All I could think of while playing Battlefield: Hardline was just how much of a bad advertisement it was for the hard working hoodlums of LA and Miami. The hoodlum who’s all-in and working hard for the love of his craft, unlike the absolute dunderheads in this game. A typical level involves you entering an area and either attempting to sneak through it without attracting attention (yes, this is a Battlefield game), or shooting your way out. The game gives you options that may seem like a good thing at first, until you realise just how annoyingly fragile (no unlockables such as bulletproof vests or flak jackets either) and how under-equipped you are. The guns don’t feel as powerful as they did in Battlefield 4, so you’ll invariably lean to the stealthier route your first time through.
This may be a stylistic choice, but it doesn’t help the game’s cause when you find yourself quickly growing tired of shadowing and taking down the hopelessly inadequate AI. Sneak up behind someone and flash your badge and they drop their guns, surrendering without a fight. They inexplicably go to ‘sleep’ once cuffed, only alerting their fellow goons if they stumble upon them on patrol – which triggers an alert mode that’s more hilarious than tense. Also horrendous is the way your AI partner strolls in front of enemies without triggering a firefight. This sort of nonsense is bearable in games such as The Last of Us, but it’s harder to forgive when the game and the characters aren’t doing very much to win you over. I’ve had friendly AI pass through halls filled with enemies to find me. I can’t tell if it’s lousy pathfinding or insanely good cop skills.
The occasional arrest (or at least some variety to the arrests) may not have been as jarring as clearing a whole map this way, especially when the maps only have so many enemy models and sound bytes to go around. As soon as you’ve figured out their one-track gameplay shtick, you’ll immediately start comparing the game to Rocksteady’s Batman titles, or even Ubisoft’s Far Cry series – and it just doesn’t hold up. Far Cry gave you a plethora of ways to deal with situations, and the enemies in Batman felt like they were more than bots on a fixed path. There’s none of that here; just a shoddy facsimile.
Unfortunately, you’re forced to stick to this approach thanks to the lopsided way in which game allots its meagre XP. Going in all-stealth earns you more XP than going in loud, and you end up unlocking better (read: louder) gear the more stealthier you are. Except that you can’t really use any of it much given the structure of the game. This may not make much sense for a Battlefield game, but I suppose it needs to work this way as this is after all a game of cops and robbers. The designers also understood that police work evidently involves more than crouching real low and sneaking up on people, so you have a bit of room-scanning ‘detective work’ and random thugs with warrants who give you extra XP if you arrest them. It’s all very shallow, especially because the game never does enough to invest you in its world.
The cop-show style structure that the game’s marketing made so much about is nonexistent. All you get are the usual chapter breaks in addition to a feeble ‘next on Hardline’ outro. The characters are cliches; badly written (even if the voice acting is passable) and never given space to breathe. The cutscenes are short and padded with vapid one-liners. That said, there’s probably more meat to the story here than there ever was with Battlefield 3 or 4, but then absolutely anything would be an improvement over the story in those games. There are a few interesting set pieces along the way – there’s an early section where you’re protecting an injured partner for instance – and a few, short vehicular diversions, but these just aren’t enough to save the campaign from feeling like slog.
The game just about cuts it visually. There are occasions when the action takes place in nice looking, contemporary environments, but then you’re quickly whisked away to a drab warehouse or factory soon after. To be clear, this is a cross-gen game and it has all the limitations that come with it, but more worryingly, the mechanics are also old hat. You’ve seen and done most of what’s in this game before, which is probably the reason there isn’t a number at the end of the title. If you’re looking for fresh, new experiences for your next-gen console, you certainly won’t find them here.
The multiplayer, on the other hand, is slightly more engaging, but mostly because of the new modes. There are a series of match types that make use of the whole cops and robbers conceit – modes where you’re asked to escort a ‘witness’ in your team across a map, raid money and ferry it to your team’s vault, and rescue hostages from the other team. Others are variations on older, tested Battlefield modes, such as Hotwire, which is basically Conquest on wheels. While it’s nice that there are so many new modes, the fact is that the modes tend to lean toward the hardcore than casual, except for Hotwire, of course, but even that feels like more of a novelty mode than anything else. I’m not a Battlefield multiplayer aficionado, but the current maps didn’t hook me as much as the default set did in the previous games, and there’s also the odd problem of not being especially easy to pick out enemies and use vehicles effectively in some of the rural maps. You level up as with any modern multiplayer game, and so on and so forth. There’s an exorbitantly priced season pass as always, but the multiplayer didn’t do enough for me for it to catch my attention. The Battlefield 4 season pass, on the other hand, was always on my radar.
The rote gameplay mechanics in Hardline’s single-player mode are painful to play through, and it certainly isn’t worth paying full price for. Those looking for a multiplayer fix could probably give it a second look, but again, you’re paying big for what amounts to a handful of new modes and maps. There’s way better value to be found picking up a bunch of last-gen games you missed out on for the same price, and they’ll probably have a better gameplay experience too.