Battlefield: Hardline is a game I've been going back and forth on since I participated in the public beta a few months back. I was never one for competitive anything and simply wanted to just enjoy the experience overall. That's the primary reason why I was never a big participant in the online communities of Battlefield or Call of Duty. I wasn't terrible at it—quite the contrary in fact—but I wasn't at a professional competitor level either. I found myself in the top three of many leaderboards when I tried to get into it. It just isn't my thing, but finding enjoyment in first person shooters meant I'd occasionally take out a rental or borrow a copy from a friend and play through the single-player campaign.
In Battlefield: Hardline, players step into the shoes of Nicholas Mendoza, a newly minted detective in the heat of Miami's drug war. With his partner, a veteran detective, Khai Minh Dao, they follow the supply chain from the streets of Miami to the unlikeliest of sources as they discover corruption behind the badge. The campaign is divided episodically and is obviously inspired by television shows on the USA Network channel. It's a short, six or seven hour narrative that has some strong moments, but more often than not, plays out like a generic television program that you can live without, but the action is good enough to keep you watching until something better comes on. I mean, at the end of the day, Hardline's plot certainly feels like a television show I've seen before, but the writing is decent and the voice acting is pretty great, which makes it a nice and refreshing take on a franchise with a history of generic war themes.
In true, pseudo-open-world fashion, the episodes/missions give the illusion of being large and open with a surprising lack of obvious barriers to discourage straying from the plot, but are surrounded at the perimeter by those lovely, "leaving the mission zone" countdowns that Battlefield is famous for. The quaint and cute difference is that since this is a police story, the "mission zone" is referred to as the "crime scene."
One positive aspect to the otherwise run-of-the-mill campaign is the fact that while each mission is terribly linear, you do have the option of executing stealth, in-your-face action or a combination of both. You're given as many chances to arrest your enemies as you are to shoot them and to prove a point, Hardline's AI will respond repetitively generically to the flash of your badge. Enemies will drop their weapons in surrender, giving you the chance to arrest them and boost your rating; doing so will unlock more weapons, attachments, paint schemes and gadget. It honestly feels like each level was designed to be approached stealthily and you never feel forced to go in guns blazing.
The irony of it all is that you're essentially rewarded at the highest by performing stealth based actions. Flashing the badge and arresting your enemies opposed to popping off headshots will yield higher points toward your expertise rating, and as such, unlocking a variety of firearms to...not use. Conversely, if you go in guns blazing, you won't unlock as many weapons as quickly as opposed to playing stealthily and not really needing them anyway. It's rather maddening and strange and probably the biggest gripe I have with Hardline, aside from the poor weapon animations.
Yes, for a game in which you see more of your equipped firearm than anything else, the weapon animations are either entirely abysmal or nonexistent. Too many times did I fire my last round in my handgun only to see the slide remain forward and not lock back as it would in the real world. It's strange to see a game with such a heavy emphasis on firearms to not make the effort to have them perform as realistically as possible. I mean, come on now, I've seen games on the Nintendo 64 back in the '90s get this right. Of course, if you care little or not at all about this sort of thing, then ignore me. But I found it to be completely ironic. Despite it all, there is a nice variety of weapons, attachments and paint schemes and the weapons at least sound great. Even though a few handguns sound exactly the same. Okay, I'll stop nitpicking.
One thing that took me by surprise were the graphics, and while there were the occasional texture issues, the overall presentation was rather nice. Characters and environments are extraordinarily detailed and the game ran at a solid 60 frames per second. It isn't a visual marvel, not by a long shot, but it certainly looked a lot better than I expected and that was a nice treat.
Due to the public beta access, I already had a sense of what to expect of the online multiplayer and I felt the same way I did back then: it's nothing special and it feels more like an expansion pack for Battlefield 4. Now, that could be my personal bias talking, considering that I never really found any kind of enjoyment in neither Battlefield nor Call of Duty's online multiplayer, but nothing about it stood out at all. What did stand out was the concept itself and it is completely strange. It's almost as if there was an inside joke revolving around online gaming smack-talk and popular Internet media. With the in-game emotes, your online persona can engage in smack-talk, imitate Internet memes and "turn up" with obnoxious music at deafening volumes. Actually, I think I just described my old neighborhood. Despite the fact that it's downright bizarre, more often than not, it was absolutely hilarious.
I do have to give Hardline's multiplayer credit though, because I got the impression that it tried quite a bit to appeal to a much wider audience. With game modes that reflect classic Battlefield as well as more accessible, cops-and-robbers themed mayhem, it was certainly refreshing and a nice variety. Despite the classic, modernized and one new game mode, there are only nine maps and they can get tiring after awhile. At the end of the day though, the overall concept has been done to death and is hardly different than how it was before.
Overall, Battlefield: Hardline was an enjoyable experience in its own way, but wasn't an experience that can capture my interest enough to justify a purchase. Naturally, that's why I'm grateful I was able to pick up a rental copy and get the urge to play it out of my system. It was certainly interesting to see a refreshingly different approach to the franchise, but nothing about it really stood out to me. Perhaps it's because I've grown tired of the done-to-death Battlefield/Call of Duty side of gaming, which is really making me rethink my preorder of Rainbow Six: Siege.