This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Battlefield: Hardline.
Battlefield *HURK* Hardline, I was ready to start facetiously naming as Battlefield: Hard-On and Battlefield: Harsh-Reviews-on-Metacritic right off the bat, but I can't in good conscience use the title the game wants to have. A series that has always been war shooters suddenly becoming a cop drama isn't so much a "step in a new direction" as it is "sawing our legs off and mounting the stumps on hover mowers" and slapping the 'Battlefield' name on it feels a bit disingenuous; almost none of the game takes place in a 'field' (it's mainly a city or somebody's house), the 'battles' are more like 'skirmishes', and it's not particularly 'hard'. The 'line' it can have, 'cause the campaign is characteristically linear as shit. So with all that in mind, here's my review of Skirmish-House: Easy-Line.
Not that I want to discourage an attempt to escape the tired and toxic swamplands of the modern warfare shooter. it is very gratifying to see a Battlefield game with cover art that doesn't depict a soldier slowly walking towards the camera. They went for 'man pointing gun' this time, but a step is a step.
Things didn't get off to a promising start when the first thing that happens in the campaign is you kicking someone's door in while a burly white guy says casually racist things (and I challenge you to find a single moment that more perfectly encapsulates the modern warfare shooter), but then we see just how much times have changed when you start arresting people instead of filling their faces with unwanted extra nostrils, and the enemies actually have the sense to put their hands up and surrender when a twitchy bloke with a camera for a face points a gun and tells them to. Yes, to the classic formula of 'shoot the nasty man' or 'knock out the nasty man,' we've added the innovative third option: 'arrest the nasty man': functionally identical to 'knock out the nasty man' but takes about three times as long. Although you do get more points, so it's not adding fun, it's adding another way for psychotic completionists to torment themselves. Well, drawing guys off and arresting them one at a time is a chore, but you can make it tense and exciting for yourself by attempting to arrest them three at a time, 'cause you have to keep your gun on all of them in turn like you're playing a hybrid of Russian Roulette and Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Moe.
The story campaign is surprisingly elaborate for a series that has historically gotten it's mileage out of multiplayer, with an all-star cast of mo-cap actors rounded up from an L.A. Noire reunion, and seems to be making a concerted effort to offer a rebuttal (or Rebuttal-Field, if you will) to all that racism that underlay most contemporary war games like a cake platter made of frozen sick, almost to the point of going too far in the opposite direction, I'd say. While you muscle your fair share of disenfranchised immigrants, all the major controlling villains are as white as the polar bear bukkake shoot. There's even a chapter where you take on a militia of redneck assholes with the Second Amendment firmly wrapped around their shriveled vestigial cocks, which strikes me as terribly ungrateful to the demographic who were keeping the modern warfare shooter afloat up to now. Meanwhile, the main character is Cuban, (I think; I picked up subtle hints to that effect after they brought it up seven million times) and by the end of the game, he's assembled a little Scooby gang of allies so perfectly ethnically diverse that they could all line up in order and start a novelty act called 'The Amazing Human Gradient'.
As for the actual plot, well why don't you fill in the blanks yourself? You're a cop on the ___, You get ___ed for a ___ you didn't commit and now you're out for ___ and to clear your ___. The new modern shooter is officially the old detective thriller with gradual shifts to heist movie in the second half. What confuses me, though, is that even after you've been wrongly accused and are on the run, you can still arrest people. In fact when the evil private cops show up to arrest you, you can arrest them back. What organisation is going to come around and pick those guys up? The Criminal Police from opposite land who give talks to high school kids on how drugs are really great and everyone should take them?
The campaign gameplay is kinda token; the difficulty settings don't change much more than health and enemy gun damage and that doesn't come up much if you take the sneaky 'arrest people' route. It does the Far Cry thing where you can find a vantage point and mark targets, but they appear on the mini-map whether or not you do that, complete with visibility cones, confirming my suspicion that they all have the eyesight of a myopic cyclops with a surfboard nailed to each ear. Can I be honest with you, AAA action games? I'm getting kinda bored of the 'predator' thing. It's every bloody game now! Sneak up behind, wait for them to drop the soap, instant take down. I know it's about letting us choose our gameplay style, but I always feel forced to take the sneaky option when it's available, because I always get the sense that the game is faintly judging me otherwise. Be Bulletstorm or be Thief. There's something terribly undignified about trying to be both at once. I feel like you can aspire to be the world's best sprinter or the world's best weightlifter, but when you surgically attach a sprinter to a weightlifter, then neither of them are going to be bringing their A-game anymore. And besides, Battlefield has much clearer ambitions when you switch to multiplayer; it's back to good old "shoot everything with two legs that isn't an ironing board" and then ten minutes later, get told whether or not my team won or lost, which meant precisely dick to me 'cause I'd only been concentrating on staying alive for more than two seconds in a miasma of shouting and violence, like the foxes were holding a rave in the hen house.
I did rather enjoy the Hotwire multiplayer mode, which is based around driving vehicles. It was much easier to comprehend the sheer number of players on the server when they were all piled into vehicles waving their willies out the passenger windows, but the need to drive around fast emphasized the relative smallness of the map, as people were constantly going out of bounds. God knows why they didn't just put a big wall around everything, 'cause there's nothing worse for the immersion than driving innocently down an open road and the game suddenly going, "INDEPENDENT THOUGHT DETECTED. CALL THE FUN POLICE."
I enjoyed it. But it was so utterly removed from the experience of the single player campaign, it felt almost surreal that the two were ostensibly part of the same game. Surely the campaign should in some way prepare you for the multiplayer, but all that arresting people did me a fat lot of good when 'XXXWolfNobblerXXX' was bearing down. I even unconsciously pressed the 'arrest' button at one point and found myself throwing a grenade, which in the single player had been conspicuous by their absence. A grenade is the exact opposite of arresting someone. Arresting someone involves swiftly making an intimate new friend. Grenades involve swiftly losing one, along with everything below your waist.
- You'll never take him alive: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The Criminal Police are the people you call when the riot squad are outside and you want to make a noise complaint.
- Hand over your badge and gun