The burning cynics among us will expect Battlefield Hardline to be a cold franchise-milking exercise in futility; one that exists solely to keep the cogs of a money-making machine spinning (see: Assassin’s Creed franchise). As it happens, Battlefield Hardline is all of that, but does it with eager gusto, fervour and infectious delirium.
Trading the celebrated scars of governmentally sanctioned murder with a melodramatic crime drama series, NYPD Battlefield’s single-player campaign bears little resemblance to any other Battlefield title in anything but slick FPS mechanics. The episodic, cliche-ridden tale of police corruption has more nods to 80s and 90s buddy-cop movies than the grim, war-torn realism Battlefield is used to. That doesn’t stop it being a refreshing, explosive and frantic good time as you slide over car bonnets, race down highways and indulge in well-oiled and impressive shoot-outs as an absolute fucking maverick of a police officer before being yelled at by your enraged chief for your screwball antics out there on the street.
Like all Battlefield campaigns, it’s played out in a fairly linear fashion, but lets go of your hand long enough to widen the scope of freedom as you go about punching crime in the face. Thankfully, crime is pretty willing to be punched. A mechanic that allows you to flash your badge at crims and administer non-lethal takedowns is useful, but entirely unbelievable as you point your gun at up to three bad guys at once, who’ll all kindly stand with their arms aloft and then, get this, fall the fuck asleep after you’ve handcuffed them.
Hardline is full of wee conveniences like this, including a scanner that’ll signify which particular baddies should be arrested for extra level objectives that’ll increase your Expert Level. Similarly, each mission usually has a customisable loadout, allowing you to mix up your inventory depending on what sort of hassle you’re going to get. While your default Battlefield reaction might be to shoot everyone in the face, Hardline’s emphasis on solving crimes and collecting evidence is a welcome change of pace and, all in all, it’s probably the most fun we’ve had with a Battlefield single-player since Bad Company 2.
Single-player since then has usually felt like a tagged-on tutorial to prepare you for the almighty life-sucker that is multiplayer mode but, while Hardline’s MP has all the hallmarks of Battlefield’s excellence, it’s the single-player that stands out.
Conversely, multiplayer is, mostly, more of the same, mixing classic Battlefield chaos with a new cops ‘n’ robbers style dynamic. It makes little difference though other than offering a new aesthetic to running around massive maps shooting opposing factions. While some of its tighter maps lack the arcade intensity of Call of Duty’s lot, Battlefield’s perpetual ability to make you feel like you’re earning each slow graduation through its ranks is, once again, a redeeming quality.
With one team as cops and the other as thieves, fast-paced new gameplay modes are enjoyably sprawling but the modes themselves are pretty much re-workings of tried and tested classics. Heist Mode is a play on Capture the Flag that sees a package being obtained and retained by teams, while Crosshair positions one member of the team as a VIP who must be protected. Conquest and Team Deathmatch modes don’t even bother to try disguising what they are.
However, it’s modes like Rescue, which sees you untie and protect hostages from opposing team camps, and Hotwire, which is essentially Conquest on wheels, that really stand out. Speared mostly by the abusive techniques of cheap players who’ll refuse to engage with the manic spirit of the rounds, opting instead for camping out on rooftops with bazooks to end your sprees before they’ve begun, these modes offer immediate highs, but little longevity.
Hotwire’s panicked gameplay, in which you steal allocated cars and stay in them as long as possible to earn points and cash, are a source of instantaneous joy though. When it’s all going well and you’ve got a whole team hanging out of one car, firing at an enemy’s circling helicopter as one member of your gang frantically attempts to repair your vehicle as quickly as it’s being shot, while sparks cascade from the wheels, there’s a real sense of wow about it all.
Sadly, it’s short-lived, and circling maps without confrontation to rack up points seems to be a lot of players’ raison d’etre. These points and cash can be used to unlock and purchase better arsenal, although there’s a sincere lack of weaponry to choose from. Unlockable (and, of course, purchasable) battlepacks supply you with in-game perks and new camo for your weapons, but it’s little to replace a hefty and impressive armoury.
Hardline’s multiplayer is classic Battlefield with balaclavas, but its single-player gives it an edge over some of its competition and closely associated predecessors. Replacing the pomposity and grandiosity of Battlefield 3 and 4 with a pounding and fun 90s style cop drama, the solid action you’ve come to expect and respect from the franchise returns, even if that’s all that’s recognisable. While there’s a bunch of new modes to play around with in multiplayer, you’ll find you pump most time into the well-weathered stuff like Conquest, but the inventive stabs at new rounds still offer quick fixes and some memorable highs that make Battlefield 4 appear shamefully drab in comparison.
Battlefield Hardline is available now for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 and PC.