With Call Of Duty disappearing further into the realms of outright fantasy with each new game – watch out for COD: Hobbit Warfare in stores for Christmas 2015 – Battlefield’s more down-to-earth approach to digitised warfare has earned it plenty of loyal recruits. But what will they make of Hardline?
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Cops 'n' robbers
The first thing they’ll notice is that Hardline is not Battlefield 5. Swapping the frontline for a walk along the thin blue line, Hardline puts you in the shoes of a Miami cop called Nick Mendoza – although as the story takes you to locations as diverse as the Florida Everglades, the High Desert of California and glitzy Hollywood hills, it’ll become clear that things aren’t as cut and dried as that.
We played two episodes from the game’s total of ten: one as a cop on the hunt for a local drug dealer at the very start, the other from towards the end of the game. We won’t talk too much about the latter for fear of spoilers but let’s just say by that point Nick isn’t exactly earning any medals for exceptional police work.
It becomes clear very early on in Hardline that this isn’t a straightforward first-person shooter. For starters, a gun isn’t your only weapon. As an officer of the law you can press the left shoulder button to flash your badge and shout ‘FREEZE!’ at any ne’er-do-wells you encounter, causing them to reach for the skies.
You then have to keep your gun trained on them, moving swiftly from one to another and back again if there’s more than one. Leave one out of your sights for too long and they’ll take matters into their own hands and open fire. That means you’ll have to be very skilled to keep three under control, while four or more will just laugh in your face – and these guys laugh with their guns, not their mouths. Successfully suppress one or more, however, and you can leave them on the ground in cuffs.
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Arresting particular enemies will earn you extra rewards. They can be identified using the scanner that Mendoza carries – a cross between the camera in Far Cry 3 and the ESPER system from the old Blade Runner PC point ‘n’ click. It tags enemies and adds them to your map, highlights alarms and mains power cables, detects and analyses evidence, and even allows you to listen to conversations from afar. It’s hardly The Wire but it at least gives the illusion of some police work before the bullets start to fly.
Essentially the scanner allows you to plan your approach, and in Hardline there are often numerous ways to tackle each situation. Do you want to lure enemies into isolation by chucking empty bullet cases to catch their attention, before knocking them out cold or hitting them with a taser? Or go in gung-ho with all guns blazing? Whichever one you choose you’ll know when an enemy has spotted you because a small crescent appears above their head, gradually increasing in size until it turns red, at which point you’ll be welcomed with hot lead.
The weapons loadout screen is where Hardline is most reminiscent of previous Battlefield games. The possibilities aren’t quite endless but it’ll take a very long time to try out each one. Primary and secondary weapons can be customised with different scopes, stocks and barrels, while you can select various gadgets to aid your chosen approach, including grappling hooks and ziplines.
“Most games developers love films but the reality is a videogame is not like a film,” Hardline’s exec producer Steve Papoutsis tells Stuff after the playthrough. “A film is two and a half hours long. Videogames are much, much longer, and they also break down more like TV episodes.” Despite this he cites The Joker’s bank heist from The Dark Knight as one of the team’s many influences, alongside the dialogue style of TV series such as Justified, while the blurred lines between the two sides of the law reminded us of cult cops-gone-bad drama The Shield.
In fact, it goes much further than just ziplines and grappling hooks; the codes and conducts of television have been weaved right into the structure of the game. Aside from the decision to divide it into 10 episodes, you’ll also be reminded what happened previously when you fire up the game, and offered a teaser of what’s coming next when you choose to stop playing.
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