It’s difficult to deny that first-person shooter campaigns are typically less than stellar. Every now and again you get a FPS with a great story, but these releases are too few. Battlefield Hardline is gunning to be one of those releases when it launches in a few weeks. Visceral Games hopes that the story of Nick Mendoza will resonate with gamers and make Hardline one of those rare games where the story is the star.
We got to sit down with writers Tom Bissell and Rob Auten, and creative director Ian Milham to discuss the story of Hardline. Though early to tell, Battlefield Hardline might just end up being the best story Battlefield has ever told.
First off, we had to know, like so many others, why cops and robbers? Why not a sci-fi game like Dead Space? Why not Battlefield: Bad Company 3? Ian’s answer was plain and simple: the team wanted to do something different. While he did admit that a Dead Space-esque take on Battlefield would be cool, he and his team have been making sci-fi games for the past eight years and wanted a change. Cops and robbers are abundant in other mediums, but rarely do we ever see them in gaming. This idea seemed fun and approachable, and surprisingly worked with Battlefield’s main gameplay pillars. Visceral Games saw potential, and went after it.
There’s potential with cops and robbers, but a good story would still needed to be crafted. Tom opened up about some of the challenges in creating a strong narrative for a game, because it is tricky. Striking a solid balance between gameplay and narrative is only achievable when the level design and gameplay designers work with the narrative team throughout the development. Possible, but hard with a team the size of Visceral. It’s also quite difficult to create a unique protagonist. Tom believes the reason why protagonists in FPS games are gruff, masculine men is because that’s the only type of character that makes sense.
Visceral Games is smart, however, and has found ways to craft a compelling narrative and main protagonist by focusing on the characters. Ian’s philosophy throughout the development was, “people over plot.” By crafting dynamic and interesting characters, Visceral hopes that players will want to keep playing to learn and spend more time with them. This extends to Nick himself, who has been developed to be as dynamic as possible. He has his own family secrets, has to deal with being the rookie detective, and is locked in a heated battle for the affection of his boss. Visceral Games was also careful to make sure that Nick wasn’t annoying as his dialogue was carefully written to ensure that he wouldn’t grate on the player’s nerves.
Battlefield Hardline takes inspiration from cop shows you’d find on TV. Every chapter is presented as a different episode, which drops Nick into new scenarios while at the same time expanding the overarching narrative. Each of these “episodes” begins with a “previously on” segment, which sounds corny, but fits with the story they’re trying to tell. Similar to TV shows, Hardline won’t feature a main antagonist but instead contain plenty of minor adversaries throughout the many chapters, without just a single one players will pursue through the course of the story.
Battlefield 3 took the series down a dark and gritty route with its story, and Battlefield 4 followed suit. Both campaigns were heavily criticized for being no fun, and poorly written. While it’s too early to tell how well Hardline has been written, we can tell you that the tone of the game will not be heavy and dark. Ian confirmed that Hardline’s tone will be similar to that of the Battlefield: Bad Company games. Expect a light-hearted game that has elements of realism, but also those crazy over-the-top moments you’d get from a Bad Company game.
One thing that Battlefield Hardline won’t have is branching storylines. While players may be able to choose how they play the game (guns-blazing or non-lethal), they won’t be able to make any changes to the story. Rob was pretty adamant in telling me that the story of Hardline is Nick’s, and that we are along for the ride.
Of course, Visceral needs to get players to the single player campaign first, a feat that’s becoming trickier every year. Today’s players tend to skip campaigns in favor of multiplayer, and some games (Titanfall and Evolve) are dropping single player completely. Visceral’s game plan is simple: word-of-mouth. The team is hoping that the campaign is compelling enough that those who do opt to play it will start spreading the word. They have no plans to lock weapons or game modes behind the campaign, because bribe tactics like that don’t work. Now, those who do take the time to play the campaign will get bonus cash and experience that will carry into the game’s multiplayer, but Visceral wouldn’t go any farther than that.
To our surprise, Ian did reveal that at one point Visceral was considering adding story elements to the multiplayer, however, this plan was dropped after the team couldn’t come up with a compelling way to integrate it. It could have been interesting, but probably wouldn’t have worked with the story that Visceral is trying to tell.
Finally, we talked to the team about some recent debates that have popped up this past week. The release of The Order: 1886 has opened up debates about game length and interactivity with the world, and I wanted to know how Hardline was handling these concerns with its campaign and story. On length, Visceral wouldn’t give us a straight answer, or even a range, but Ian told us he’s seen testers complete the campaign anywhere between the average game length to as high as two times the average game’s length.
As for interactivity, Ian does agree that players are demanding more choice and tactical options in their games. Battlefield Hardline will be more open and interactive than previous Battlefield and Dead Space games, but there will still be story-focused, linear areas. Ian pointed towards the Gamescom demo as a perfect example. In the demo, Nick wakes up underground in a make-shift cell and has to work his way out. That section was very linear, giving players a limited amount of tactical options, but that all changes above ground where players are given an entire trailer park to run through. In that trailer park, players can go on a rampage, collect bounties by arresting criminals, or using stealth to make a quick getaway. Hardline is neither open-world, nor is it on-rails. It’s a perfect blend from both categories.
Battlefield Hardline’s release is fast approaching its release on March 17 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. Check out our other interviews concerning strategy and speed to learn more about how Visceral Games is making a unique entry into the franchise.