Battlefield Hardline is kind of an enigma. The reason being is because it seems to want to be two things at once. The single player and the multiplayer are more separated than any Battlefield game before it, which causes some strange feelings when you transition between them. This doesn't make Battlefield Hardline feel less like a Battlefield game, but harms the cohesive message of what the game should be.
While most people who play Battlefield will likely hop right into the multiplayer (it is even the first thing on the menu), let's start off talking about the single player. You play as Detective Nicholas Mendoza. A young cop in the Miami PD in the middle of a drug war. As you go through the campaign, you actually do feel like you're in a cop TV drama, complete with cliches and expected plot twists where appropriate. Your partner, Khai, is a very dynamic person, and everyone around you could be an ally or an enemy. A personal shout out goes to Tyson, who was my favourite character, but I digress.
The gameplay of the single player does some very interesting things. Unlike Battlefield campaigns before, which just let you choose when to start the shooting with a stealth mission thrown in for variety, Hardline seems to actually let you choose how to play through levels. There is a major push towards stealth and non-lethal takedowns/arrests, which allow you to level up. However, this leveling up seems wasted since it only allows you to unlock new guns, which you are going to try to avoid until you feeling like shooting up the level.
A good way to do this would be to separate the level progression into a good cop/bad cop category, with arrests earning you non-lethal weapons like bean bag shotguns and tear gas grenades, and kills getting you the bigger weaponry. This would have added some variety to the way you play the campaign and let people decide how they want to go through each level. As it stands, the major mechanic for making arrests is pretty broken, with the ability to run up to three or fewer enemies, flash your badge, and make some quick arrests. This can probably be done through the majority of Battlefield Hardline and could even cause the player to not need to fire a bullet until needed, like a real cop. However, this brings back the point about progression.
Another mechanic that doesn't quite work is looking for evidence. When you are moving through an environment, your scanner will vibrate, alerting you that evidence is nearby that can be scanned to unlock better weapons. This is an interesting move, allowing you to become more of a detective, but feels very much like it was taken from the Arkham Batman games, and some of the evidence doesn't do anything interesting. This would have been great if there was some in depth discussion about the evidence between partners.
It's not all bad, though. The campaign is at least interesting. If you like cop dramas, you'll probably like this, even though you will see a lot of it coming. There's good acting, a great diverse cast of actors, and a decent story. It does, however, set up a bit of a cliffhanger, so there might be a Hardline 2 in a couple years. But does Battlefield Hardline deserve a sequel? The multiplayer will be the true test of that.
And the multiplayer is good. It's not great. It's not Battlefield 3. It's not Bad Company 2. But it's good. And this is where the differences come in between multiplayer and single player. Explosions, and gun fire, armoured trucks, and all sorts of stuff. The servers are stable, after the fiasco of Battlefield 4 last year, they better be. However, the amount of content seems lacking.
There are a good variety of modes. Conquest and TDM return, as they always do, and feel like they would from any Battlefield game. However, one thing is missing from Conquest. Well, two. Tanks and jets. Battlefield Hardline sets itself in a drug war, and if there's one thing major cartel and criminal organizations have is money. Money to buy tanks, planes, and a myriad of other explosive options. The multiplayer doesn't go into this territory though and tries to keep the cops and criminals on a level playing field, which doesn't happen in real world scenarios. It would have been cool to have cops require to find a way to take over or take out criminal tanks and jets in the Conquest mode.
Several new modes are in the scene. Two of which come directly from a game close to my pedigree: Counter-Strike. Crosshair and Rescue, known to Counter-Strike veterans as VIP and Hostage Rescue respectively, are Battlefield Hardline's highly competitive 5-on-5 modes. In Crosshair, the team of cops have to escort a VIP to one of two zones while the criminals have to kill the VIP or prevent him from getting to one of the zones. This can be a fun game mode when every communicates, but the major problem comes from the two zone approach. With two zones set a fair distance away from one another, it can make the police job very easy, where they just need to indicate where the criminals have stacked and go to the one with less people. If there were one zone, it would require pushing the enemy back, blocking off points, and moving as a cohesive unit. As it stands, the VIP just needs to run faster than the enemy can shoot or shoot better than them.
In Rescue, the cops must find and secure one of two hostages while the criminals hold them down. This is a more fair and balanced approach to it, and definitely encourages communication between teammates on both sides. This mode could be the major competitive one, but there is a major flaw with it: no one plays it, or Rescue for that matter. Which is a shame, because with the right people, the mode can be fun. A few flaws are clear, mainly that the maps aren't specifically designed for these modes, just taken from smaller parts of the standard maps. If the maps were more focused, it would probably encourage more people to play these modes and may make Battlefield Hardline a viable e-sport.
In addition to the competitive modes, there are two money grab modes, Blood Money and Heist. In Blood Money, there is a pile of money in the middle of the map, with both criminals and cops trying to get it before the other. The first team to grab 150 points wins the game. This is like a neutral capture the flag mode you would see in Quake or Call of Duty, but it seems to work with the Battlefield scale. The action moves to the center of the map, with support players helping the fast attackers get to the objective. It adds a nice amount of action, but can be broken after a team gets into the enemy's base with an armoured truck and just kills the enemy as they try to deposit money into their vault.
Heist is the other money mode, and is probably the one where you will get the most Battlefield stories from. Two vaults are on the map and require the criminals to blow them open and get them to a checkpoint to secure. The cops have to stop them. Winning on the criminal side can get very creative, with plans requiring ziplines, grappling hooks, smoke grenades and more. Winning as the police is more straight forward, just kill the bad guys before they get into the checkpoints. This mode definitely brings up influence from films like Heat and games like Payday, which isn't a bad thing. It can be a bad thing when the criminal team just wants to get kills and camps without completing the game, which is frustrating since you could want your turn to be up as criminals or just want to win the match, but this is on a game by game basis.
Finally, there's the mode that was definitely hyped up the most towards release: Hotwire. Think of it as mobile Conquest, with the cars as control points that need to be driven in order to be captured. This has the potential to be tons of fun, especially if both teams want to win. However, it turns boring after a certain point of the game. Players that hold the objective cars drive in circles to rack up points, breaking the progression system, and players outside the vehicles won't seem to go after the capture points, which sucks, because car chases are very intense when you've got a sedan full of guys shooting into the capture point to take it down. There needs to be incentive for the drivers in the capture point cars to go towards the action, since they can sit and rake up points for their own progression. After a few hours in a car in Hotwire, you can level up several progression levels, buy the guns you want, and completely annihilate any players who haven't done this in other modes.
The modes can be fun or frustrating depending on how you look at it. But the game itself will be no fun if there isn't a ton of weaponary at your disposal. The sad thing is that there really isn't. Hardline chose to go with asymmetrical gameplay for the cops and criminals weapons in each class, with the ability to unlock a weapon globally after a certain number of kills. However, this practically halves the number of weapons each side has, which means progression is slow and boring after you unlock the weapon you choose to buy.
As you level up, get kills, and complete objectives, you get money that can be spent on any class, for weapons, attachments and gadgets. This is good because you can get what guns you love as soon as possible, but discourages play time after someone unlocks their favourite gun or the unbalanced ones. Mix this with very few weapons, and the content in Battlefield Hardline is half of what was in Battlefield 4. Per side, there are 4-5 guns per class. This means that once you unlock your favourite gun, you won't want to use any of the other weapons, which discourages experimentation in the game, and can even break the balance.
There are some things that the single player and the multiplayer share. Great gunplay is a given in a Battlefield game, with the guns actually feeling a bit better than they did in Battlefield 4 and some great work done making the weapons handle well. Sound design is good as well, with each weapon having a distinct sound depending on the distance. You can definitely tell a semi-automatic sniper rifle from an assault rifle, which allows you to learn each sound and whether the distance is in favour for you or your enemy. One thing I haven't experienced yet is the loud cracking of semi-automatic sniper fire that has seemingly been a nuisance to many players since Battlefield 3. The soundtrack is also pretty awesome, with rock, rap, RnB, etc for you to listen to as you whip around the maps.
The graphics are about as good as Battlefield 4's, but one noticeable difference is framerate. On Xbox One, I experienced less frame drop compared to Battlefield 4, and PC was a breeze, usually getting higher FPS with the same settings. However, the lower resolution on the consoles and lack of Anti-aliasing causes a noticeable shine to edges of building a few dozen meters away, and can distract in heavy gun fights. Overall, Battlefield Hardline plays well, sounds good and looks nice. However, with all that has been discussed, it is up to you to make the decision to purchase it at full price.
Battlefield Hardline does some stuff right, and the opportunity to be more was there, but Visceral didn't seem to take it. A decent single player campaign that doesn't do anything different from other police stories, and a multiplayer that should have been an expansion to Battlefield 4 much like Vietnam was an expansion to Bad Company 2. If Battlefield Hardline had been an expansion, it would have helped ease the amount of content down, since there are only 9 maps, fewer guns than any game since Bad Company, and a rather short campaign at just over 6 hours on the hardest difficulty. Battlefield Hardline isn't worth a full price tag, even if the servers work well. Franchise standard gun play and good graphics don't push this game above its predecessor in terms of content and replayability.
The Battlefield Hardline Review was done with a copy purchased personally for my Xbox One and on a PC owned by a friend (i5 2500k, GTX 970, 16GB DDR3 RAM).