If you thought Dead Space protagonist and welding mask aficionado Isaac Clarke had a daunting task ahead of him when he set foot aboard the USG Ishimura, consider the challenge that series’ developer, Visceral Games, faces.

Battlefield Hardline, a shooter influenced by police procedural TV shows, is the first full game in the series not developed by DICE. It’s aiming to reinvigorate a single player component that was starting to smell a bit off in Battlefield 4, and also deliver that large-scale, multi-vehicular, shooting down fighter jets while falling to your death multiplayer action on which the series has built its name. And in light of BF4’s considerable problems with servers, stability and bugginess, it needs to deliver both solo and online portions  flawlessly. Give us a spaceship full of Necromorphs over a message board full of angry BF4 players any time, anywhere.


And, thankfully, Hardline shows no signs of buckling under all that pressure. We go hands on with two single-player chapters, and find a game that takes story, characters and a sense of personality (the facet BF4 lacked most acutely) seriously.

It’s also structured episodically. Not in the same way Telltale’s games are (all content is available from the off) but missions are bookended with ‘previously on…’ and ‘next time on…’  stings. As exec producer Steve Papoutsis explains, it’s an approach that makes a lot more sense to a game’s narrative pace than the faux-movie approach: “Everybody talks a lot about influence from film, but when you look at the way players actually interact with a game, it is more like a TV show. They can’t play for an eight-hour burst, so they don’t get the whole narrative in one session.”

Starting with a car ride through the kind of neighbourhood in downtown Miami that makes you reach for the central locking button, we inhabit SWAT officer Nick Mendoza as he shoots the breeze with partner Khai Minh Dao, a refreshingly fully-clothed lady from opulent Orange County who quickly asserts her street smarts by guiding us through the backstreets in pursuit of a small time drug dealer and informant. That, and not taking any sass from the local lowlifes as they catcall her. Classic cop drama stuff. 

The Thin Blue Hardline
After declining an unsettling chap who appears determined to wash our car windscreen (and taking in numerous other impressive mo-cap performances by local denizens from our passenger seat as we’re given a scene-setting tour of the area) we’re all boots on the ground, trailing an informant who can lead us closer to a bank robber we’re hunting. For a few minutes it’s Modern Shooter 101. We’re
throwing bullet casings by pressing the touchpad to send crims off investigating alleys so we can take down their mate silently, and marking targets with our tactical view, watching them mill about in quasi-infrared vision while eavesdropping.

Hardline doesn’t really show its hand until we’re forced into an engagement: drawing our weapon on up to two unsuspecting enemies will summon a, “Freeze!” order from Mendoza and, so long as we keep our crosshair trained on them, they’ll comply. With two hostiles to deal with, we need to switch between targets to avoid gauges above their heads (think Dishonored’s detection meter) filling up, then get in close to cuff them with R3.

Not that we’re strong-armed into a non-lethal approach: our bullets work just as well as our taser and cuffs. Particularly later in an abandoned school, where the Frostbite 3 engine’s destructible scenery tech takes centre stage. When we’re spotted, the hail of gunfire renders the building nearly unrecognisable.

I Fort The Law
Chapter one demonstrates Visceral’s willingness to set scenes and let you breathe between gunfights. Heck, Nick Mendoza even shows his face in cut scenes unheard of in BF3 and BF4. Conversely, a much later chapter in the game, which rounds off our hands-on, plays entirely differently it centres on what Papoutsis calls a, “fortress encounter.”

Faced with a large glass building teeming with guards, we can either run-and-gun through the front door, head up to the top of a nearby car park and snipe the crims, or experiment with other approaches. It feels like a greatly refined Payday 2 level in its scope and tension, and promises more non-linear play than Battlefield campaigns have seen for many years. We’ll admit Hardline dropped off our excitement radar post-E3, but we’re in pursuit again after loving its single player shake-up trial.