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    Battlefield Hardline: A life of crime worthy of your time?

    If you’re going to move your hugely successful series away from the military settings that it has embraced previously, then you had better convince people that it’s a change worth making. Mixing things up simply for the sake of it is a direction that few fans will appreciate. In Battlefield Hardline’s case, if the transition to a ‘cops vs robbers’ realm feels more like trial and error than design mastery it will have failed, and a return to the working formula will be called for. This is the problem with mega-franchises: their success means there’s little patience for missteps.

    Whether or not the content is based on the military or the war on crime, the wider spectrum that Battlefield is and will always be judged across is the quality of its multiplayer. Get this wrong and it really is game over. With matches for up to 64 players, the trademark enormous maps, hosts of weapons and vehicles, and a slate of different game modes, Hardline’s feature list certainly makes all the right noises and ticks the relevant boxes. But in 2015 we’ve come to expect more than a simple provision of the minimum requirements. If what’s here feels simply like Battlefield 4 in a SWAT jacket then those calling for this to be provided as a DLC package are going to feel rightly justified.

    Steal appeal
    The game succeeds brilliantly when it manages to communicate that essence of one team taking the role of criminals and the other playing the law trying to bring them down. So it should come as little surprise that it’s predominantly the modes that have been created specifically to facilitate this conflict that work best. not all of the five new game types are equal in their craftsmanship, but the best examples are proof that the underlying concept presented here does have some merit.
    “Not all of the five new game types are equal in their craftsmanship”
    Heist is the finest of those modes tailored towards large team play, with up to 32 players on either side working against one another in a back and forth struggle to control the ‘loot’. Whether loot is a rucksack that seeks liberation from an armoured vehicle or a stack of cash waiting to be stolen from a bank vault, the setup sees the crooks attacking the target and the police defending it. If the ‘baddies’ get the package to an extraction point, they win. If the ‘goodies’ score a certain number of kills before that happens, they win.

    Its quality rests in the fact that it taps into that essence of what we stereotypically think of as cops vs robbers, with one entity protecting the interests of the public and one out to get as much as they can for themselves. The two different objectives single each side out as something distinct from the other, helping us believe that we really are playing the roles we’ve been assigned for each match.

    Cops are robbers
    Unfortunately, the other two new modes designed with 64 players in mind are wholly less worth your effort. Blood Money tasks teams to fight over a centrally located pile of cash, each group racing to store a certain amount of it at their base. The twist comes from the ability to steal money from each other’s personal supply, thus undermining the original collection attempts. Hotwire is different again, a vehicle-based mode that is essentially a mobile variation of the popular Domination game type so prevalent in the genre.

    Five vehicles are spread across the map, with players fighting to gain control of them before their opponents. Once controlled, you need to retain possession of them to deplete the other team’s tickets (read: health bar) and claim victory. The problem with both of these modes is that they don’t make sense within the wider cops and criminals framework. Why would the police, in order to prevent the hotwiring of cars, turn into car thieves themselves? Similarly, why would they run back and forwards between two piles of cash in order to stop the bandits stealing it? Perhaps it’s a satire on the effect of budget cuts.
    “Cars are so stiff in their movements that they’re akin to piloting a shed”
    Even when you suspend your disbelief to the point that you forget which side of the law you’re supposed to be on, neither Hotwire nor Blood Money is much fun. The cars, trucks and motorbikes that take the place of the usual tanks and Humvees are ridiculous in their handling. Cars are so stiff in their movements that they’re akin to piloting a shed, while bikes are twitchy to the point that it feels as though you’re riding a jet ski. Both modes are let down entirely by the fact that they rely on constant use of vehicles to deploy the most efficient strategy.

    Size matters
    More intelligently conceived and far more consistent in their execution are the multiplayer modes dedicated to 5v5 skirmishes. These see hostages being rescued and designated VIP players having to be extracted from an area, with strict limits on the size of each map and how many lives you have. As in Heist, there’s a palpable sense of conventional good vs evil here due to the different goals of the teams, helping you feel closer to your teammates thanks to the well-defined tasks at hand.

    These more focused propositions take place over multiple rounds, with teams switching roles at half-time to allow everyone to experience both sides of the battle. As rounds progress, you naturally develop new strategies as you second guess the actions of your opponents based on what they’ve done previously, creating a cat-and-mouse effect that adds a genuine layer of depth that goes above and beyond what is typically on offer across the larger maps.

    Here, the decisions you make on which weapons and gadgets to fill up on are more important than elsewhere. To give yourselves the best chance each team must boast a healthy diversity of gun types and accessories. If everyone loads up on shotguns or sniper rifles you’re not going to get very far.

    Lone wolf
    To an extent, the less said about the single-player campaign the better. While some commendable ideas are presented, the execution is stained by a setting, narrative and characters that exhibit nothing by way of intrigue or originality. everything is so predictable that the primary sensation is one of déjà vu. not of the warm and fuzzy nostalgic kind, either. More like remembering why you split up with that particularly terrible partner, or why you shouldn’t play golf in a thunderstorm.

    Frequent attempts are made to provide something akin to Far Cry, with open situations giving you the chance to enter the fray guns-a-blazin’ or opt for stealth. The latter option is aided by a scanning gadget that sees you tag enemies, and an ability to ‘freeze’ them by flashing your badge, but the scale of these moments hints at a design team conflicted over their implementation.

    Like Hardline’s plot, they fail to communicate a unified message and are never quite sure how much freedom they really want to give you. You’re better off sticking to the multiplayer arena, then. And even within that you’d do well to choose your game modes wisely.

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