Battlefield Hardline’s multiplayer has launched without disaster. There are glitches and dumb physics (which could be said about any Battlefield), but hell, it works, and it’s fun. After Battlefield 4, that deserves a clap. A slow, slightly sarcastic clap, but a clap. Bravo!
Hardline is fun, but in the words of Roger Murtaugh, I’m getting too old for this shit. It’s exhausting. I pine for Battlefield 1942’s simple structures, sprawling terrain, and Lee-Enfield rifles. The same fundamentals are still here—big maps, classes, vehicles, 64 players—but the speed and firepower of Hardline make it a constant struggle to survive long enough to do anything fun.
It’s got the rhythm of an old car lurching forward and then bouncing back off its front tires. I spawn into a helicopter and blow up immediately, or spawn on my squadmate and instantly trade lives (somehow) with a guy right in front of me, or spawn and get run over, or spawn and drive head first into an RPG. Objectives are pelted with explosives and there’s always someone with a shotgun around the corner (or crouching in the corner). When crappy, short lives like these pile up one after the other, the screen gets a good flipping off.
The only thing I wouldn’t mind going faster are the unlocks. There aren’t all that many guns, but not having the good ones is a barrier to fun. I spent the first several hours struggling with the Mechanic’s default MP5K, losing short range duels I felt I should have won. So I switched to the assault rifle-carrying Operator and had a better experience. And then I realized I had a battlepack sitting unopened with my Deluxe Edition ACWR carbine. Suddenly I’m getting tons of kills, and that’s some bullshit. My apparent skill level shouldn’t jump a bunch of notches because I have a special weapon. I like progression systems because they give me something to work toward—guns and attachments to experiment with—but I’m interested in lateral progression. It shouldn’t feel like I’m walking head first into a gale of bullets until I progress.
And while Battlefield’s signature glitchy physics anomalies can be fun (I saw a motorcycle launch into a helicopter, hehe), I have a lot of questions about my bullets. Hardline has not launched disastrously, no, but I have experienced occasional frustrations—apparent hits that don’t register, or being killed through a door before it opens and before I should have even been visible to the enemy. It’s hard to prove any of this stuff when it’s subtle, but I’m not the only one noticing it.
But if all that doesn’t aggravate you so much that you step away, this stupid game is a lot of fun. My favorite mode is Hotwire, which epitomizes Hardline’s speed. It’s still about capturing and controlling points, but those points are now cars which must be driven around the map. This makes sense, because driving cars in circles is how you uphold the law, and also break it.
There are three basic activities in Hotwire—finding RPGs and blowing up cars, providing air support, and driving or riding in cars—along with little shootouts when you cross paths with the enemy on the way to do those things. When you’re bouncing around in a car with music going, leaning out the window spraying bullets, it’s hard not to have fun.
The biggest problem with Hotwire is that while the new cars are mostly nice to control on a keyboard (a light tap on the brakes really zips you around corners), they sometimes want to go faster than the server, stuttering and rubberbanding against each other as the physics sorts itself out. One time I collided with a motorcycle and flew into the ocean—and I was in a sedan. The maps also feel way too small—Hardline seems to value speed over size—and I’m often driving out of bounds.
Battlefield Hardline MP1You’d have to be a pretty good sniper to hit anything from a moving car, but be my guest!
Heist, in which the criminals must steal two packages and deliver them to drop off points, works well on maps that are big enough to support it. In some cases, it’s just a meatgrinder, but the Bank Heist map especially can be tactically rewarding. Coordinated squad work is essential, and I only wish people talked to each other more.
I also really enjoy Blood Money on maps with vehicles. It’s as nonsensical as Hotwire: both teams must retrieve cash from a central repository and deliver it to their vaults, but can also steal from each other’s vaults. There’s just constantly stuff to do. Grab an armored truck and drive it into the enemy vault if you want, or just chase around their money carriers, or steal some cash yourself, or find a Stinger and blow up a helicopter. You’re going to be blown up too, any second now, so just go nuts. It’s a madhouse. It’s tiring. And it’s an enjoyable, loud, farcical chaos that will probably get old, but for now is a big, dumb exploding playground.
Conquest and TDM are back, too. Conquest is conquest, and still fun even though it has nothing to do with the cops and robbers theme, and TDM is where people go to speed through the progression—that hasn’t changed. There are also two new 5v5 modes, and while they’re fine (Counter-Strike on big, open maps, essentially), they’re not being played much. I don’t expect Hardline to compete with CS:GO. It’s just not what it’s about.
Good cop, sad cop
The Hardline campaign is to The Shield what Call of Duty is to Tom Clancy novels. They’re both stories of corruption and betrayal—tough men with tough faces making tough choices—but any grounding in real police or military work is upended by car chases and shootouts and last second escapes, explosions and impossible odds.
“This city is a battlefield… and you’re walking a fine line, kid.”
“No, sir, I’m taking a hardline.” Pew pew!
Alright, it’s not that dumb. The story’s actually fine: you, a good and honest cop, are a pawn in a corrupt force’s drug game, and it’s time to take out the trash. (Also not a real line, but I’m just summarizing here.) The acting is good—there are some talented folks involved—though sometimes the plasticine faces are creepy. Whenever Nicholas Gonzalez or Kelly Hu sweat it looks like their skin is going to melt into a puddle.
Police work is simple in Hardline: arrest criminals, shoot criminals when you can’t arrest them, find evidence. It has so little basis in reality, my initial unease about the subject matter—modern police corruption and brutality isn’t a frivolous subject, especially right now—almost wholly evaporated. I had to laugh when I was reprimanded because my partner punched a guy after the two of us filled a hotel with bodies. The bad guys are gun toting lunatics, you’re a gun toting lunatic, and everyone shoots everyone. It’s a lot like Max Payne in that respect.
It plays a little like Payne, too. There’s no shootdodging, but each room is something to try and try again until the puzzle is solved. Generally, I solved that puzzle like Max would: by shooting everyone. I’m crouch-walking between cover, conserving ammo and taking shots carefully, and it doesn’t take much to kill me. This is true, at least, on the hardest mode, which is how I recommend you play Hardline. It’s a decent shooter campaign, with the freedom to take on most areas from a variety of positions and with the arsenal and gadgets of my choosing.
In one part, I have to breach one of two buildings, the outsides of which are guarded by patrolling baddies. So, what’s a cop to do but load up with a grappling hook, zipline, revolver, and P90 submachinegun? I approach around an unguarded side of the right building, and fire my grappling hook to the roof. I could have gone any other way, but this way I’m up and out of sight quickly. As I creep through the roof access door, though, I’m spotted. A quick finger on ‘G’ flashes my badge. “Freeze!”
Unlike Max Payne, Nick Mendoza can actually do police stuff. He can make arrests (sometimes) instead of shooting, it’s just a bit tedious. Flashing your badge at isolated enemies causes them to drop their guns and surrender, at which point you can take them down and cuff them. Then they fall asleep. Seriously, there are ‘Z’s above their heads.
The catch is that you can’t arrest more than three guys at once, and if you’re spotted cuffing someone, they’ll open fire. It’s the most ridiculous thing about Hardline’s campaign, and it’s not a great a deal of fun—it’s Metal Gear Lite. Later in the game, for instance, I was in a small room with about eight guys. Tossing a shell draws guards to me one at a time so they can be arrested in my secluded arrestin’ spot. I cleared the room slowly, building a pile of sleeping goons in my little corner. Hard as it would’ve been, the John Wick approach would’ve been more fun. And the fact that you can arrest criminals makes it even weirder, and slightly uncomfortable, that you can shoot them. Either I’m Max Payne or I’m Lennie Briscoe, either this is a shooter or it’s Police Quest—I don’t think you can have it both ways.
I’m rewarded for the non-violent approach and other police-like behavior with points, but none of it really feels worth it. Early on, I’m driving around a swamp boat with my partner, having long boring chats as I poke around for evidence. I have to peer through my ‘scanner’ to collect evidence (it’s much better utilized as a way to mark enemies and alarm systems), shuffling around looking for highlighted objects to click on. Sometimes you have to collect evidence to progress, but I didn’t go above and beyond. Because it’s boring. Oh, and there are a couple mandatory stealth (get ready to run from spotlights) and car chase sequences that just obstruct the good, more open sections. They are not very fun.
But when it’s not infuriating, Hardline is fun—weird, chaotic, brutal fun. The multiplayer is the important bit, and it’s a parade of points, mini-achievements, goofy car crashes, motorcycles flying into helicopters, and incendiary grenades. It’s too much too fast, with a low time-to-kill that makes every life fleeting. It’s not elegant, but the lawless bedlam has its moments. When I’m doing well, getting kills and screaming around a map in a stolen sports car, it’s worth it.
PERFORMANCE AND SETTINGS
Reviewed on: Windows 7, Core i5-3570, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX Titan
Play it on: Core i5-3570, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 760/Radeon R9 290
Battlefield Hardline ran well on every system I tried it on, achieving 70-100 fps at 1080p on my home PC (specs above). That’s with a Titan, sure, but I also had a good experience with a GTX 770. There are lots of settings, and I appreciate the colorblind modes which change the HUD colors. My main complaint is the long load times.