Don't Buy Battlefield Hardline For The Single-Player Campaign
The Battlefield Hardline review embargo lifted tonight, but we won't be posting our review until we've spent extensive time with the multiplayer on live servers. I have, however, already completed the single-player campaign and can confidently say that you won't be missing much if you skip it entirely.
Hardline is the biggest departure yet for the Battlefield series, but unfortunately most of the changes it introduces are for the worse. The single-player campaign fails on two fundamental levels. First, by translating the military shooter formula to the realm of cops and robbers, it shifts the focus from mindlessly shooting enemy combatants to sneaking up on and arresting criminals. Unlike the zipline and grappling hook (which you only use two or three times throughout the campaign), this isn't a throwaway mechanic; you spend the vast majority of the campaign crawling around environments, causing distractions, and throwing bad guys to the ground and handcuffing them (which for some reason causes them to instantly fall asleep, denoted by little Z's that float over their heads). In this way, Hardline has more in common with the stealth elements of the Far Cry series than the entertaining shooting galleries of Call of Duty – only you have fewer options at your disposal for dealing with bad guys, and one alerted enemy typically brings in a deluge of backup.
Even if you do adhere to the stealth game, the narrative frequently forces you into large-scale firefights (this is still a shooter, after all), and serves up a couple of gonzo set-piece moments along the way. These are usually more frustrating than fun due to the limits to your arsenal; you can only carry one firearm at a time, in addition to a handgun. Whatever gun you choose is inevitably only effective at a certain range, so you're coping with accuracy or rate-of-fire problems no matter how true your aim is. Your enemies, on the other hand, are consummate marksmen regardless of the situation, making the most action-packed moments also the most frustrating.
Hardline's other major flaw is its story. Visceral has clearly put a lot of effort into creating a meaningful script, but even with some major writing and acting talent, the story is as problematic as the gameplay. A narrative takes time to establish, and that time is spent watching cutscenes or standing around while other characters clumsily try to flesh out their own backstories; pretty much any pause in the action is a cue for someone to start reminiscing about their checkered past. I could forgive this downtime if it all came together, but Hardline presents one of the most disjointed and unrealistic narratives I've seen in a game.
Nothing about the story and gameplay gels well, and the frequent nonsensical twists round off any interesting motives or behavior the characters have. The ultimate justification of the antagonist's actions has to be seen to be believed. Ultimately, the story is entertaining, but in a "so bad it's good" kind of way.
Thankfully, Hardline has a silver lining, and it lies where you might expect: the multiplayer. So far, I've only been able to play a few hours of Conquest on pre-release servers, but my time with the classic mode has ignited the same spark of previous Battlefield games. The maps are sprawling environments containing multiple points of interest that facilitate interesting clashes between teams. The gunplay is fast but still rewards teamwork and tactics, and you have a variety of ways that you can contribute to your team besides just mowing down opponents. I also like that progression is based on money; you can use the cash you earn in matches to buy and upgrade whatever you want (though some weapons and items still have to be unlocked first). I still have a lot to play through – including the five new multiplayer modes – but as far as first impressions go, I'm enjoying the multiplayer and can't wait to play more.
Come back later in the week for our official review. To see Hardline's single-player campaign in action, check out our Test Chamber.