The thugs are wearing flak jackets and armed with AK-47s. But as soon as they see the sun glint off my badge, their hands fly up. A few tense seconds pass between us before I ultimately decide to pull the trigger of my pistol and duck behind a car. Bullets fly and bodies fall. Yes, I could've collared my criminals and peacefully put an end to this standoff. But, as is so often the case in digital worlds, the thrill of the shootout is just so much more satisfying.
The criminal-rich world of Battlefield: Hardline is one where violence always seems to be the correct answer. It makes sense: Even though the latest installment of the franchise ditches the trenches and tanks of military conflict zones for the domestic affairs of an urban police force with a strong moral ambiguity, we’re still in the Battlefield world, where a true fire fight is too hard to pass up. Hardline also builds on the previous installments' rich, well-crafted world and smooth mechanics to present a fresh take on the first person shooter. Most importantly, by moving away from the war zone, the franchise successfully steps out of Call of Duty’s sizable shadow.
Hardline is the product of Visceral Games, makers of the terrifying horror-series Dead Space. The single-player campaign pits you on a hard-boiled tour through the world of police detectives in departments where the ends (mostly) justify the means. You control the archetypal morally sound young cop and the story unfolds in a satisfying montage of well-crafted cinematics. There are minion-filled levels that range from bank heists to high-speed pursuits where you’ll have to weigh the merits of non-lethal takedowns against the speed and stealth of deadly force. The game play is swift and well-executed, equal parts Metal Gear and Medal of Honor. You can sneak up on criminals based on their cones of vision, go in guns blazing, or mix both methods.
Hardline does falter in that, like many modern FPS, it puts more of an emphasis on competitive multiplayer than its short, slightly-unsatisfying single player campaign. While the cops and robbers plot features heavily in story mode, it merely serves as a veil for typical multiplayers modes like red vs blue deathmatches and heists where one team must case a bank and the other must foil the robbery. Superficial as the dynamic ultimately proves to be, Hardline’s multiplayer benefits greatly from it thanks to well-constructed, destructible environments. So when you’re tasked with holding up a credit union, you could go through the front door with guns blazing or you could surgically (and literally) tear the roof off the building and air drop your way to a payday.
For a game that shifts the focus of a storied franchise, Battlefield Hardlineonly takes measured risks in evolving its identity. The new additions are appreciated and feel like they come as a result of feedback from the Battlefield community. What’s old doesn’t feel dated, merely familiar. And playing cops and robbers has never been as satisfying.