Berg: ‘Battlefield Hardline’ makes cop work boring, as it should be
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the campaign mode in Battlefield Hardline.
Rationally, there are few things less worthy of serious analysis than the single-player mode for Battlefield Hardline. EA’s headline FPS franchise is almost entirely known for its multiplayer antics — the campaign is honestly only there to fill out E3 trailers with the sort of explosive scenes that just can’t happen organically. Hardline itself is even a title unworthy of investigation — it’s a filler-year title, subject to an abrupt delay, and pushed out as little more than a tool to keep the Battlefield brand alive for another year. But sometimes, it’s the most inconspicuous things that speak the loudest. Battlefield Hardline’s campaign is mostly terrible. But terrible in a distinctly progressive way.
Hardline plays out as a serial cop-drama, right down to an over-dramatic opening sequence, a cast of moderately recognizable character actors and levels being referred to as “episodes”. It’s a stereotypical affair of dirty cops, betrayals, double agents and at least one triple agent — the sort of show you’d watch for five minutes on USA, then immediately forget witnessing. You play as Nick Mendoza, the only clean cop in all of Miami — tasked with tracking down a new form of liquid cocaine flooding the streets.
Mendoza’s adherence to the law extends all the way into the game itself: Rather than break down doors and shoot wildly into gangs of terrorists, Hardline starts as more of a stealth game. Each area is presented as an open space (partially due to the fact that they’re re-purposed multiplayer maps), and you’re incentivized to stealthily arrest gangsters instead of shooting them. Hardline is bizarre — it’s a First Person Shooter that, when played correctly, rarely asks you to shoot anyone. It’s unique, but is dreadfully boring in execution.
But (surprise surprise), the good times don’t last for our hero Mendoza. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he’s kicked off the force and has to work from the outside in to clear his name. This is also the moment where the campaign kicks into full “Battlefield” mode. You’ll fight tanks against a secessionist madman, blow up helicopters from a turret, and murder dozens of meth heads in a version of California that might as well be post-apocalyptic (right down to the dune buggies topped with sub-machine guns). It’s big, loud, dumb — and all off the books. It’s clearly what the audience expects from the game, yet it’s limited to the back-half of the ten-episode season. Which intentionally or not, sends the right message.
When Battlefield Hardline was announced at last year’s E3, there was a distinct sense of tone-deafness in the air. Stories of police brutality and the unnecessary militarization of the police force were a constant, making the combination of a military FPS with a “badass cop” narrative sound like a PR nightmare waiting to happen. Then in August, the events in Ferguson, Missouri put the shifting role of the police at the front of the national conversation. There’s been no shortage of reminders since that day, that America’s attitude about law enforcement cannot be pure hero worship. Which is why it’s so relieving that Hardline chooses not to revel in making the job “fun.” It incentivizes non-lethal take-downs, and keeps the job “boring.” Which ultimately, is what we should aspire for in a police force.
But maybe not in our video games.
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