With EA unveiling the next iteration of FPS goliath Battlefield next week, it’s a good time for people that like watching things explode. The rumoured narrative of a “near-future” Battlefield might be a result for fans, but it’s time we stop lying to ourselves.
Sure, a near-future warfare experience might tick boxes, but what if those series epic battles, and all of that next-gen technical mastery, were taken back to the streets? In 2015, Visceral Games’ final release Battlefield: Hardline had these goals in their crosshair.
Introduced into the series after superlative success with Battlefield 3 and a lot of people playing the less-good-but-still-ok Battlefield 4, fans at the time weren’t expecting EA to hand over the keys from series favourites DICE to Dead Space creators Visceral Games. Having worked primarily on The Sims and various movie tie-in projects before their horror opus, Visceral Games were an unlikely candidate to command the aircraft carrier-sized blockbuster Battlefield was steering. At the time, its main competitor Call of Duty was experimenting with questionable results in the aforementioned futuristic Warfare instalments. The notion of boots-on-the-ground was now just a footnote on the jetpacks of players zipping around new ideas.
Rather than tackle their aesthetic overhaul head-on, Battlefield: Hardline opted to strip away the ideas of militaristic pursuits for that of circumstances infused with the grit, sweat and kevlar of procedural police combat. Backed by a prestige TV style introduction for all of its “episodes” present in a Miami Vice-esque narrative, Hardline wore its palm tree influenced vistas on its sleeve. By controversially attempting to replace high realism with an injection of proudly cheesy drama, white knuckle stealth passages and the inevitable story beats of deception and justice, Visceral Games took on its rival with a reinvention ready to refresh the Battlefield experience.
Six years later, despite commercial disappointment and a divisive fanbase, the Hardline servers are still busy. With multiplayer acting as the bread and butter for most franchise enthusiasts, it is still easy enough to grab a game with what are seemingly veterans of this underrated gem. Game modes might be limited due to the player count, but the thrill of hard rock pulsating through squad cars whilst pursuing thieves never fails to induce a smile. Conquest on the simply brilliant Downtown map is enough to sink hours of intense sniper duels, skyscraper raids and tactical combat into.
If anything, Hardline‘s biggest issue was skewing back too far towards the militaristic: which felt unrealistic at the time but, well, police driving an APC through a wall to engage bank robbers no longer seems like as much of a stretch.
Aside from the usual escapades available from a Battlefield game, Heists and Blood Money (the latter essentially a blueprint for Warzone’s Plunder) keep engagement fresh. In tandem with the always grand sound design expected from these games, the visual dressing of street-level justice boosts the immersion of taking perps down.
The next generation of console gaming is now giving developers an unheard amount of power, as hardware and software development continues to push the envelope on what we perceive to be a true gaming experience. Whilst Battlefield 6 is potentially ready to take that envelope into the stratosphere, it is a shame that a sequel to Hardline won’t ever get the chance to impress in the same way. Understandably, the last generation can’t be left behind just yet but it is worrying to a degree that Battlefield 6 might not necessarily push the boundaries as much as we think. Touted to be a high-quality experience across all generations, there is still that mindset of holding back on what the game is capable of, to ensure it meets reasonable stability on last-gen consoles.
Three years have passed since Battlefield V hit the scene, leaving a sour taste upon launch. As Call of Duty and other competitors have shown their hand by tapping into the modern zeitgeist of live service gaming, there is still the confidence that DICE will deliver a dependable yet seminal product. Hardline 2 could have been the introduction of a new Battlefield for a new generation.
Similar to its reinvention at a time where science fiction combat was the trend, maybe another trip back to the simplistic yet effective notions of police warfare should have been the next step. From a purely imaginative standpoint with the power of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X in mind, the idea of a multi-million dollar Hardline adventure with gorgeous, modern fidelity and buttery smooth frame rates feels like it would be a triumphant installment. Taking the idea of the “Levolution” destruction system to new heights on this hardware is just the start too. Gone are the scripted events of environmental chaos shown in 2015, here there could be something to stand stall with recent favourite Battlefield 1.
The spectacular sensations available through the DualShock 5’s haptics beg to be explored. Chasing down suspects through dingy alleyways, as the gravel and coarse pavement is relayed through the remote. The patter of rain hitting a squad car windshield as the engine roars and precinct radio chatter squawks through the DualShock’s speaker.
In a climate where future-focused narratives of warfare beyond our comprehension seem more appealing, the time to innovate on a leftfield installment might have led to an image of Battlefield offering players a platform to try a rejuvenation in the FPS genre. I’m hopeful that Battlefield 6 will give us something that speaks to these lofty heights. For now, I’ll be Downtown backing up my squad. Battlefield: Hardline 2 is the sequel we need right now.