without lethal incident, as we left a trail of Tasered and cuffed suspects in our wake, until a momentary slip up heralded the call for reinforcements and all hell breaking loose. The transition between the two distinct styles was amazing. It went from quiet and manageable to loud and frantic. Thugs rolled in sporting serious body armour, armed to the nines and were tough sumbitches to eliminate. There was no chance of taking any of them in alive. They had a powerful need to make us dead, so it would be only proper to return the favour.

It was time for the destructible environment to take centre stage. Walls slowly shredded into Swiss cheese and crumbled, explosions abounded and we barely made it out of there alive. While it sure was fun to slip back into the familiar gameplay, it almost felt out of place. You can’t help but buy into the whole cop thing and while initially harder to pull off, the quieter approach just felt right. There’s also avoiding a whole mess of extra dudes called in as back-up making your task just that much easier. It should be noted depending on how you play (at least at this point) you’ll be awarded firearms more in keeping with your style. Following police procedure, basically not killing everything in sight, looks like it nets you more XP overall and pretty much makes your life and staying alive just that much easier.

After getting the new lay of the land down pat it was time to jump into a scenario about two-thirds of the way through the campaign. At this point we were balls deep undercover (Ew – Ed)and skirting the law. The job involved gaining entrance to a ground floor elevator to get access to a higher level apartment and crack open a vault. Just another day at the office.

A cursory scan with our smartphone revealed many rent-a-cops running set patrols. From the back of our van we kitted up with a SPAZ-12, silenced pistol and a breaching axe as a melee weapon, because, you know, reasons (See GEAR UP!). Rocking ammo and medpacks we ditched surveillance and marched right up to the front door, guns blazing. It did not go well. Reinforcements appeared almost instantly and from seemingly everywhere. It was a one way ticket back to respawn and the drawing board.
Taking a more measured approach we realised an adjacent parking structure could provide a mezzanine level entrance via zipline Slipping in we managed to subdue most of the guards before triggering an alarm, reinforcements and an acute case of death. Take three. Further scouting revealed a backdoor with only two distracted guards, both succumbing to the terror a policeman’s badge holds. A quick cuffing and we were inside with security none-the wiser.

This was easily the path of least resistance. We hit a security station, quietly took out the remaining guards and disabled the alarm so no pesky reinforcements would come in and take the jam out of our donut. You know we cops loves us some donuts. What we dug the most about the way this played out was there were no objective markers or indicators highlighting where you could infiltrate. You're just dumped in the middle of a situation and refreshingly left to work it out for yourself.

After a short elevator ride and the usual clusterfuck of bad luck a more familiar Battlefield set piece occurred. No nonlethal options here. We had to fend off several waves of reinforcements (even though we disabled the alarm earlier, dammit! Must’ve had a backup) to give our safe-cracker’s nimble fingers time to work their magic. Given a tense few moments to set up before the gun show we opted to bunker down in an office and wait. With a heavy assault rifle at the ready the gadgets of choice were medpacks and trip-mines.

Trip-mines were perfect for an explosive entry deterrent on the two doorways leading to our hiding spot, and medpacks need no explanation. It got pretty thick in there with the advancing enemies noticing the dead bodies piling up in each doorway. They started peppering the walls trying to get a line on our position and, after a spectacular series of events Michael Bay would be proud to feature in one of his terrible movies, somehow managed to escape mostly intact. It became blatantly obvious this wasn't the Battlefield campaign we’ve come to expect, but a whole lot more. It affords you the freedom to pretty much play it your way. Kudos Visceral Games. You had our curiosity. Now you have our attention.

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