“Stoddard said that about you, that you love being a cop.”— Khai
I picked up Battlefield Hardline during the Black Friday sale in the Battlefield package, which also came with Battlefield 4 (both games in their vanilla editions), for a total of 18 CAD, so each game cost nine dollars each. This deal was quite good: separately, both games go for 10 CAD during most sales, and cost 20 CAD each normally, so it became a straightforwards matter of buying both. Granted, I’ve heard that Hardline’s online multiplayer component is nowhere near as active as one might like, but ever having watched TheRadBrad play through Hardline last March, I was quite interested to play through the campaign for myself. Compared to previous Battlefield games, where the campaigns were less inspired, Hardline provides a story that would not feel out of place with the typical police drama one might find during primetime television, following Nick Mendoza as he works in increasingly off-the-books cases and discovering that the line between justice and injustice can be a rather fine one. Stealth constitutes a more substantial portion of the gameplay, as players now have the option to arrest criminals rather than engage them in a firefight, and arresting certain individuals confers a bonus that contributes towards unlocking equipment for the campaign. Thus, it becomes an entertaining challenge to see how long one can go before stealth is forgone for going in all-guns blazing, and in Hardline, it was most refreshing to have a justified option for maintaining the stealth route. Quite similarly, the motivation for exploration is to collect evidence for unlocking new campaign weapons: rather than feeling tacked on, evidence collection and stealth both serve to enhance Hardline’s immersion, rewarding players who take the time to play the game in this manner.
Besides the arrest mechanics and collection of evidence, the most appealing element in Battlefield Hardline is the ability to customise one’s weapons in-campaign. Provided that one finds the numerous weapons creates scattered throughout the game and has the customisations unlocked, one can fine tune their load-out to conform with their preferred play-style or changing situations. This proved to be most effective for my first play-through, where I continuously exchanged weapon attachments to change the way a weapon handled for a particular situation: at some points, having a suppressor on a pistol was useful, while elsewhere, it was better to go with the brute firepower of the Bald Eagle. This element was noticeably absent from Battlefield 4, where weapons were given a predefined set of attachments. Thus, by allowing players to mix up their load outs, the campaign encourages some replay value: different weapons and setups may change the dynamics of different sections of the game, and as other games with adaptive load-outs (most notably, Crysis 3) attest, being able to have this level of customisation may prompt players to explore sections of the game again with different weapons.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The first mission in Hardline is set in a tough neighbourhood and a school as Nicholas and Khai move to find Tyson, a drug dealer. This is the sort of neighbourhood that comes to mind whenever I imagine the lives of old administrator and moderators from Tango-Victor-Tango. While I can’t quite put a finger on why my mind conjures up such imagery, it’s likely that their association with suburbia America leads to this connection. I played through this first mission on Christmas Day before helping cook Christmas dinner, and looking at the timestamps on the screenshots, it’s surprising as to how quickly time’s flown by.
- Today, after spending the entirety of the day working on my thesis and related work, I went out for a family dinner, featuring 佛跳牆 (lit. “Buddha Jumps over the Wall”), an immensely flavourful soup made with, amongst other things, abalone and shark fin, as its centrepiece and seven other dishes, one of them “eight treasures” chicken, bringing the total number of dishes to eight. Returning to Hardline, one of the biggest differences between it and previous iterations of the game are that sidearms are considered to be primary weapons, with secondary weapons being long guns (PDWs, assault rifles, shotguns, marksman rifles and bolt-action rifles). The urban landscapes in Hardline are beautifully rendered, and the chase through the hotel was a harrowing experience.
- As one progresses through Hardline, weapons of increasing power can be unlocked and found. I’m wielding an MP5-K here, and my preferred loadout for most missions is the armoured insert to prolong survival, in conjunction with the first aid pack. Depending on the mission, I may substitute either with a taser or ammo box: because Hardline confers greater rewards for stealthy, methodical gameplay, firefights are actually quite rare.
- I fondly remember watching TheRadBrad play through these on a Wednesday evening last year; by this point in the term, my focus was on finishing the ARES project with my team. We were tuning our Master-Slave algorithm for initialisation and working out the bugs on how our agents were retrieving data from the map, and after a day’s effort, I decided to kick back and watch Hardline videos. As a result, the third mission is one of the most memorable missions in Hardline.
- Not more than a year later, I finally had the chance to play through these missions for myself, and the missions look every bit as gorgeous as I remember. The third mission has fantastic atmospherics, being set in the Everglades wetlands in Florida. The objective here is to investigate some drug deliveries, and throughout this mission, I fired not more than ten shots on account of attempting to arrest rather than dispatching opponents.
- There’s a sort of melancholy to the abandoned marine stadium; this level reminds me simultaneously of the Grandstand at Stampede Park and the sort of setting that would be quite befitting of a Left 4 Dead 2 map. After cutting off the alarm, I decided to go weapons free here, equipping an SR-25 ECC with an ACOG sight and the canted iron sights for fun. For my first playthough of Hardline, I stuck with a stealthier approach and so, did not have a chance to try out much of the weapons.
- The scanner will emit an audible buzz whenever the player is close to some evidence, prompting a search for anything in the environment. Most evidence collected is out in the open, although there are a few spots here and there where evidence is well-concealed and necessitates some exploration to locate.
- With an impending hurricane, the fourth mission was quite entertaining. I managed to arrest every single individual outside, making use of shell casings to move sentries to a secure spot to get the arrest, and on one occasion, I accidentally became spotted while making an arrest, and spent a good five minutes hiding until the alert died down, then proceeded to arrest everyone else.
- The M16A3 was one of the best weapons in Battlefield 3 and was noticeably absent from Battlefield 4; making a return in Hardline, it quickly became my go-to weapon after I found it. Easily one of the most versatile weapons in the campaign, it is suitable for medium range combat and packs enough of a kick for extrication out of sticky situations.
- The hurricane hits Miami full force by the time Nicholas and Stoddard make their way through a deserted mall to reach Dawes. Despite the storm, the criminal elements still hang around casually, and aside from some water effects, the storm has limited impact on gameplay.
- Hardline changes pacing completely after this mission is complete: Nicholas is framed for laundering Neltz’s money after he reaches Dawes. While Nicholas is dedicated to law enforcement because he’s genuinely interested in upholding the law, his views go against those of his associates, and he eventually engages in less-than-legal means in his quest to get even with Dawes.
- The fifth mission is set in the desert, after Tyson and Khai bust Nicholas out of a prison bus. With the area crawling with law enforcement, Nicholas must evade them and make his way to the water tower. After securing a taser, this mission becomes much easier; armed with a bit of patience, there won’t be too much difficulty in reaching the water tower. Nicholas’ reunion with Khai and Tyson is chilly, but after learning that Dawes went on to found Preferred Outcomes, he reluctantly agrees to help them take Dawes down.
- At expert level twelve, most of the items are unlocked, save the carbines and some sniper rifles. During the frenzy, I tried to collect more points by using the taser to take down enemies, rather than straight up lighting them up with weapons. The main objective in this mission is to rescue Marcus “Boomer” Boone, a hacker who will later prove indispensable to Nicholas and Khai’s plans.
- The Deagle becomes available after expert level ten, and is named the Bald Eagle presumably out of copyright issues. The most powerful sidearm in Hardline, its small magazine size is offset by its incredible damage, and I typically run it with a mini RDS, a cool green laser sight and compensator.
- I’ve not driven a car through an aqueduct since the days of Enter the Matrix, where Ghost drives a police SUV through the aqueducts near the airport to pick up Niobe, only this time, the goal is to escape the pursuers and it’s evening rather than the dead of night.
- Whereas TheRadBrad chose to start a firefight here, I opted for a stealthier approach and attempted to arrest everyone. Around four-fifths of the way in, I failed, and went loud for the remainder of the mission, accidentally shooting Kang rather than incapacitating him and so, lost the bonus. Once this mission finishes, it’s on to my favourite mission in the campaign.
- Mission seven, “Glass Houses” is my absolute favourite mission in the campaign: it’s set in an opulent residence, and here, Nicholas is trying to plant a bug on Roark’s meeting, as it may have some leads about Dawes. Uploaded three days after the “Gator Bait” video, I had made some progress here with the agent’s pairing behaviours, and they were successfully pairing by this point in time.
- By April, the basics were largely finished and the agents would successfully find 80 percent of the survivors on random maps. Some special cases still gave us trouble, so we continued to tune our model and eventually settled on the communication option, which would waste a turn but prevent agents from converging on one good spot. This approach turned out to be quite effective for labyrinth-like maps as well, and in the end, our agents only failed when the map prevented them from pairing together.
- Ultimately, our cooperative agents performed the best out of the teams in our class, and my team was invited out to brunch with the course’s professor. Around ten months have elapsed since then, although I still remember it like yesterday. Returning to Hardline, Nicholas remarks “Fuck this house, and fuck this view” upon gazing out at LA. I found the locale to be beautifully depicted, and in fact, this mission is reminiscent of Battlefield 3‘s “Kaffarov” mission, which is likewise set in a mansion.
- Unlike Kaffarov’s villa, Roark’s place on Mount Olympus feels more like a home: some of the enemies are kicking back and playing Dead Space III upstairs, and in the kitchen, steaks and doughnuts are present. Elsewhere on the grounds, people are grilling steaks and even practising their drive.
- After meeting up with Khai, Nicholas decides to put a tracker in Dawes’ money to figure out where it is going. A small army of Roark’s cronies stand between Nicholas and the pool-house, but by this point in the game, it’s child’s play to simply arrest everyone en route to the pool house.
- Just like that, I’ve reached expert level 15 by arresting people. There are still things to unlock, given that on my first play-through, I’ve not found all of the evidence Hardline to unlock the M416 or the M240B LMG. A serious firefight awaits Nicholas at the episode’s end, and by this point, all pretense of stealth can be abandoned in favour of Rambo-esque firefight. The M16A3 is recommended here.
- The tracker eventually leads to the penthouse safe at Preferred Outcomes’ headquarters in Miami. To break the safe, Boomer suggests “borrowing” the Brute from Tony Alpert, but they are promptly arrested upon arrival. Boomer manages to steal the keys from a guard, and the two escape into the silo complex.
- Thus begins the mission that was showcased during the Battlefield Hardline E3 presentation back during 2014. There are multiple ways of approaching this mission, and I opted to go right, arresting everything that moved by sweeping into the camp’s centre. It becomes clear that Tony Alpert is a survivalist who sells vast quantities of drugs to finance his military-grade equipment; he’s implied to be preparing for a war against the United States.
- There is an opportunity to operate the 40mm Bofors cannon on a derelict AC-130 gunship and later, drive an M1A2 Abrams around. The final fight against Tony Alpert is a short but thrilling one: he’s operating a Type 98 tank, and several well placed shots (while evading his) is enough to end the duel. Several helicopters appear, but these can be blown away with the M1A2’s main cannon.
- “Independence Day” is another excellent mission, set in Preferred Outcomes’ head office. The first section of the mission is stealth driven: there are a few warrant arrests that can be made, and again, sneaking around to arrest everyone yields the most points. I’ve found that for the less patient, warrant arrests can be made using the taser, as well.
- The fireworks in this mission are absolutely stunning, and I took a few moments to admire the particle effects before moving on. A few days after I beat Hardline, I attended an afternoon celebration for a friend who had successfully defended and enjoyed a loaded bacon cheddar burger with avocado aioli, fried egg, mango salsa, lettuce and tomato and a side of poutine. It was massively delicious, and my thoughts soon turned to my own defense, which is tentatively scheduled for late May.
- After the player reaches the penthouse suite and makes to open the safe, it’s a nonstop firefight from here on out. The M16A3 with a holographic sights (and not equipped here, but extended mags) is an incredibly useful asset by this point. At this point in time, it’s prudent to just shoot one’s way back to the boat, ending the penultimate mission.
- The final mission is at Dawe’s private island, and although I geared myself up to shoot through everything, stealthy hijinks continue to be effective here. It’s another beautifully rendered level, and once the end of the game is reached, Nicholas shoots Dawes, subsequently learning that Dawes had left his fortune to him. It’s an open ending, and I’d like to think that Nicholas will do something for society’s good with the money.
- So ends my talk on Battlefield Hardline. I learned recently that my first conference paper was accepted, and I’m presently working on a second paper in conjunction with my thesis paper and my final graduate course. While three-and-a-half months separate me from my defense, there actually isn’t very much time left, so over the next few months, I’ll continue to blog at a reduced pace. To motivate myself, more than anything, my upcoming posts before February ends include the still-planned talk for YuruYuri ☆ San-Hai!, my impressions of Valkyria Chronicles now that I’ve passed the halfway point, and the after-three review for Ao no Kanata no Four Rythmn.
On the whole, Battlefield Hardline was quite the enjoyable shooter: while it deviates wildly from the elements that are distinct to the other instalments of the Battlefield franchise, the campaign is able to take advantage of the new premise and setting to encourage a different play style compared to earlier games: rather than engaging in frequent firefights, players have the option of arresting every enemy on the map in a non-lethal fashion. The settings also look amazing: the missions “Gator Bait”, “Glass Houses” and “Independence Day” have some of the best-looking locales I’ve seen in any game, and it was incredibly fun to just explore these maps to see all of the little details present. On the whole, I find that the Battlefield Hardline campaign has enough replay value for two separate play-throughs: the first is to complete the game to max out one’s expert level and unlock most of the items, and the second is for finding evidence and warrants one might have missed. A third play-through might be possible if one is looking for a challenge (or this could be completed in conjunction with the second). For nine dollars, the campaign is not shabby by any means, and it definitely was fun to experience an interactive version of a police drama, even if the story was a little inconsistent.