Battlefield: Hardline: The Call of Duty of Battlefield Games

Battlefield: Hardline has a story. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but it’s there. Mostly as a tutorial, introducing players to various new and updated mechanics, but also as a means of justification. After all, you’ll be killing a lot of people (in both single-player and multiplayer), and while the method to any shooters madness starts with fun and intuitive gameplay, Battlefield has always bridged its gaps with consequentialism. The cops ‘n’ robbers spiel is no different.

That’s not its selling point, though. Sure, some players will sink the six or so hours necessary into completing the — probably — paint-by-number plot and never pull the trigger again, but most of us will slice the fat and dig into the meat of Battlefield: multiplayer. As you’ve probably heard, read or played by now: the maps are huge, the vehicles — sedans, vans, motorcycles, choppers, etc. —  are there, the loadouts are as fun to unlock and customize as ever, and multiple tactics are viable on the field.

On paper, it’s Battlefield 4 with handcuffs and hints of quasi-morality, but hopping into a session at PlayStation Experience lifted any notions planted by E3’s abysmal showing. Hardline isn’t Battlefield 4, Battlefield 5, or even much of a Battlefield game at all. It’s Call of Duty — to an extent.

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The urgency of combat, the histrionics (cops don’t generally slaughter squadrons of ne’erdowells for robbing banks), the in-your-face encounters and shootouts are the blistering bouts of action you’d find in any Call of Duty before all the science fiction malarkey. Yes, strategies beyond the camp vs. rush exist, but the feel; the non-mechanical, hands-on playthrough of a massive construction site was harder, better, faster, stronger than any recent iterations efforts.

Across the three sessions I managed to squeeze in, I spent more time running, shooting and dying (and subsequently staring at the loadout screen more than I’d like to admit) than looking for fun encounters. Chase sequences broke out of nowhere, firefights started and ended sporadically, and somehow the concept (the cops vs. robbers thing) managed to substantiate itself without a single slice of story.

Although Battlefield’s DNA permeates every facet of gameplay, its evolutionary derailment (and slow climb into quick-thinking trigger-happiness) is a good direction for a spin-off. There’s still Battlefield 5 on the horizon, and it’s sure to pour all the military hogwash we’ve come to expect down our throats for the umpteenth year in a row, but Hardline’s approach is raw; it’s fun and refreshing, offering a change of pace to series diehards.

There’s room for improvement, particularly in the visuals department (Hardline is surprisingly grainy, with poor textures and constant pop-in), but it’s also home to a slew changes that are sure to please some players and aggravate others. Shooters have never been my go-to choice for online fun, so to be able to jump into a game with a healthy combination of fans, press and newcomers and remain thoroughly entertained win or lose, well, that’s something special.

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If you happen to be unfamiliar with Battlefield: Hardline and what it brings to the table, here are some interesting tidbits about the new “Heist” mode: up to 32 players (teams are separated into cops and robbers) try to either steal or recover stolen money, depending on the faction. Players will have to collect cash (1 million limit per run) and make for base to register the load. Dying, however, leaves the collected dough to the grubby hands of any nearby enemies. Maps have built-in methods of interference, too. Bollards, for example, can be raised to falter enemies. It’s not a huge twist on Battlefield’s well-established formula, but the military/police swap is a surprisingly bracing alteration.

While series fans will feel right at home on Battlefields expansive murder grounds, Call of Duty enthusiasts will appreciate the slight modifications to combat. Suffice it to say, my hands-on time wasn’t the bland and repetitive stuff of E3’s demo. I’m officially excited again, and you should be too.