Battlefield: Hardline

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: March 17, 2015 (US), March 19, 2015 (EU)


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Xbox One Review - 'Battlefield: Hardline'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 17, 2015 @ 12:05 a.m. PDT

Battlefield: Hardline switches the franchise standard of military themed action for a more urban environment with the player taking part in a police-oriented adventure.

Battlefield: Hardline is a game of mixed messages, on both the narrative side and the gameplay side. It's obvious that a lot of effort went into producing a new take on the Battlefield franchise, but for everything the game does right, it manages to miss the mark just as often. Some of these issues are polish and can likely be resolved with updates, but others, like the single-player story beats, are a missed opportunity.

Ostensibly a story about a Miami cop working to expose corrupt officers within the department, Battlefield: Hardline starts on a high note, espousing a "Miami Vice"-inspired action movie feel. Over the next eight to ten hours, the story swerves back and forth between action and drama. It's as though the writers couldn't decide if they wanted to go for balls-to-the-wall action or an ethical morality play, and they tried to split the difference.

You can see the game's split personality from the start, as Battlefield: Hardline uses KRS One's "Sound of Da Police" as a theme song. The game samples the refrain and uses it as a theme to celebrate the police as the good guys. While it's true the beat is good, if the dev team listened to the full song, it would have realized that "Sound of Da Police" doesn't celebrate cops; rather, it is a scathing criticism that directly compares police officers to slave masters. To anyone who knows the song, it comes across as a tone-deaf choice.

At the same time, Battlefield: Hardline encourages players to be aggressive and shoot their way through any situation, and that's not just because of the gameplay. Other officers are shown abusing suspects, and you are directly told to "not worry about protocol." This is where Battlefield: Hardline fails as a morality play, as no one in-game really questions those actions. Any conundrum over right and wrong is left as an exercise to the player, which is an incredibly lazy way to approach a narrative.

The same laziness is true of the character progression. Given that there are dirty cops and criminals in the mix, various characters end up betraying one another over the course of the campaign. However, there are few lasting consequences. Very few seem to actually hold a grudge, and relationships of convenience quickly spring up with nothing but the writer's desire to keep using familiar characters. The lack of character depth is disappointing, given the caliber of TV talent that Visceral recruited for Battlefield: Hardline.

One notable standout is Eugene Byrd, better known as Dr. Clark Edison on "Bones." Playing an out-of-his element hacker, Byrd is the only one on-screen who feels like a real person and conveys true emotion. Whereas the rest of the cast is simply painting-by-numbers, Byrd steals every scene he's featured in.

Battlefield: Hardline's split personality extends to its gameplay, with the campaign not quite sure if it wants to be an all-out shooter or a stealth-action title. On the one hand, you're encouraged to shoot everyone. On the other, the stealth mechanics are surprisingly enjoyable, and the game rewards you with unlocks more quickly for repeated non-lethal takedowns. If you go full stealth, you can max out your expert score around the halfway point of the campaign.

Looking at the two styles of gameplay back-to-back, I found Battlefield: Hardline to be more enjoyable as a stealth title than as a shooter. Playing it as a stealth title offers a lot more flexibility.

Levels in Battlefield: Hardline offer up large, open areas and more than one way to make your way through them. It's up to you to determine the best angle of attack and then make it happen. Avoiding the "corridor" trope is a major component of why Battlefield: Hardline has moments of pure joy. It is in areas like this where Visceral's experience with the Dead Space franchise really benefits the game.

Then there are sections where Battlefield: Hardline just dumps you into the middle of a shootout and you are more or less forced to treat it as a pure shooter. Your options are limited every time this happens, and the result is that there is only one ideal solution. As an example, even when playing on the hardest default difficulty (an extra difficulty unlocks after completing the campaign), the enemies always react the same way. Tear gas is always used (never frag grenades), and neutralizing the threat is as simple as wearing a gas mask while in combat.

Another oddity is how the game handles non-lethal takedowns. When you're a cop, you're arresting someone. When you're a fugitive on the run, you're still arresting someone. Yes, it makes sense to keep the gameplay mechanic the same, but there is zero explanation in the story for it. Why would a former cop who is on a revenge mission bother to arrest perps, let alone tracking down those who have outstanding warrants? It's just something that happens in Battlefield: Hardline.

If you can get past the schizophrenic plot and disregard the anti-climatic ending (the game simply triggers a cut scene when you finally face the big bad), you can think of the Battlefield: Hardline campaign as Metal Gear Solid lite. Start thinking about the story in any sort of critical fashion, and it all falls apart. No one (including the main character) has any agency, and individual motivations are slim to none.

On the multiplayer side, Battlefield: Hardline is somewhat more polished. For details on the maps and modes included with the game, take a look at last week's multiplayer preview.


Playing online on the Xbox One with consumers who had the multiplayer portion of the game via EA Access, Battlefield: Hardline performed well. Servers were easy to access, lag was not an issue and competition was fierce. However, playing in a production environment reinforced one of the fears from last week: The lack of player communication can be a serious hindrance.

If everyone in your squad has a mic and is willing to chat, the multiplayer combat can be a joy to behold. Working as a team in Blood Money or Heist is a highlight of Battlefield: Hardline's multiplayer. If you're just running around with a bunch of random people, it's chaos.

Battlefield: Hardline's hacker role can be indispensable in multiplayer, giving a distinct advantage especially when one team doesn't have anyone in the role. Unfortunately, the poor controls in hacker mode make it more frustrating than fun, and the limited options don't encourage long-term play. If there were more for the hacker to do (and sharper controls so you don't fight the cursor all the time), it could've been an ideal way for a strategic gamer to find a niche in the game.


Another issue in multiplayer is the squad spawn. The developers wanted to get players into the game as quickly as possible. That's a great goal, but having players spawn in the middle of combat is frustrating on both sides of the fence. If you're on the attacking side, it means it's possible to spawn right in front of an enemy and immediately die. If you're on the defending side, it means it's possible to clear an area, only to have a squad appear out of nowhere and attack.

This isn't as much of an issue on the smaller maps and servers, but on the 64-player servers, it happens quite a bit. If you just want a random bloodbath, it's great. If you're hoping for a bit of strategic play, it pretty much kills it. Oddly, I had much more fun playing on the smaller maps and servers, as the lower player count forced both sides to play strategically.

Common to both the campaign and the multiplayer is the rough visual presentation. While a lack of visual detail in multiplayer can be forgiven if it ensures a high frame rate, in single-player, there is no reason not to optimize. Battlefield: Hardline's visual issue isn't one of resolution (despite what fanboys may claim, a 720p game can look great) but of overall quality.


Stair-stepping and visual aliasing artifacts were common throughout the entire campaign. Water spots on the screen looked more like random pixelation than water droplets. It was common to see enemy body parts move through objects and walls. If these were occasional incidents, it wouldn't be an issue, but all of them happened repeatedly throughout the campaign. This is not a game you want to throw in because it looks pretty.

In the end, Battlefield: Hardline is its own worst enemy. There are some great ideas here, but they aren't fully realized, and the game suffers for it. It's not a bad game, but it's also not an exceptional game. Battlefield: Hardline does an excellent job of being downright average. You probably don't want to pay full price for it, but it's one to keep on your radar when a good sale pops up.

Score: 6.0/10

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