Initially, the transition from armed-forces warfare in previous Battlefield installments to urbanized cops-and-robbers hostilities in Battlefield Hardline may seem like a difficult pill to swallow, given the series’s mostly commendable track record of doing the same thing over and over again, only better, but the majority of Hardline’s alterations are executed so smoothly that fans of the traditional militaristic first-person shooter shouldn’t find much to complain about. Making the switch from primarily foreign conflict to police-versus-local crime waves in the gritty streets of Miami and Los Angeles is one that manages to breathe some new life into a franchise that might have soon felt fatigued. Plenty of games have allowed players to become honorable or corrupt lawmen, but Hardline’s decision-rendering processes occur in situations that actually feel authentic (with the possible exception of the main protagonist’s seemingly infinite supply of handcuffs), and provide outcomes that reward whatever choice you make in different, yet effectively satisfying ways.
There’s not much about the game’s roughly seven-hour solo campaign that’s overwhelmingly original or awe-inspiring. Hell, the game’s prologue chapter even concludes with an excruciatingly cheesy basic cable-caliber opening-credits curtain call featuring the main cast attempting to look much cooler than they truly are. Yet it’s the attention to detail and tactical alternatives during the increasingly intense episodic missions that elevates the game above its formulaic ilk. Sure, you can mindlessly run through entire operations, guns blazing, capping everything in sight if that’s your inclination, but Hardline’s strategic scope is much deeper than that. Oftentimes the sneaky route is the way to go; the sly badge-flashing mechanic works particularly well, freezing up to three baddies close enough together to make multiple arrests on the spot, and in many cases taking your foes alive is a more gratifying experience than automatically lodging hot slugs into their skulls. Using advanced scanning software to tag enemies with outstanding warrants or locate explosive traps is key to avoiding an expedited death when entering, say, a drug hideout packed with strapped ruffians. Strangely, though, the game generally gifts stealth-inclined coppers with none other than a heap of heavy weaponry that typically goes unused if they continue down the path less bullet-riddled. Nevertheless, you’re going to have to ice somebody sometime, so having a surplus of large, clamorous armaments at your disposal isn’t such a drawback when the going gets tough.
Hardline’s central story is a tale you’ve surely seen before, peppered with eccentric cocaine kingpins, lowly strung-out criminals, crooked fuzz, wannabe heroes, and a variety of other stereotypes you would find in any Grand Theft Auto clone. Yet the script, by Rob Auten and Tom Bissell, features enough amusing dialogue, high-octane set pieces, and compelling plot twists to make this occasionally bumpy ride one worth taking. It helps that the motion capture and voice acting are uniformly strong, and that game looks terrific, especially on next-gen consoles, offering little to no slowdown even during the most hectic action sequences. Conversely, there are a handful of dull, face-palmy moments when dopey, pro-hate characters outstay their welcome, and the final act is comparatively rushed to say the least. Still, Officer Nicolas Mendoza’s arc does well to not glorify the law or excessively debase the crooks, and by the end of the whole bloody affair we’re left wondering who the true bad guys really are.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Battlefield game without a host of multiplayer scenarios, and Hardline is definitely no slouch in that department, even if the assortment of options lack a certain sweeping freshness that would have been greatly appreciated. There’s the typical timed modes, heists, rescues, and designated kill-target exercises, but the best of the bunch is labeled Hotwire (taking over for Conquest), wherein holding onto vehicles replaces guarding solid structures. The fact that cars are now the so-called sought-after “flags” leads to a tremendous amount of mobile mayhem and far less camping (snipers beware: Your lofty safe zones will soon be overrun with the opposition, leaving you unable to maintain clear shots). Some conventional additions fall rather flat, like the straight-from-Batman’s-utility-belt grappling hook and zip-line, but the bulk of manners in which to traverse maps and, eventually, blow obstacles to smithereens are both aesthetically and dexterously pleasing. All in all, the game likely isn’t the follow-up to Battlefield 4 most people were anticipating, yet the unexpected change of pace, tone, and setting developer Visceral Games implements is surprisingly painless to embrace.