“Sir, Mendoza’s last run in the field, no offence, was a total clusterfuck.”
It’s hard to not see Khai Ming Dao’s first critique of her new partner as a tongue in cheek look at the last Battlefield outing. Battlefield 4 was one of the titles badly affected by EA’s 2013 of discontent… Ok it wasn’t really called that. But Battlefield 4’s online issues and subsequent board and legal battles are well documented. Enter in to the fray 2015’s Battlefield Hardline. A game in itself that was delayed twice after an arguably poorly received Beta last year.
Rolling the DICE this time around is Visceral, a studio best known for the Dead Space series (although they also had quite a run of 007 games in the past). And as a departure from the more futuristic armed forces based gameplay, we enter the world of the Miami Police Department and their never-ending war on drugs. Nick Mendoza, a police detective who is also a refugee of Cuba, comes fresh faced in to the department and starts by helping to botch a simple search with his partner, Stoddard, stumbling upon an worrying development in the cocaine trade. Nick then gets partnered with Kelly Hu’s character, Khai Ming Dao, and the two unearth worrying revelations about the force they work for as well as the drugs trade they’re trying to curb.
I’m not giving away any spoilers, although you have probably guessed at this point that Nick ends up as a prisoner and there’s a lot of shouting and comedic lines. That’s because they’re all in the trailer. To be perfectly frank, despite the TV presentation, this is just a B-movie script. You’d see this plot in the summer movie list starring someone like Jason Statham or the never-ending ream of former SNL comics who straddle the action movie/funny man circuit. It’s an entertaining don’t-think-too-much romp of gratuitous gunfire, explosions, criminal underworlds and broken trust. In fact the only thing missing from its action movie stereotype is some pathetically carnal whimsy between the main characters. Although you will get you comical tech wizard sidekick and his crazy Ex who you’d never have pictured him with – literally ticking all the boxes of a mindless audience approval screening for a formulaic American TV detective show.
There is something with the episodic format that works though. It worked very well for Alan Wake, it’s worked very well for TellTale games although that’s become more strained as they become more generic in their design, and Battlefield Hardline is no exception. However, because the whole game is there from the off (as in you don’t have to wait months for DLC or the next episode) and you could easily complete the story within a days gaming, you could very well miss these nuances. The “Next Time on…” and “Previously on…” segments simply don’t exist unless you save and quit out of an episode. All of the little nods to the popular TV formats are there, from characterization, multiple layers of intrigue, secrets, lies, etc, etc. But it doesn’t make a game. It makes for some entertaining cut scenes and moments but the gameplay of Battlefield doesn’t really match it. And personally I can find it quite jarring when the 30fps cut scene changes in to the 60fps player controlled shooting time.
The mechanic in the game is the ability to be non-violent. The reward for not spraying bullets into a zone is that you can unlock and upgrade weapons, attachments, etc, for arresting people rather than mercilessly capping them. In effect, the reward for being a pacifist is that you unlock newer, more customisable, shinier ways to kill people. Once you’ve hit level 15 and you’ve found all the case files to unlock everything, that’s it. With the recent issues with policing in America and what is seen as a militarisation of the force and a reduction in accountability, there’s probably been better times to release a game where a major part of the gameplay is arresting, or killing several unnamed Latino racial stereotypes for bonus points. But once you’ve earned those points, the hypocrisy can begin and you can start playing the game the way first person shooters are meant to played – Like a mindless, bloody, hilariously over the top, unaccountable hero: Utterly empty
In that regard, absolutely nothing has really changed in the game since Battlefield 4, at least not for me. Yes, there’s been little changes to the gameplay here and there, the removal of grenades from the single player changes the game into a bit of a Metal Gear Solid stealth simulator (albeit a pretty poor one), but very little actually changes the game or how you play it. The graphics on the Xbox One version run at a lowered 720p so that the frame rate can be consistently hit. The PS4 version does run at a higher resolution, but a lot of the game is, simply, quite messy. Certain areas are graphically very poor, which isn’t surprising given the resolution. But the textures at times are shoddy, the aliasing is abysmal and the whole thing plays like a faster frame rate past generation game, and not the HD re-release kind. Yes there are some awesome moments in the game that take in sound and visual cues like the hurricane hitting the mall, but for the most part it really is sub-par. I’ll be honest, I’ve not been impressed with EA’s flagship engine. The Frostbite 3 engine seems to be either beyond the capability of the consoles it’s running on or no one knows truly how to get the best from it. In fact the best game using the engine so far has been Dragon Age: Inquisition. Hardline is most definitely not a good advert for the engine, away from the high-end PC hardware acceleration.
The graphical difference is very clear in the multiplayer modes. Battlefield’s multiplayer relies on not being graphically heavy so it can withstand the big team nature. Personally, I find the amount of people and the utter chaos utterly confusing and frustrating. The now tried and tested CSGO style of earning money and unlocking weapons and bonus packs is in full force here but those feel incredibly difficult to achieve thanks to how tough the early level options are to use. The game modes, mostly variants on Capture the Flag and Control game types slightly amended to suit the policing theme, are fairly obvious rehashes of normal game modes with swanky names and aren’t a massive departure from Battlefield’s past. Whilst it can’t graphically hold a torch to Call of Duty in these modes the more realistic and frenetic gameplay does aid certain game types, but only once you’ve racked up multiple deaths in your effort to level up. At least a lesson has been learned from the previous release and the servers are plentiful and fully operational. The benefit of having what is essentially a good, competitive multiplayer environment is that the infrastructure is finally there to support it. And for all its entry-level difficulty, once you do get some success and push on through the levels it can be very enjoyable. Much like many other recent online games, it benefits a lot more from having a group of friends that are all in on the action and playing regularly.
Whether or not it is the right time to release a game based on heavily armed police forces full of corruption against a nameless, seemingly replaceable, throng of Hispanic and Latin organised criminal gang members is slightly contentious. But it’s recent events that have dictated that the game can be perceived as insensitive, not the initial conception and plan that must have been drawn up 18-24 months ago. Sadly the game hasn’t really improved or built much upon any lessons within that time since Battlefield 4. For all of the criticisms, the beta feedback and the delays, the game hasn’t grown like, and it’s a bad comparison, Call of Duty has in the recent years. In fact, its distance from Activision’s franchise in the release cycle has certainly brought more of the series’ faults to the fore, at least more so than normal. This one is certainly for fans of Battlefield’s multiplayer and is definitely focused to capturing an audience that is willing to dedicate time and form groups to play it, much like its PC online FPS cousins. For the rest of us though, it’s a short-lived action romp and getting the box set of The Expendables movies could better scratch that itch.
Battlefield Hardline excels in what it does best. Which is really frustrating for the game as it spends a long time trying to avoid it – That being the frantic shooting of all manner of bullets against the enemy. The police drama is a good enough B-movie and the style certainly works as a format but the content holds very little for video games like this. A consistent and functioning multiplayer hides a game confused between a pacifist setting and a all guns blazing FPS format.
[tab title=”Good Points”]
- Interesting change in game focus
- Multiplayer is fully functioning and well supported
- TV style and Episodic format works very well
[tab title=”Bad Points”]
- Incredibly poor graphically for next generation consoles
- The usefulness and novelty of hypocritical non-violent gameplay wears off quick
- Very little improvement on Battlefield 4
[tab title=”Why a 6.5?”]
This game has tried to change the landscape a bit. It hasn’t been too overly brash about itself or claimed itself to be a new frontier in gaming. TV episodic tropes are tried and tested. But beneath the good intentions lies a game that is incredibly hypocritical of its pacifistic direction due to its FPS roots, a game that is graphically shoddy and a difficult multiplayer for entry-level players. It is at least stable and works, but all in all is confused and lacking.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game.