There is traditionally no lonelier disc than that which houses a Battlefield game's single-player campaign. However epic, shiny and bombastic those solo stories have become, they've remained in charge of the secondary fiddle, consistently drowned out by the orchestral furore of multiplayer magnificence. But now, just maybe (whisper it), that might be about to change.
Battlefield Hardline's campaign is being made not by usual developer DICE, but by Dead Space studio Visceral games. That fact is very, very significant. Because while multiplayer-minded DICE has often seemed to struggle in translating Battlefield's open, emergent online play into a satisfying offline campaign, Visceral has a hell of a track record with the all-important pacing, structure and set-pieces.
That shines through in Battlefield Hardline's Gamescom demo. Now focused around a single, rather human cop, rather than legions of faceless Marines, its tale of undercover investigation and moral ambiguity feels a far cry from the vast but unengaging conflicts of single-player Battlefields past. Previous games have impressed with their breadth, but been found lacking in terms of agency and involvement. Hardline takes the opposite approach, scaling things in, but ironically providing much more scope for experimentation and improvisational play. In fact, it's built out of the stuff.
You see that 'far cry' line above wasn't a mere figure of speech. The action I've seen this week seems to take inspiration from Far Cry 3's fantastic, dynamic camp raids in all the right ways. Watching an assault on a junkyard play out twice, in stealthy and loud variations, the parallels are obvious and very, very heartening. A small sandbox. A non-linear objective with optional bonus tasks. Multiple means of entry and escape. More nuanced AI than usual, with multiple levels of alertness and aggression, leading to more layered interactions. It's great stuff, right down to the climactic, Metal Gear-style, hide-and-seek evasion, leading to a custom zipline escape from a guard tower.
And there's more going on than that, and it’s all very cool. Click on through the following slides and I'll fill you in.