“Oh mein Gott hast du das gesehen? Ich tötete ihn nur mit der zip-line hahaha!” This is the sound a mad German makes when he shoots and kills me with a zipline during a multiplayer match of Battlefield Hardline. I’m sitting opposite him, furious. 50 journalists from across Europe are packed into what I’m told and can’t be bothered to check was once a cow milking shed. Now it’s the venue for EA’s review event, and the only thing being drained is the colour from my face.
Then I respawn. I equip another game-changing gadget, the grappling hook, and ascend to a roof with my sniper rifle. Krat-chow! The bullet snakes a streaky white trail through his skull. With my natural hue returning, I think about what this grappling hook one-upmanship represents. It’s Hardline making things fairer. There are new weapons to wield, nine new maps to master, and new tactics to tap into, all so old hands aren’t at an immediate advantage. Players used to level the battlefield; now Hardline levels the playing field.
Best of the five new modes (there are seven in total) is Hotwire, in which teams steal vehicles and speed them around, racking up points. Think Conquest on wheels: fast, furious, and brimming with potential. Try equipping the repair tool and hopping into the passenger seat to keep your mate’s motor running; grab an RPG and ambush a fuel tanker from a roadside bush; lean out the window and fire grenades at pursuers like an angry dog who has somehow come into possession of grenades. With everyone starting out on the same foot, even beginners can get good at Hotwire.
Crossfire is another compelling one. Here, teams take it in turns to escort their VIP to a drop-off point. Yours might hide until everyone’s dead before cautiously making their way to the exit, or surprise opponents by sprinting from the start. In one round on Riptide, set in and around opulent island mansions, my team select long-range rifles and trade shots with our opponents down the right side of the map while our VIP takes advantage of the distraction and hops in the waiting speedboat. Again, with tactics still developing, you won’t face repeated shame while better players literally laugh in your face. At first.
Battlefield Hardline is full of famous faces with many pores on them indicating that they are of superior facial quality. That guy who looks like David Aceveda from The Shield is in fact none other than Benito Martinez from The Shield, who literally plays David Aceveda (Benito Martinez) in The Shield. There’s Adam Harrington, taking a break from cop dramas like L.A. Noire, CSI, and NCIS to act in this cop drama. You might recognise Kelly Hu from Castle and Hawaii Five-O, while protagonist Nick Mendoza goes by the name Nicholas Gonzalez when he’s not featuring in Sleepy Hollow and The Flash.
Don’t expect to see tanks rolling over a ridge or jets screaming overhead - Hardline focuses on infantry combat. Indeed, the three other new modes promote close-quarters play: Heist sees one team defend a cash-filled vault from a group of robbers trying to empty it. Likewise, Blood Money centres on stuffing your pockets with notes, but this time both teams are at it to see how much they can lift within the time limit. The one-life-per-round Rescue sees cops attempt to extract hostages from criminals, or else take our their captors. Visceral has made a concerted effort to quicken Battlefield's pulse.
Still, it’s far from CoD or Counter-Strike. The open sprawls of Derailed, Downtown, and Dustbowl are purposefully designed for vehicular mayhem - the trick is that they’re able to be pared down depending on the mode. Most maps are smaller, and spawn points closer, to maintain a tighter, more intimate gameflow. You can close doors to block exits and create choke points, and turn on radios to mask footsteps. Teammates don’t even need to drop health and ammo, since you can just nab it from them like a wrestler performing a hot tag.
Meanwhile, newly introduced interrogations which you can perform on foes you’ve just assassinated in order to learn the positions of their teammates, as well as rewards for playing well like faster climbing or an extra grenade, subtly alter the competitive dynamic on the fly. It all contributes to speedier, shifting, more satisfying moment-to-moment gunplay that fares equally well in 40-person games of Conquest as in tense, sudden death sessions of Rescue or Crossfire.
Each map has a unique force majeure, too. Riptide and Dustbowl play host to dramatic weather batterings which limit visibility. Downtown features a collapsing crane that tears open new routes, while entire buildings crumble in Hollywood Heights and The Block. Shouts of “It’s coming down!” as initial rumbles give way to the roar of collapsing concrete is always thrilling, even if it's scripted.
The other, less valuable side of the Battlefield coin is singleplayer. Like a 20p coin stuck on a 50p coin or something. You play rookie cop Nick Mendoza, framed for a crime he didn’t commit (oh shut your face, it’s revealed in the opening scene). It starts refreshingly small-scale, with Mendoza and his partner patrolling the mean streets of Miami on the trail of a drug dealer.
Grenade launchers obviously not part of a beat cop’s arsenal, flashing badges in order to freeze and cuff thugs is your most effective method of street cleanup. But after a promising start creeping around a gang-occupied school, the stealth play never evolves. Whether infiltrating a mall during a ferocious hurricane, emptying a scrap yard crawling with gang members, or picking apart a bayou outpost, it’s the same each time: register enemies from afar with your scanner, move in and throw bullet casings as distractions, then perform takedowns on slow, predictable enemies.
When things do go loud, shootouts ironically feel quieter than in previous Battlefields. You can’t throw grenades, your primary weapon is always a pistol or sub-machine gun, and you’re alone or with a single, AI-controlled partner for the most of it. A pattern starts to emerge in which you creep along fairly linear environments before emerging into slightly larger multi-directional stealth boxes and either play ‘flash the badge’ or shoot everyone. Still, weapons pack a punch and the bulk of levels host plenty of micro destruction. One climax set inside a drug baron’s art studio sees bullets wreck busts, shatter glass, and shred plaster. “Wow, you caused $3 million damage,” says your mate afterwards. Say what you want, but you can’t knock the sensory feedback of Battlefield’s combat.
It’s a shame that the game soon abandons the gritty urban atmosphere established in the first few missions. Hardline’s high point is one of its first, an early standoff with a room of agitated poker players giving you the evil eye, the situation simmering before spilling over into a room-wrecking bullet ballet. The police procedural premise swells in ludicrousness to a finale that’s more 007 than CSI.
The campaign may lose its way at the midpoint, but it’s a no less entertaining accompaniment to the multiplayer’s main show. And online, Hardline delivers. While not quite as main-event-essential as previous Battlefield blockbusters, the tighter, faster Hardline is most definitely the good cop.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.