Battlefield: Hardline, Review - Games Weekly

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Battlefield: Hardline, Review

Battlefield, as a franchise, has been around for a very long time. And when the first Battlefield game, in the form of Battlefield: 1942, first arrived in 2002, it brought with it numerous fresh ideas. In the thirteen years since, how fresh the franchise has stayed is debatable. New modes may have been introduced, and advanced in technology have constantly allowed the series to look and feel better, but at its core (and that core is arguably Conquest mode, which was what the original game was all about) the Battlefield franchise has not changed all that much, despite facelifts.

And why should it, really? It has, for a very long time, been a solid fan favourite. Battlefield players may complain about this or that in the latest game, but they still flock to the releases (moaning all the way) and spend hundreds of hours playing the war simulator. The formula works, and has worked for a good long time. Now, though, things have changed more than a little, with the release of Battlefield: Hardline bringing in not only a few new ideas, but also abandoning the warfare feeling for something much more urban. Hardline is, essentially, a big virtual game of cops and robbers. This has been the biggest criticism that fans of the franchise have levelled at this release, even if they haven’t played it.

Here’s an interesting question, though… in “traditional” Battlefield games, one side waged war on the other. In Hardline, one side wages war on the other. Does it really matter if the two sides are military? Does the “cops and robbers” approach really make that much of a difference? In a word, no. It’s a silly point to criticise, because it lacks the kind of validity that those using it believe it has. It’s a weak argument, trying to point out that a combat game is somehow less fun or relevant if it moves away from military and towards law enforcement. Nope, sorry… if that’s your reason for not playing Hardline, you should find one that makes more sense.

There may be reasons, though, but you’ll likely not find them until you’ve actually played the game. For example, the single player game (an arena in which Battlefield has never really delivered a great performance, save perhaps for Battlefield: Bad Company) is very different from what one might expect from the series. The player gets embroiled in a lengthy investigation into drug smuggling, and the game is less about shooting bad guys than it is about solving the slightly predictable case. The player will be tasked with gathering clues, by way of a handy evidence scanner, as well as making arrests and cracking a major criminal operation. To this end, the game heavily rewards stealth, and the fewer bad guys shot works in the player’s favour. Arresting them is far more rewarding, giving the player experience that is converted into weapon and equipment unlocks as the game progresses.

This stealthier approach is very unlike anything we have seen from Battlefield before, and the episodic tale is far more story-driven than what we’re used to from the franchise. And the fact that you can play almost the entire thing without killing a single virtual bad guy is almost completely alien to the series. While the single player campaign is enjoyable, it is certainly not what Battlefield fans expect, and some may find that it isn’t necessarily to their taste, as fun as it might be. But Battlefield has never been about the single-player experience. This is a franchise that pioneered many multiplayer FPS ideas, and its genetics are heavily laced with people fighting against other people, rather than code driven opponents. Here too, though, Hardline makes some changes that veterans may not really warm to. However, Hardline offers numerous game modes, and finding a multiplayer game that works for your taste may be easier than one might think.

Conquest is there, of course, as are things like Heists short, sharp, to the point games based on achieving opposing goals. There are hostage rescues and VIP protection scenarios, too, which see players given only a single life, very much like that age old favourite Counter Strike. But the biggest mode change, not only in implementation but also in overall feel, comes in the form of the rather unique Hotwire Mode.

Hotwire is, at its roots, a modified version of Conquest; players need to hold command points, which (along with kills and the like) reduce the number of tickets that the other team possesses. When a team runs out of tickets, it’s game over. But in Hotwire, the command points are strategically position areas on the map… they’re vehicles. Each map features a variety of vehicles that can be captured and controlled. Controlling a vehicle means driving it really fast. Thankfully, the driver isn’t on his own vehicles have a variable number of seats, and seeing a car careening down the road with a bunch of gun toting maniacs hanging out of the windows is not only common, it’s part of the point.

The end result is that Hotwire is as fresh as Battlefield has been in years. The combat is chaotic and very unpredictable, and those that prefer a camping play style may well find that the vehicles blasting around, complete with helicopters giving chase, may well mean that they have to re-evaluate the way they predate on other players. It’s fast, furious and tons of fun. But it’s also a bit less over-the-top than Battlefield players may be used to. Previous games have felt more like Michael Bay movies than gritty action games, but Hardline leaves behind the bulk of building being destroyed and provides the player with a tighter, sometimes fiercer experience. You might not be riding around in tanks and blowing up skyscrapers, but Battlefield: Hardline is still a rewarding multiplayer experience.

Had EA not attached the Battlefield name to this game, it might have struck a more resonant chord with Battlefield fans. But, as part of the franchise, it feels like a black sheep, an unwanted stepchild that some may enjoy… but it isn’t really a Battlefield game, in the strictest sense, when you consider the most popular elements of the franchise. Hardline may result in a new spin-off franchise, or a sub-direction for the main franchise, but this foray into law enforcement will likely not be a new direction for the series.

With that said, it should be remembered that just because it doesn’t feel a lot like other Battlefield games doesn’t mean that Hardline isn’t fun and worthwhile playing. It requires a bit of an adjustment from the player (although maybe some Battlefield players are too set in their ways to be able to make that shift). With a slightly revised perspective, Hardline can be as entertaining and rewarding as any Battlefield or any other military FPS title.


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