Battlefield Hardline Review: Cop ‘Til You Drop

A game that does its best. At least, I believe it’s doing its best.

01

Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Visceral Games
Format: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Released: March 17, 2015
Copy purchased

Battlefield Hardline has my sympathy. Last generation’s military shooters are desperate to differentiate themselves, to move away from the formula that made them their money but has grown tremendously stale. Call of Duty has bolstered its militaristic fantasies with a steady increase of science fiction, while most other first-person shooters have looked to other periods of history to keep the gravy train rolling. Battlefield, perhaps the last holdout of the classic army scenario, decided to finally stand out with some hyper-violent urban policing.

Then 2014 happened, and all its associated stories of real-life police violence.

Visceral Games has been left in an unenviable position – it was too late to alter the game’s premise altogether, but every move made could run the risk of appearing tasteless. The resulting marketing spin wasn’t subtle, but it helped – Hardline became an homage to classic cop shows like Miami Vice, its presentation mimicking prime time television and featuring its own bevy of recognizable actors. A story of dirty cops and dramatic drug busts has been quite effective in deflecting any potential accusations of glorification or attempting to cash in on recent tragedies. To its credit, the latest Battlefield has been able to impressively avoid any portrayals that could be reasonably deemed offensive.

That is, however, part of the problem.

See, Battlefield Hardline treads a fine line and appears terrified of stumbling from it. It wants to remain gritty and realistic, but it needs some cheesy narm in order to keep up the appearance of a “cop show tribute.” The result is a game that struggles to let itself off the leash, taking itself way too seriously most of the time to the point where its wonderful moments of crazy energetic action only serve to highlight how dour the rest of the experience is.

02

Hardline‘s solo campaign could easily have begun at its halfway point. The first act of the game is unbearably dull, as officer Nick Mendoza sifts his way through cocaine shenanigans and police corruption, running into every lame trope along the way. If you’ve seen any movie or TV program about cops, you can probably predict how Nick’s entire story goes. Those people who he thought were corrupt but turned out okay? Of course it was a double bluff. The smarmy officer who plays loose with the rules? He may as well wear a T-shirt that reads, “I love working with  the bad guys.” Do you think there’ll be a moment where the villain offers our hero a place in his empire? If anybody’s taking bets, you should put your life savings down!

Even the second half is loaded with narrative dead horses, but it’s at least far more amusing. Once Mendoza uncovers the main thrust of the plot and starts kicking ass across America, Visceral takes the gloves off and finally provides a load of genuinely delightful setpieces and a couple of wild rides. Over-the-top car chases, intense infiltrations, they even find an excuse to throw a tank battle in. It’s shocking how different the campaign’s two halves are, and it makes me wish it could have been consistently like the second act.

As opposed to previous Battlefield games, there’s a big emphasis on reducing the lethality of engagements. Hardline takes several huge cues from Ubisoft’s Far Cry franchise, as Nick uses a scanner to tag enemies or find evidence, has multiple options for dealing with most situations, and is encouraged to be stealthy whenever possible. Mendoza can arrest his enemies by getting close, pointing a gun at them, and approaching carefully rather than shooting them, which is the only way to take mooks out quietly and offers the most rewards – chiefly “Expert” points that unlock new gear. It’s a neat little twist, but a lot of levels seem blatantly designed to allow the player to crouch-walk through the whole area effortlessly arresting everybody, and such instances often devolve into boring busy work more than thrilling stealth.

05

The arrest mechanic is also somewhat unreliable, as both melee attacks and arrests are listed as “Takedowns”, activated by the same button press. Sometimes, the game fails to register that you’ve got an enemy with his hands up ready for the cuffs, and Nick instead swings his baton at them, alerting nearby enemies. I’ve managed to have several stealthy runs blown for me thanks to this – a doubly annoying situation since some enemies are flagged as high profile, and failing to arrest them is a loss of extra Expert points.

Luckily, Expert ranks are far from crucial, since while the extra gear is nice, any firearms that will naturally unlock through progress are plenty capable. More violent players can always opt to go in guns blazing, and here you’ll find the game is distinctly Battlefield, with single-player firefights consisting of methodical pop-and-fire tactics. It’s hard to drum up much to say about the combat, in all honesty, since it’s truly nothing spectacular and certainly isn’t bad. It is what it is – Battlefield with the thin aesthetic of police work.

The same can be said for its multiplayer – as always the star of the show. Yes, everything is made to look different from DICE’s prior work, but it’s still the same game it ever was. Multiplayer matches have been retooled to pit cops and crminals against each other, with game types like Blood Money and Heist revolving around stealing cash and/or escaping with the loot. Hotwire takes traditional Conquest mode and turns the control points into vehicles, adding some inner-city car chases to the usual base-capturing mix. Meanwhile Rescue and Crosshair revolve around the cops saving hostages and the criminals assassinating a VIP informant, respectively.

04

The twists are neat, but they all feel like shallow tweaks to competitive FPS game modes that have existed since the beginning of time. This is no Payday – there are no elaborate missions in which the villainous players have to plan and execute a huge robbery while the police work together to stop them. You’re capturing flags, controlling territories, and shooting each other. You just do it with some red-and-blue lights and edgy bass guitar setting the mood. At the very least, vehicles are more suitable for the situation – sedans and bikes as opposed to jeeps and tanks.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the multiplayer is the fact that, despite Visceral clearly trying to provide new experiences within a familiar framework, an exploration of the multiplayer servers shows a distinct lack of interest. By far – by far – the most popular game type is classic Conquest mode, and most of the modes aiming for a different feel have been left standing by the wayside.

One wonders if recent attempts by FPS games to change their spots is even worth it, since apparently the online audience doesn’t care. It makes me question if Hardline, in fact, should have simply been its own game, free of the Battlefield shackles. I can’t help believing that, if Visceral had not had to retain so much of DICE’s groundwork, we could have had a more consistently exciting campaign, and a multiplayer mode that brought genuine originality as opposed to ankle-deep changes. Of course, that’s pure speculation on my part, and it’s better we simply judge Battlefield Hardline for what it is.

03

So what is it? It’s… Battlefield. That’s not a bad thing, as Electronic Arts’ premiere shooter has actually managed to retain at least some sense of freshness over the increasingly stale Call of Duty series, and the new atmosphere may run on pure aesthetic, but it at least adds a sorely needed pinch of flavor to the usual gun ’em down proceedings.

And hey, unlike Battlefield 4, at least Hardline launched in a playable state. So far I’ve had no issues with matchmaking, and aside from one game providing a significant dose of lag, most of my time has been stable. This isn’t to say the whole package is bug-free – there are a number of notable physics glitches throughout, as well as textures that fail to load correctly, but most of the errors lie in the graphical rather than anything that severely hampers gameplay. As far as the visuals go, am I the only one unimpressed with how the whole thing looks? Maybe I just expect Battlefield games to blow me away now, but visually this one looks, if not dated, at least somewhat upscaled.

Could just be me, though.

06

Battlefield Hardline had a tough job to do – it needed to be a game about cops without putting its foot in its mouth, and it needed to refresh the Battlefield series without changing anything recognizably Battlefield. Sadly, this has led to a game that just can’t win. It tempers its bombast with overt sobriety, tries to balance the familiar with the new and ends up paying lip service to the latter, never allowing itself to go all the way with any one element.

However, it does do its absolute best, and in trying still manages to be a fairly enjoyable, if somewhat frustrated, production. At the very least, it’s “more Battlefield“, which is by no means a bad thing – yet – and at its highest points, it’s a bit of silly, Vice-inspired fun. I do not think the world will care to remember Hardline very much in future, but for what it is, it’s a good effort to be more than another disposable shooter, even if that’s all it really is at its core.

7/10
Good

Chargedpigeon8
Guest
Chargedpigeon8

Hey Jim, interesting review. Never actually played a Battlefield game but semi curious to check to this out for the multiplayer. I think you have your developer and publisher listings switched, FYI.

Fargo
Guest
Fargo
I have no problem with Hardline but if you want to do a cop game in the form of a CoD game then Just set in modern day Mexico where the violent psychopathic criminals actually have tons of men, guns, influence and the willingness to use them violently. It gives you a chance to give the game its own flavorful setting and its proven to work with people. Everyones favorite level in CoD 2 was Favelas. I mean there was a actual cartel that based itself off the Knights Templar with swords helmets and knightly codes of honor ruled over… Read more »
ldub
Guest
ldub

I think the production and episodes have genuine potential if it wasn’t battlefield or a typical EA cash grab on how topical it is for the US to be anti/pro law enforcement at the moment.

Pocket
Guest
Pocket
Gotta say I kind of wish they’d been forced to stick to their guns, as it were, and released the train wreck everyone was bracing for. Both because it would be a well-deserved blow to EA, and because, well, a game about a heavily militarized police force gunning down suspects like enemy soldiers in a war zone isn’t in bad taste because it hits close to home; it’s in bad taste because it’s in bad taste. They shouldn’t get a chance to take a mulligan just because their audience happened to wake up and suddenly start feeling uneasy about the… Read more »
Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

The problem with that logic is that EA would be using Visceral as body armour.

Pocket
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Pocket

Hey, you sell your soul to EA, you got no one to blame but yourself at this point.

darkrage6
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darkrage6

Also I don’t think COD is “stale” at all, for the most part I love the series and think it’s pretty damn good, I think the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to the series pretty well.

darkrage6
Guest
darkrage6
It’s weird that people are acting like police being violent towards people is something shocking new, it isn’t. I’ve been hearing plenty of stories about that WAAAAYYYYY before 2014. Polygon of course greatly overreacted to the premise of this game. I personally liked this game and I was fine with it taking itself mostly seriously. I actually did find the stealth thrilling and I found myself going out of my way to be stealthy instead of going in guns blazing like I did in other games that gave you a stealth option(I.E. Far Cry). I also liked the first half… Read more »
Snowskeeper
Guest
Snowskeeper
It’s fine that you enjoyed it, and it’s fine that this game is a thing, but “this is a thing that’s been around for a while” is a logical fallacy; you should be able to recognize that by now. And we weren’t concerned about “police being violent towards people;” we were concerned about “police being violent towards unarmed individuals in a way that resulted in the unarmed individuals dying.” That’s been around for a while, too, but, again, that doesn’t mean we should be okay or comfortable with it. In that context, glorification of violence via police officer is something… Read more »
Snowskeeper
Guest
Snowskeeper

“You should be able to recognize that by now” contains a misplaced “you.” I meant that in a general sense, which is entirely inappropriate in that case; I’m just sort of amazed that people haven’t started to get that commonality and historical precedent don’t necessarily make something okay.

darkrage6
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darkrage6

I have no idea what the hell you’re babbling about.

darkrage6
Guest
darkrage6

There’s no “fallacy” here, i’m merely pointing out how ridiculous it is for people to get upset over this when no one took issue with playing a cop in games like True Crime: NYC. This game does not “glorify” anything, corruption is a major theme.

Snowskeeper
Guest
Snowskeeper

If you’d actually read my post, you’d realize that I’d said this game wasn’t guilty of that particular problem. I was just trying to explain to you why people are worried about the idea in the first place. And, again, “people didn’t freak out when this /other/ thing was released!” is not an argument in a situation like this. That doesn’t make the subject matter any less potentially troubling.

Roger Hågensen
Guest
One important thing to keep in mind is that with this game Visceral have shown they can handle the Frostbite engine. Which is important as DICEs Frostbite engine is the “inhouse” engine at EA now. Battlefield games obviously uses it, Dragon Age: Inquisition uses it, Mass Effect 4 will use it, next Dragon Age will use it. Star Wars: Battlefront (by DICE) will use it. It would not be that far off to guess that a Dead Space 4 might use Frostbite. And this game shows Visceral can make a Frostbite (3) based game. The Dead Space games have previously… Read more »
Pocket
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Pocket

It’s a hell of a lot more sensible than what Ubisoft’s been doing lately, developing a different in-house engine for damn near every IP. They’ve got three open-world franchises right now, each with its own proprietary engine. That can’t be cost effective. Ideally, the whole world should only need one good open-world engine — the one Rockstar uses — and everyone else can license it for way less than it would cost to build their own from scratch, but at the very least Ubisoft could take advantage of their own corporate synergy and consolidate.

Evillhomer91
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Evillhomer91

Ughhh the thought of all open world games running on a gta engine makes me feel ill. Gta 5 controles like shit, on foot being the worst of any on the market, but the driving is better then average

Mick P.
Guest

I felt like this review was too long to read, like Dying Light’s, if you are not a rapt fan. Or maybe by any standard.

When hypertext first emerged people thought it would be used to embed digressions into writing without overloading the linear text.

Clark Kent
Guest
Clark Kent
Well… The point of this review is to give a complete opinion about the product, discuss it, see what it attempts to do and what it actually does… If you did cut some of it there wouldn’t be much sense in reading it. If you just want to know if he did like it or not, you can just watch the score, but Jim’s review are made to be complete analysis, so you have to read them entirely or skip them. Not much point in hiding half of them behind hypertext. Plus, it’s not that much text, only 9000 signs… Read more »
Mick P.
Guest

Applying this rationale it can be any length, like book length. What I mean is I read long form articles in magazines all of the time, and so my attention span in this regard is maximum strength. All I’m saying is this feels too long to me. Longer than any publication with an editor would permit. Longer than most people will commit to before putting the piece down altogether.

Aristatide
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Aristatide

I weep for humanity.

ElektroDragon
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ElektroDragon

You’ve got the developer and publisher backwards!

ElektroDragon
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ElektroDragon

Guess Jim’s not reading these ’cause he never fixed the mistake.

againelation
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againelation

First person shooters give me gas.

Shajita
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Shajita

Great review Jim.
Minor mistake you made, in the top, you’ve written EA as the developer and Visceral as the publisher.

Zoinker
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Zoinker

Golly gee! I sure hope Visceral doesn’t close down EA. They made so many swell games throughout the years!

Wasteland
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Wasteland

In a better-ordered world…

Terriosaurus
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Terriosaurus

Visceral did Dead Space, right? Where you could saw up mutated explosive wall crawling babies with a hover saw in a space nursery? And yet their worried about the bad press from a cops vs criminals game because of some stupid actions that American police have take taken in the previous year (at least)?
Oh society, you never cease to disappoint.

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

Suspension of disbelief is easier to maintain when the actions in question are more extreme. We know that the majority of people aren’t interested in carving up babies with buzzsaws, regardless of their level of mutation. Between March 2014 and December 2014, 11 unarmed people of colour were shot by police officers. On February 20th, 2014, a 17-year-old was shot in the chest when a police officer mistook the Wii remote in his hand for a firearm. So no, glorification of police violence is not the same thing as fantasy violence against zombie babies.

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

That “11 unarmed people” statistic is probably inaccurate. 11 cases I could find with a five-minute Google search. There are significantly more than that. But the point stands.

Terriosaurus
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Terriosaurus

Ah apologies, it was a grouchy ‘just woken up’ thought that was not proof-thought properly. Perhaps last year’s prevailance of trigger happy police news has just got to a point where it has worn away any emotion other than sadness. Being a brit, that type of news floats over every year, stemming from a problem that most probably will never be fixed. Only passing blame on to easier targets, such as entertainment. It leaves me a little bitter sometimes.
Wierdly, i never made the connection until Jim put it here. That may explain more 🙂

Marty
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Marty
Yeah, way to equate purely fictional sci-fi violence with something that actually resonates with the very real reality of recent events. I am usually the first to point out society’s hypocrisy, but come on, you know damn well why a depiction of police violence hits home a whole lot harder than make-believe monster madness. I am in no way claiming that this game shouldn’t have been made, or that it is going too far, or anything along those lines, but you can’t deny that recent current events have created a pretty shitty environment for this game to be launched in,… Read more »
Sanlumiere
Guest

On another note, I really feel that you put too much opinion, might I even suggest “personal bias” – as opposed to the other kind of bias.

I hearken back to ye days of old, where you were objective. Jim, I ask you to really reconsider your roots, watch this video and remember what it was when you were a fresh faced reviewer, who truly understood what we, as viewers, are looking for from our reviews.

I can’t even count how many games you have reviewed with this “opinion-based” perspective… I am truly disappointed.

Silent-Hal
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Silent-Hal

You’re kidding right? I get the feeling you probably shouldn’t be reading reviews at all.

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

Take a look at the video.

Silent-Hal
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Silent-Hal

Right… walked right into that one. It’s getting so hard to tell when people are being serious about that stuff nowadays.

Pocket
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Pocket

It’s so hard to give people enough benefit of the doubt that you’d be willing to hover over a damn link to see where it goes, rather than immediately assuming the worst and jumping down people’s throats. (I presume you’ve already seen that video, as someone who’s a big enough Jim fan to be on this site in the first place.)

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

Oi. Lay off, Pocket. They admitted they’re wrong, and hopefully they’ll do better in the future; you don’t need to give them shit about it.

Radio raven
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Radio raven

non bias objective reviews would be very boring, it’s why they don’t exist.

CaitSeith
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CaitSeith

Maybe they could release their original concept as a DLC? That would be a proper use for DLC for a change.

Sanlumiere
Guest

A question/follow up to previous discussions…

Jim, does this indicate enough of a success that Visceral, at least for now, has shown enough value to EA that they won’t – in your opinion – be targeted next for shut down?

Not really my sort of game, I play them relatively reluctantly, but it’s interesting that they managed to put together something pretty solid.

Andy Dixon
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Andy Dixon

Great. Now hopefully this will sell well so EA will let Visceral make another Dead Space.

ElektroDragon
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ElektroDragon

Do you miss me on Dtoid yet? You can say no.

Snowskeeper
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Snowskeeper

Yeah; we’ve all been waiting for Dead Space 3 for, like, ever.

Dave Dogge
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Dave Dogge
I’ve bought every Battlefield ever and enjoyed every one in different ways ,,,, the Vietnam one for stealthily hiding in tropical undergrowth, I loved Battlefield Bad Company 2 for being able to place remote detonated sticky bombs on a jeep whist driving it into an enemy position, bailing at the last second and then detonating the explosives on the jeep which drifts driver-less into an enemy position, I love being able to RPG a hard to target helicopter or being a mad side gunner on a helicopter, it’s truly a great series. This cops ‘N’ robbers departure from the normal… Read more »
Tim
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Tim

I loved how they added music to Battlefield Vietnam. My friends and I used to pilot helicopters, put on ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ and then fly directly into running ground troops, fun times!

Sylocat
Guest

If it didn’t want to be tasteless in the current political climate, maybe it shouldn’t have gone out of its way to make the villains as boring and one-dimensional as possible solely so the player wouldn’t feel conflicted about shooting them? Just a thought…

ShuiGor
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ShuiGor

Kind of figured this was the case when the beta was opened, with the word “formulaic” being shoved down our throats by other players. Good to know it’s at least launching without much problem, unlike Battlefield 4; might pick up a second-hand copy sometime post-launch.

dxBIGBOSSxb
Guest
dxBIGBOSSxb

I’m curious. Jim, will you do a “Metabombed” on this? I only ask since the ludicrous amount of negativity on metacritic’s user ratings for this game is pretty… hilarious… in all honesty.

Derek
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Derek

I think your spot on in terms of what this game could have been without having the battlefield monikor attached to it. That’s a crying shame but a great represention of where our expensive hobby is at the moment. Great review Jim, my patron cash is being well spent.

Big Big Dog
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Big Big Dog

You can’t save Visceral with this score Jim, EA is looking hungrily at the chopping block for when those week 1 sales come in.

matty drew
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matty drew

this review is genuinely surprising , too bad i dislike battlefield games

Zingiripingiri
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Zingiripingiri

after reading this review, the staff at Visceral Games just took a massive sigh of relief, knowing that at least for a while, EA wont axe them off, yet.

ZippyDSMlee
Guest

Wait But Fcks and COD piece have story?? THIS IS NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nick
Guest

Jim has always been a huge proponent of the COD series. This isn’t news.

Don't Mess With Skeksis
Guest
Don't Mess With Skeksis

How very definitive of you.