Battlefield: Hardline Final Campaign Impressions

Battlefield HardlineBefore I start diving into Borderlands: The Handsome Collection posts, I want to wrap up my thoughts on Battlefield: Hardline. Today I’ll look at the single player campaign, and tomorrow I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the multiplayer.

COPS AND CROOKS AND CROOKED COPS
I’ll admit that I had somewhat lower expectations going into the story than I might normally for shooters. I was really unimpressed with the campaign in Battlefield 4, and I wasn’t sure just how much of an impact just adding in Visceral would make. I am happy to say that it’s definitely better than I thought going in. It’s not a masterpiece of storytelling or anything that grandiose; but as far as modern shooters, especially military ones, it’s clearly above average.

The actual story is pretty standard fare – player cop doesn’t like crooked cops, gets framed as one by crooked cops, gets broken out of custody and gets revenge – complete with an ambiguous ending as to his intentions. But it’s how it’s told that makes the story actually engaging. Breaking the game into Episodes – complete with narration every time you leave or come back to playing – gives it a kind of unique feel in the current mix. Having the first half of the game be a flashback, while certainly not a new convention, also helps give the characters at least some depth. Sure, some of the pathos is forced, but there’s at least some humanity in the characters. The actors behind the main characters all do a pretty solid job with their voice work – with a few cheesy bits here and there.

What surprised me the most as I played through the game was that it’s not actually an action/shooter – the game tries its damnedest to be a stealth game. You’re rewarded for not being seen, and taking down enemies non-lethally. I played on Veteran – cause I’m no chump – and it wasn’t particularly difficult. At least it isn’t if you play by the rules – tagging enemies and being stealthy makes it a joke – trying to guns blazing is a great way to fail immediately. It’s especially apparent in the few places where the game forces you into combat – there are a couple sections late in the game where you’re tasked with defending a room against a couple waves of enemies; which is the opposite of how the game wants you to play. It’s noticeably jarring – not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind. The problem is that once you’ve maxed out your Expert Score, you have no incentive to play non-lethal. When I was cleaning up achievements, for speed’s sake I used silenced weapons to just pick off enemies – even on Veteran they were hilariously unaware of what was happening.

Battlefield Hardline Hotwire

Really though the biggest point that kept taking me out of the moment was, unfortunately, an incredibly common one. In the second half of the game, after you’ve been freed from prison, you still have to option to freeze enemies and arrest them – the non-lethal takedowns I mentioned above. The problem I have here is that you’re clearly not a cop anymore – and yet one of the stock voice clips for your target is to ask “Are you even a Cop?” But you still slap on a pair of handcuffs like it’s perfectly normal. Again, not a deal breaker, but every time that audio clip played, I picked up on it.

The game isn’t a super long campaign – ten episodes, of varying length, which should probably take you about 12-15 hours at most to clear thoroughly. All that I have left to do is beat the game again on the extra hard Hardline mode you unlock for finishing the game on Veteran. Each of the episode specific achievements are relatively simple – the toughest are probably completing Episode 5 without being spotted, and killing an enemy while escaping in Episode 9. It’s a fun little diversion from the multiplayer – I do recommend playing it, if for no reason other than it’s easy achievements.

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The Real Issue With Shooters’ Campaigns

For whatever reason, modern FPS games get a bad rap these days when it comes to their single player campaigns. That partially due to the rise of console online multiplayer becoming more popular, which lets more people play that might not normally do that. Because more gamers are playing online now, developers are putting a lot more time into crafting a multiplayer mode that has longevity, depth, and a strong social element. In order to do accomplish that, that might mean that the single player has to take a back seat. It’s a pretty standard internet argument against Call of Duty – every game is the same thing, and the single player is an afterthought. I would argue that the Call of Duty campaigns are far from the worst experiences out there. Look at another FPS from the last few years – Bulletstorm – developed for a single player experience, I wouldn’t say that it is a better experience than any of the Call of Duty games.Call of Duty: Ghosts

That having been said, this past round of shooters – Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts committed one of the worst offenses that I think any campaign can. It amazes me, that in 2013, the two biggest shooters of the year would release campaigns with silent protagonists. That might have worked back in the Doom, Quake, and Unreal day, but as the general overall quality of games has gone up, the mute protagonist I don’t think really has a place in modern story-based gameplay. In some cases, notably in RPG’s you can get away with a silent protagonist, but the best examples of those games have some level of characterization through dialogue trees. In both Ghosts and Battlefield there are a number of moments, both in game and in cutscenes, where the other NPC’s directly ask questions to your character – who responds by staring back at them blankly. Now for some gamers, that might be fine; but I think that that course of action kills the immersion, taking me right out of the story. It’s especially frustrating in the Call of Duty games, where silent protagonists gain the ability to speak in between games – Soap from Modern Warfare 1 tois a major example. I think it was especially grating last year since BioShock Infinite showed that an FPS can have a fully characterized player protagonist, who voices his thoughts and answers questions asked of him, and still have a fantastic experience.

Battlefield 4

This coming year I think will be an interesting one when it comes to shooters. As of this writing, there hasn’t been a new Call of Duty announced, although we all know one is coming; and while Microsoft has said a Halo game is coming this year, I have a feeling it will be the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition that’s been rumored for a while, since it’s the ten year mark for it. Add in that Battlefield hasn’t really been a yearly series, and Medal of Honor is all but dead, I think that leaves the door open for the two new kids in school – Titanfall and Destiny. Both look like they are taking new, unique approaches to the genre, in terms of blending story and multiplayer. Titanfall has said that they won’t have a traditional campaign, instead telling the story through the online multiplayer. Destiny looks like it’s blending shooters, RPGs and the persistent world of MMOs to craft a truly unique and new experience. All that’s left now is to just wait for March and September.