Battlefield Hardline is the first game I have downloaded from EA Access. Hardline is Battlefield in name only. It’s important to get this point out of the way quickly, because I suspect it will determine how much you enjoy the single player campaign. Instead of the usual gung-ho military shooting gallery, Hardline takes things in a different direction, with cops taking the place of soldiers. This has several impacts on the gameplay, some good and some less so. Let’s dive right in.
I really should start by saying I wasn’t a huge fan of the shooting in Hardline. This sounds like it could be a deal-breaker right off the bat (bad shooting in an FPS, no thanks!) but thankfully there are other mechanics to have fun with that mostly relegate the shooting to the backseat.
The reason I wasn’t as keen on the shooting was primarily due to what I assume were intentional design choices. Police forces rarely get to run around with grenades and rocket launchers, so the weapons are somewhat subdued compared to your average FPS. There are your standard pistols, rifles and shotguns to play with, but I found they mostly lacked impact. One shootout in particular highlighted this point, when I hid in the rafters of a stadium and tried sniping the bad guys. Despite scoring several headshots, the bad guys still took 2-3 shots each, by which time they’d called for all their mates. I shouldn’t have to shoot a dude 3 times in the head with a high powered rifle to put him down!
The enemies on the other hand have no such issues. They are surprisingly good shots, despite mostly only using iron sights. They also went to the Peyton Manning school of hand grenade throwing, because they can land a grenade at your feet from halfway across the map with seemingly little effort.
There are a variety of weapon attachments and gadgets to use, such as night vision scopes and breaching charges, but the game rarely offers an incentive to use them. For example, on a later level you’re actively encouraged to equip night vision when the power is cut. However the enemies handily walk around with flashlights, making the night vision somewhat superfluous. That sums up the gadgets in a nutshell, they are optional toys to play with. There’s really no need to master them. It feels like a missed opportunity.
All in all I did my best to avoid shootouts wherever possible. So if I wasn’t shooting the bad guys, what was I doing instead?
An Arresting development
A new mechanic for Hardline is the ability to sneak up on bad guys and arrest them. This involves flashing your badge and then keeping your weapon trained on them until you get close enough to slap on the cuffs. If another enemy see’s you doing this then they will raise the alarm and your ability to arrest perps is taken away until the bad guys stop actively searching for you. This creates a tense game of risk and reward, sneaking around slowly arresting criminals one by one. There is almost a puzzle element to this, watching the patrol routes, tagging enemies and choosing your moment to strike. To further complicate matters you also have the ability to throw a shell casing and draw a guard away from their post, luring them around a corner so you can get the jump on them.
You are rewarded a lot more experience for arresting perps rather than shooting them, so there is real incentive to do so. Unfortunately the experience points are used to unlock more weapons, which is kind of besides the point. The game actively encourages you to use stealth instead of running in, guns blazing, but the rewards for doing so are bigger guns. Go figure!
Story & Gameplay
Surprisingly for an FPS campaign, the story isn’t bad. It’s not what you would call great either, Shakespeare isn’t losing any sleep over it, but if you can believe that it’s intentionally a bit cheesy and predictable (because what cop show isn’t!) then it’s easy to forgive. There are the usual staple of characters; moustache twirling villains, lovable rogues, double crosses and cops who are morally obliged to do the right thing even when it makes very little sense for their chances of survival.
There’s also quite a bit of backstory if you’re willing to look for it, with evidence hidden around each level that can be optionally found and reviewed in more detail. This mechanic is fairly simple, involving switching to a different view and following an arrow and distance tracker until you find the highlighted piece of evidence. It does help reinforce the idea that you’re a cop and not just a mercenary.
The levels have a nice variety of play styles too, which really helps to break things up. There are some stealth levels where lethal force is not an option, which are short enough to not fall into the trap of becoming annoying. Less enjoyable are the tacked on driving levels. The car handles like a tank and the sign posting is non-existent, making these portions an exercise in frustration.
Overall the campaign lasted around 8-9 hours, which was a pretty decent length. I played through on the medium difficulty so I suspect you could eke a few more hours out of it on hard, particularly if you’re interested in collecting all the evidence.