We all know what police officers are like, don't we? If semi-documentaries like The Wire, CSI, The Shield, and A Touch of Frost are anything to go by, there's barely a person in law enforcement on either side of the pond that isn't addicted to meth and good-hearted hookers. As easy as it is for us to identify with these fictional characters' lives, though, it's all very familiar at this point. These are stories that have been told a million times before – and Battlefield Hardline is just the latest in an ever extending list.
You can almost picture the conversations between the creative folks at EA: "Let's take everything that people loved about Battlefield 4, strip away the launch issues – and add in cops and robbers." It's a no-brainer for so many reasons, not least because it's a criminally underused premise when it comes to video games. Hardline gets a pass on so many of its flaws because there are so few games that give you a badge and a squad car, before setting you loose on dozens of Miami Vice shirt wearing thugs.
The occasional texture not fully loading or the cliché ridden plot – these aren't things that make the game worth avoiding, even if you will need to be careful that you don't bust a retina while heavily rolling your eyes at times. The issues would be annoying as hell in your average army game, but somehow they seem more forgivable when framed in a slightly less familiar background – well, by video game standards at least.
That's not to say that it's a bad game on its own merit, because it's not. It just happens to have a string of annoying flaws that are easier to bear when in a game that feels a little more original, which is surprising considering that it's just Battlefield with a badge. That's an important distinction to make, too. This isn't just a cop game in the Battlefield engine: this is a Battlefield game that also happens to have cops as the main characters. Take away the awesome ability to arrest enemies and it'd just be a warzone story set in a city.
Every box is ticked: maverick police officers too awesome to follow the rules, and slimy drug dealers who you have to team up with for the greater good. If Antonio Fargas wasn't so busy trying to get the CSI people to return his calls, we're sure that Huggy Bear would have made an appearance as well. It's fun to actually play through the story as opposed to just watching it repeatedly, and arresting people is an interesting twist on the run and gun formula usually present in these titles, but it's hardly what you'd call original.
Action set pieces fill every level, or episode, and we had to check to make sure that we weren't playing something developed by Treyarch or Infinity Ward. Battlefield has long gone the way of the explosion-driven narrative, and there's nothing specifically wrong with that, but the intensity is dialled up so frequently that you'll only realise how dull things have gotten when you're "solely" shooting people.
And, again, this won't matter all that much, because you're tackling criminals and not driving a tank through some vaguely Middle-Eastern country. It's the same summer blockbuster action, delivered in a different flavour.
The multiplayer highlights the similarities even more. The cops versus robbers gameplay might as well not matter; one team has to grab some items, the other has to stop them from doing it. It's neat that you can hear sirens, but it's not new to video games, and it's not new to the Battlefield series. The maps are decent, but perhaps not as big as in previous titles. There's also a lack of vehicles in most arenas, and destruction seems fairly light as well, except in very specific places. This is what the Battlefield series was built on, but it's not quite returned to that standard with Hardline.
The online modes also seem dreadfully unbalanced to begin with. Want to compete? Then you'll need to work to unlock the decent guns and accessories. This happens fairly quickly, especially if you're a regular online player, but experimenting will cost quite a lot and finding your perfect loadout could take weeks.
The best thing about Battlefield is that it isn't all about killing enemies online. If you can play your part, you can make it to the top end of the table, and that's true in Hardline as well. Completing objectives or healing allies is much more important than massacring every perp that you see, which is a great equaliser – even if the weaponry adds that gap between beginners and experienced players.
While we didn't encounter any major issues with the quality of the online experience, there's one thing that will make your blood boil with extended play: it's not unusual – it's incredibly common, in fact – to die on spawn. This is more understandable than with, say, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, because you can spawn on your squadmates and they may just be in the heat of battle – but it still isn't really acceptable. If you spawn on a squad mate, you should have more than quarter of a second to react before being blown apart.
This is more a symptom than an underlying cause, though. Visceral has tried to make the online mode quicker than it has been in the past, partly as a result of not having giant canyons or entire war grounds to fight across. There are comparisons to be made to Call of Duty, but the Battlefield engine isn't equipped for the in-your-face, second-to-second twitch arcade gameplay of Activision's franchise. It's not what the fans want either, so where it came from is a bit of a mystery. What this leaves is less focus on tactics and more focus on getting lucky with shots, which won't be to everybody's tastes.
Still, the graphics are decent, although perhaps not as "early-gen" impressive as Battlefield 4 was. Everything looks too clean and shiny, but the characters look fantastic. Compared to the greenery in online maps, which can look minimalistic, the human models are mind-blowing.
The audio is mixed well enough, too, with epic battles sounding as they should, and vehicles screeching around corners. For those that complained about this when Battlefield 3 came out, it's important to note that all of that random bad language is still a key feature to the online modes. We haven't actually heard, "I'm running down the effing road because none of my effing teammates were close enough to the action to be worth effing spawning on them" – but we're sure that it's in there somewhere.
There are people that say that Battlefield Hardline is just a DLC pack disguised as a new release, but that's not quite true. It feels familiar in terms of gameplay, but fresh enough in theme and heavy enough in content that it's worth its own release. It's a decent game that gets points for originality of concept, but how much value it has is down to how much you enjoyed previous entries in the franchise, and how much you'd like to see the Cop FPS genre become a thing.