The Battlefield series has always been the only true rival to Activision’s all-conquering Call Of Duty. WhereasCOD is as much fun for noobs as being repeatedly slapped in the face with a live sea-bass, Battlefield has always been fairer or at least more willing to give inexperienced players an easier ride. Levelling up is not quite as punishing a slog while the playing fields themselves, in contrast to the tightly confined spaces of other online multiplayer titles, are vast stomping grounds with multiple buildings you can hide in – and, crucially, blow to smithereens. This encourages all kinds of play, from those who prefer to run around ram-stam, all guns blazing, or those sneaky little campers who like to hide atop the tallest point and pick people off with their sniper rifles. Then, of course, there are the vehicles, as Battlefield has always encouraged gamers to jump in or on tanks, ATVs, quad bikes, boats, helicopters… anything that can scoot about and deal death to everyone else on the map.
Further, the various developers behind Battlefield releases have always been encouraged to, pardon the phrasing, shoot off in different directions, which resulted in the critically acclaimed Bad Company 2, a release that still is as close to perfect as multiplayer gaming is ever likely to get. This experimentation is at the core of Hardline, where the series moves away from war-torn cities, deserts and Siberian outposts to downtown Miami, where a pair of clichéd super cops that can’t be stopped Nick Mendoza and Khai Minh Dao (yes, those are really their names) must buddy up to crack the skulls and bust the asses of drug dealers to find just how far to the top the corruption goes. They don’t get on at first but… well, you get the general idea.
The first thing you notice is the presentation: Visceral Games, the guys behind the brilliant Dead Space, have designed Hardline to resemble a season on Netflix, with countdown timers to the next “episode”, blurbs describing what’s upcoming, titles and so on. It’s a nice acknowledgement of the way in which the masses consume media nowadays. This aesthetic continues to the single player campaign itself, which is full of ripe “I’m gonna mess you up, man” and “It’s probable cause, numbnuts” dialogue, pantomime bad guys, car chases and explosions. It’s a bold move, and one that will no doubt gain them as many new fans as it will lose them old ones – messageboard users just love to exercise their sense of entitlement. At times it feels like GTA V, Dragnetand The Shield (watch out for a digital Benito Martinez) mixed together, particularly when you are scouring a dilapidated projects for a criminal on the lam.
There is also a certain amount of freedom offered here: you can, if you are feeling sadistic, gun the bad guys down or you can hold up your badge, which makes them hold up their hands in surrender so you can cuff ‘em and push them face down on the ground. It’s a ridiculous conceit, of course, yet it is salved by the fact that different approaches bring different rewards such as perks and bonuses and the like. In truth, it is no less farcical than the mechanic in any other game: rejuvenating health, for example, or the fact that soldiers can only carry two guns at any one time. However, the single player campaign in Hardline will no doubt play second fiddle to the multiplayer, and there is a wealth of options on offer here. Alongside classic Battlefield modes such as Conquest there are new ones to try: protecting an informant, guarding or saving a hostage, pulling off a heist, joy-riding cars. These are welcome additions to the roster, and definitely shake up what was in danger of becoming a rather staid franchise.
All in all, Hardline is a fun, playful release that certainly does not reinvent the wheel but at least spins it in a slightly different direction. Fair dos to Visceral for breaking away from the tried and tested template favoured by other humdrum shooters out there. Just don’t take it too seriously. Ross Thompson