Bat­tle­field Hard­line

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher EA De­vel­oper Vis­ceral Games For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Bat­tle­field Hard­line’s crim­i­nals are in­cred­i­bly well be­haved. That’s not to say the ne’er-do-wells have re­formed their ways, or that they aren’t in­tent on bring­ing our in­ves­ti­ga­tion to a halt in a hail of bul­lets. But they’re a fair-minded lot – once ar­rested, they’ll lie con­tritely still, qui­etly wait­ing while we mop up the rest of their col­leagues, not once think­ing to alert them to the pres­ence of the sneaky cop with a seem­ingly un­lim­ited sup­ply of hand­cuffs.

It’s a well-in­ten­tioned de­sign de­ci­sion that aims to make Hard­line’s stealth-fo­cused cam­paign game­play more man­age­able, but one that re­quires no small sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief on your part, and ex­poses the game’s oc­ca­sion­ally over­sim­pli­fied sys­tems. You can lure a sin­gle en­emy away from groups by toss­ing empty shell cas­ings within earshot – no­body else will pay any at­ten­tion – and they will tire­lessly fol­low your metal­lic bread­crumb trail no mat­ter how comed­i­cally drawn out it be­comes. Slam a crim­i­nal to the ground ten feet from an­other armed sus­pect, and as long as that perp’s vi­sion cone stays point­ing in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, even barked or­ders for your de­tainee to re­lin­quish any weapons won’t pique un­friendly in­ter­est.

It might be sim­plis­tic and silly at times, but Vis­ceral has clearly thought a great deal about Hard­line’s setup and it doesn’t lack nu­ance en­tirely. Prox­im­ity AI is­sues aside, the game’s ar­rest me­chanic does an ex­cel­lent job of mak­ing you feel like a TV cop. Get in close enough to enemies and you can flash your badge, yell “Freeze!” and draw your weapon to make them drop their guns and put their hands up. You can tackle groups of up to three enemies at a time with this tech­nique, though at­tempt to face down more than one en­emy and bril­liantly you’ll also need to rapidly switch your aim be­tween each of them as you ap­proach – leave some­one un­cov­ered and they’ll slowly reach for a con­cealed weapon. If you’re spot­ted by an­other foe while mak­ing an ar­rest, a fire­fight will in­evitably en­sue.

Fur­ther depth is pro­vided by enemies with spe­cial war­rants. If ar­rested, th­ese con­fer a huge num­ber of Ex­pert Points, which al­low you to un­lock new gear. Fig­ur­ing out how to de­tain them with­out trig­ger­ing a gun battle proves an en­ter­tain­ing dis­trac­tion and re­in­forces the sense that each area is a puz­zle of pa­trol routes to be cased and ex­pertly picked apart. The fo­cus on stealth is a re­fresh­ing change of pace for this se­ries, but Hard­line’s most mem­o­rable mo­ments come when your con­trol of a sit­u­a­tion hangs in the bal­ance. A pan­icked ar­rest when you’re sur­prised by an en­emy you sim­ply hadn’t spot­ted, for ex­am­ple, or the dis­so­lu­tion of a metic­u­lously planned raid into a des­per­ate strug­gle for sur­vival as 15 heav­ily armed enemies bear down on your now-ex­posed po­si­tion. Later on in the cam­paign, you’ll find your­self holed up in a flimsy garage in the mid­dle of the desert, with no hope of backup, as truck-mounted ma­chine guns tear the build­ing to pieces in a se­quence that cre­ates a throb­bing sen­sa­tion of ter­ror as you’re hope­lessly out­num­bered.

Th­ese mo­ments are lent fur­ther weight by Hard­line’s fru­gal ap­proach to ammo. You’ll rarely run out en­tirely, but Vis­ceral has care­fully bal­anced things to en­sure that there are plenty of oc­ca­sions when you’ll only have a hand­ful of bul­lets left. Ammunition crates along the way al­low you to stock up and cus­tomise your load­out, of course, and you’ll still be able to grab ammo from fallen foes – though you’re un­able to con­fis­cate ammo or weapons from any­one you ar­rest, oddly.

With its cam­paign, Vis­ceral at­tempts to in­tro­duce a slower, more thought­ful pace to the un­apolo­get­i­cally bom­bas­tic Bat­tle­field se­ries, but it’s not too long be­fore the ac­tion starts to re­sem­ble a James Bond movie more than it does, say, The Wire. Early lev­els are re­fresh­ingly low key, keep­ing en­emy num­bers to a min­i­mum and al­low­ing the stealth game­play to breathe, but this some­how segues into an ill-judged tank-battle boss en­counter that feels like a dip into the old Bat­tle­field as­set li­brary made for the sake of con­ve­nience rather than ne­ces­sity. There are also plenty of oc­ca­sions when the power to de­cide how to deal with a group of enemies is re­moved from you en­tirely and you’re forced into gun­fights, jar­ring with the rest of the game. But Vis­ceral’s dwin­dling grip on re­al­ity never ob­scures its abil­ity to de­liver stand­out level de­sign along the way. In an­other break from re­cent Bat­tle­field cam­paigns, most mis­sions are rel­a­tively freeform, al­low­ing you to ap­proach ob­jec­tives in a va­ri­ety of ways, and even im­pro­vise your own routes by us­ing the new grap­pling hook and zi­pline gad­gets, ad­di­tions that in a wel­come turn aren’t re­stricted to pre­de­fined points, but us­able on most flat sur­faces and ledges.

An es­cape from, and sub­se­quent as­sault on, a delu­sional cult’s com­pound in or­der to re­trieve your equip­ment dur­ing the lat­ter third of the game is a par­tic­u­lar high­light. Do you choose to sneak in un­der a bro­ken fence, scale an out­crop of rocks next to the perime­ter wall, or grap­ple up to an old look­out tower? Of course, you could also walk in through the main gate, gun at the ready. And once in, is your first pri­or­ity to dis­able the alarm sys­tem in or­der to pre­vent the ar­rival of re­in­force­ments, or to pick off any high-value war­rants quickly so as not to risk their deaths should things spi­ral out of con­trol? It’s even pos­si­ble to sneak in un­de­tected, grab your kit bag and scarper with­out so much as a scuf­fle. Hard­line’s at its best when it tosses in­gre­di­ents into a sand­box and in­vites you to get stuck in, but you’ll have to trudge through more pre­scribed filler to reach each one.

At least the com­pany’s good. Hard­line’s cast of dirty, triple-cross­ing cops and rob­bers are a know­ingly

It’s not too long be­fore the ac­tion starts to re­sem­ble a James Bond movie more than it does, say, The Wire

clichéd, snap­pily writ­ten bunch. While pro­tag­o­nist Nick Men­dosa ini­tially comes across as some­one who’s sit­ting on a po­lice ba­ton, he be­comes more charis­matic as the plot plays out and a mem­o­rable sup­port­ing cast set­tles into or­bit around him. It’s schlocky stuff, but the game wears it well, Vis­ceral’s good-hu­moured treat­ment and sub­tly ex­pres­sive fa­cial an­i­ma­tions com­bin­ing to en­sure it’s easy to get caught up in the best Bat­tle­field cam­paign since Bad Com­pany 2.

Mul­ti­player suf­fers from the op­po­site prob­lem, feel­ing much less es­sen­tial than Bat­tle­field’s large-scale war­zones, de­spite of­fer­ing up plenty of new ideas of its own. Along­side Team Death­match and Con­quest,

Hard­line in­tro­duces five new mul­ti­player modes. Heist, a twist on Rush, sees one team de­fend vaults from the at­tack­ing ter­ror­ists, who must also move any ill-got­ten gains they make to an ex­trac­tion point. Blood Money evens the odds by dump­ing a stack of cash in the mid­dle of the map and ask­ing both teams to grab as much of it as pos­si­ble, tak­ing it to their re­spec­tive vaults. The frame for each team is dif­fer­ent – cops are col­lect­ing ev­i­dence, while the crim­i­nals are lining their pock­ets – but play­ing on ei­ther side is iden­ti­cal. Com­bined with Hard­line’s smaller maps and faster pace, both modes prove rau­cous, over­whelm­ingly so at first, and smart place­ment of the cash pile in Blood Money makes for en­ter­tain­ingly deadly choke­points.

Hotwire is a new spin on Con­quest in which cap­ture points are ve­hi­cles. In or­der to con­trol a point, you must drive the car, mo­tor­cy­cle or – if you’ve drawn the short straw – petrol tanker at a min­i­mum speed. Friendlies can lean out of win­dows to pro­vide some pro­tec­tion, and other un­marked ve­hi­cles can be used as close sup­port or to chase down en­emy-con­trolled cars. While broadly suc­cess­ful, it suf­fers when you find your­self on foot at­tempt­ing to chase down fast-mov­ing tar­gets that al­ways seem to be just out of range.

Fi­nally, Crosshair and Res­cue serve up taut rounds with just three min­utes on the clock in which ev­ery­one has just one life. The for­mer is sim­ple VIP es­cort fare that works bet­ter on pa­per than in prac­tice thanks to the overly short rounds. Crosshair matches can last as lit­tle as ten sec­onds, and in some ses­sions we’ve found our­selves spend­ing more time on load­ing screens and in the lobby than play­ing. Res­cue, mean­while, is the ob­vi­ous pick of the modes, and plays like a small-scale ver­sion of Heist. In­stead of sports bags full of un­marked bills, how­ever, the as­sets in play are two hostages. The crim­i­nal team must pre­vent any res­cue at­tempts, while the po­lice just need to get one hostage to the ex­trac­tion point (pity the guy left be­hind). Both teams can win by elim­i­nat­ing ev­ery mem­ber of the op­po­si­tion, too.

Th­ese modes take in nine new maps that range from medium-sized Bat­tle­field are­nas down to sur­pris­ingly in­ti­mate constructions, and the whole feels slight in com­par­i­son to the full-blown Bat­tle­field 4. It’s dif­fi­cult to shake the idea that Hard­line would have worked much bet­ter as DLC than as a stand­alone ti­tle – even Res­cue can’t quite stave off the feel­ing that you’d be hav­ing a bet­ter time if your Bat­tle­field 4 disc was in the drive. This isn’t to di­min­ish Vis­ceral’s achieve­ments, but the un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence of build­ing a Bat­tle­field spinoff is that it feels like just that: a lower­bud­get sideshow to the glitzy main event.

The col­lec­tion of new po­lice-marked and crim­i­nal ve­hi­cles in Hard­line’s mul­ti­player spark mem­o­ries of child­hood games, and tac­itly en­cour­age a pan­tomime em­bod­i­ment of your side’s stereo­typ­i­cal moral­ity dur­ing play

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