These are my impressions of Hardline's single-player campaign so far. More on how we’re reviewing Hardline here.
The Battlefield Hardline campaign takes after Max Payne in a few ways. For one thing, it’s an aggressively silly bloodbath. The bad guys are gun-toting lunatics, and though you can arrest them instead of using force, it isn’t always easy: there’s going to be violence. And then we all have to pretend that the room of bodies we just left behind is like, pretty much normal police work. Hilariously, after one early shootout, you get reprimanded for excessive force because your partner punched a guy. After littering a hotel with bodies.
It’s like Law & Order, if you took out the law and the order and Lennie Briscoe just shot everyone. Max Payne had the benefit of casting you as Mr. Grumpy Noir, an ex-cop who has nothing to do with anything that has ever happened in real life. Hardline is going for the TV cop drama thing, which doesn’t feel right, because cop dramas usually make a big deal out of discharging a firearm. Here, you’re a two-person SWAT team. It wants to be the Shield, but it's far too silly.
You play as a young Cuban detective with a rough past who’s just been through a bust that went bad. Your partner is a real loose cannon, and despite your unease with her unconventional style, you're a pretty damn loose cannon, too. Cannon balls everywhere.
Your job is to deal with long loading times (and a spinning loading thing that never seems to go away) in pursuit of some dumb drug operation.Most importantly, there are lots of bad guys to clear out along the way.
On the hardest mode, Hardline is properly difficult. If you want to shoot it out, and sometimes you have to, it can take several tries to find the right way to move through the level. It reminds me, again, of Max Payne—namely its puzzle-like room-to-room progression. Each set of bad guys has to be approached differently, and carefully, ammo must be conserved (or new weapons picked up), and careful aim is not optional. It helps to scout the place before going in, tagging enemies so you can track them. I'm not pushed forward like in CoD, and there’s lots of room to move around the maps making quick decisions. I like that a lot.
Freeze! (Or don't)
I’ve also cleared some areas the more police-like way, by arresting everyone. A lot of disbelief needs to be suspended to make this system work. First of all, you’re arresting armed gangsters who are within shouting distance of their armed gangster buddies, yet when you flash your badge they drop their guns and quietly give up. Once they’re cuffed, they go to sleep. Seriously, there are little ‘Z’s above their heads. Being arrested is very tiring.
The catch is that you can’t arrest more than a few bad guys at once. If someone else sees you arresting his pals, he’ll open fire. Then it’s a fight. When enemies are grouped up, you can make it work by tossing shells to alert one guy and draw him away from the group toward your secluded arrestin' spot. It's a very simple stealth system and not especially hard (their vision isn't great), but I've only gone through one section non-lethally so far. I like that the option is there (although it makes the option to shoot everyone feel even weirder), but I haven't found slow crouch walking and shell throwing especially fun. So far, it feels like a mediocre stealth game, and a challenging shooter (I think I prefer being John Wick to being Solid Snake).
When it does come to shooting, if you’re feeling extra generous, you can engage with a non-lethal taser. You are sort of encouraged to, as you get points for arrests and takedowns, but you're sort of not: there’s a hell of an arsenal at hand for a couple of detectives. I really am Max Payne at times, blowing apart rooms with shotguns, spraying bullets, leaving so many internal affairs investigations behind me it's shocking I'm kept on duty. Which is fun. Of course, after that I'm at the station acting like none of that happened.
When I'm not arresting or shooting (or in a driving segment), I spend my time poking around for evidence and chatting with my partner. I like the little expository chats—the banter is just pleasant to listen to, and the voice acting is very good—but finding evidence is tedious. You have to peer through this ‘scanner’ (which is also used in a much better way to mark enemies), find highlighted objects of interest, and then click on 'em. It’s about wandering the environment, following a distance tracker to the objective, and looking at it. The evidence does unlock information about the case, so I'll have to look into how interesting all that is as I keep playing. Mostly, though, it just feels like Visceral considered that detectives do more than arrest people and shoot people (I imagine that's the least of what they do), so it threw in some detective busywork.
And that's where I'm leaving it for now. It's weird, but I like the first few 'episodes' of Hardline's 11 episode campaign (which, by the way, takes the TV thing so seriously, the screen after each episode looks just like Netflix). We'll be publishing the full review on Friday.