When video game mega-publisher Electronic Arts (EA) announced in 2014 that the next installment in the long running multiplayer military first person shooter series Battlefield would not in fact take place on a battlefield, but rather feature a no holds brawl between cops and robbers in domestic civilian settings, I was worried. A game that makes a real war out of the “war on crime” tripped all my civil liberties alarms faster than you can say “posse comitatus”, and in an era where the news cycle is dominated by concern about police militarization and abuse of power it seemed — to borrow a word from our Social Justice Enthusiast friends — problematic.
And that wasn’t the only problem. As if to prove that Battlefield: Hardline was a legitimate part of the franchise, the game’s launch was fraught with bugs, balance issues, hurried patches and other customer complaints. And this is only talking about the multiplayer component, as similarly in Battlefield tradition, the single player campaign was hilariously awful and clichéd, and we will not discuss it further.
Yet Battlefield: Hardline overcomes all of these problems and gets an unequivocal thumbs-up from me as it lays down its single trump card: it’s fun. It’s big, awesome, stupid, hairy fun, quite literally the most unalloyed fun I’ve had in a multiplayer shooter since playing DOOM at all-night LAN parties. The setup and mechanics of the game lead to impressively natural and organic moments of cooperation and teamwork between total strangers, and these moments are straight out of a high-dollar Hollywood heist movie. I was sold on the game when I rappelled down a zipline a teammate had set up, jumped off it to land in the middle of a street, switched to my M79 40mm grenade launcher and blew an oncoming tanker truck into half in a towering, screen-shaking explosion.
Eat your heart out, Michael Bay.
So, since you’re reading about it in this magazine, you’re probably wondering “How are the guns?” Out-freaking-standing, to use a technical term. The team at Visceral are clearly fellow gun nerds (or at least have some on speed-dial) and the arsenal available to the players is full of traditional action movie and video game stalwarts like the M16 and H&K 416, FN P90, H&K MP5, Remington 870, AKM, Beretta 92 and so on, but there’s also uncommon guns with interesting history, and tons of thoughtful touches and details that they didn’t need to do. But they did, and it shows.
In particular, making the Colt 933 carbine feel and handle differently from a full-size M16A3 is a remarkable digital achievement. An 11-inch barreled carbine variant of the M16 with a telescoping stock, the 933 was one of several shorter M16s shopped around by Colt until the adoption of the 14.5” barreled M4 in the 1980s. While it never landed an official military contract, small buys by special forces and international and domestic customers kept the baby M16 in the catalog.
In game, the 933 is the starting weapon for the “Operator” class for both factions, and while it enjoys a high rate of fire and does similar damage as the M16 and H&K 416, it is livelier in full-auto fire and not quite as accurate at across the map distances. One of those thoughtful touches is the empty-chamber reload animation that features a 3-Gun or Magpul CORE inspired left roll that flips the empty magazine out of the gun and presents the magazine well at an angle for the fresh magazine. Then your character sends the bolt slamming into battery with a deft tap of his thumb on the bolt release (instead of slapping it with his hand) and it’s time to get back to business. It’s these little things that add up to an immersive experience.
The “Mechanic” class is able to pick from various pistol-caliber submachine guns to supplement their 40mm grenade launcher (either a Vietnam-era M79 or a modern H&K M320) and blowtorch that can magically repair vehicles, and while their starting weapon is the evergreen and always capable H&K MP5k, other interesting and not often seen buzzguns are waiting to be unlocked. I knew I was in for a treat when one of the options was the Smith & Wesson Model 76 9mm submachine gun. A domestic rebranding of the Swedish Carl Gustav M/45, the M76 is representative of an entire generation of simple, steel tube blowback subguns inspired by the German MP40 and British Sten that proliferated after the close of WWII.
In the middle stages of the Vietnam War, the M/45 became popular with US Navy SEAL teams, but the Swedish government quickly blocked exports of the weapon due to its opposition to the war. S&W stepped in and drew up designs for a clone of the M/45 and it entered production right as US involvement began to wind down. Denied lucrative military contracts, S&W sold some to domestic law enforcement agencies, and it became a popular entry point to the world of NFA firearms for many enthusiasts. The low cost, reliability, rugged appearance and easy availability of the gun also won it a starring role in several movies, including The Omega Man, Prime Cut, and Magnum Force.
Another classic 9x19mm Para subgun that is available to this class is the Israeli Military Industries Uzi. As successful and prolific as the M76 was not, the simple and compact stamped steel Uzi was produced in the millions from its introduction in 1954 to the current day, seeing service not only in Israel’s seemingly never ending wars but in conflicts across the globe as the design was enormously popular on the export market with militaries and police forces alike.
In game, the Uzi features its prototype’s rate of fire of 600 RPM, which puts it slightly behind the power curve of other faster-firing submachine guns, but offsetting that is an authentic stability that allows the player to keep more bullets on target.
A newer and more exotic submachine gun is on offer to the class, the KRISS Vector K10. An unconventional looking gun chambered in .45 ACP, the K10 features a barrel offset below the grip axis and a sophisticated articulated inertial block to help mitigate the effects of recoil on the shooter. And these mechanical aids are put to the test as the K10 offers a blazing 1200 RPM rate of fire. The game neatly simulates this tradeoff as the K10 is absolutely devastating up close, but both damage and accuracy suffer at range.
Secondary weapons are also class specific, and the Mechanic class is given a selection of revolvers to choose from. Starting with a 5-shot S&W M642 J-frame snubby, the player can later upgrade to either a heavy 6 shot .44 Magnum wheelgun (which appears to be a large frame Taurus), or an 8-shot S&W Performance Center 327. A .357 Magnum built on S&W’s large N-Frame, S&W’s engineers added the 8-shot cylinder in 1996 and offered it equipped with a variety of barrel lengths and even a super lightweight Scandium frame. The revolver in game is a later edition that features an optics rail along the topstrap and an underbarrel rail for the mounting of a flashlight or a laser. The 327 can be further customized with a recoil taming muzzle brake or an accuracy enhancing “heavy barrel” attachment, giving the Mechanic some teeth at range.
The reload animations for the revolvers are delightful to watch, but I will point out that snapping your revolver’s cylinder shut with a flip of your hand is guaranteed to mess up your gun’s crane despite how cool it may look on screen.
The “Enforcer” class is given an ammo crate to resupply his team mates and breaching charges to blow holes in various walls or explode vehicles, and gets to chose from 12 Gauge shotguns and 7.62 NATO battle rifles for his weaponry. Starting out with a Remington 870 Police Magnum, the player then has the option of buying an Ithaca 37 “Stakeout” shotgun before the heavy-hitting 7.62 rifles become available.
Introduced in 1937 as a competitor to Winchester’s popular Model 12 pump shotgun, the 37’s success was interrupted by WWII and eventually eclipsed by the Remington 870 and then the Mossberg 500, but the 37 has stayed in production to this day and seen service in military and police applications as well as the sporting and hunting fields. In game, the 37 is largely differentiated from the 870 with it’s stockless, pistol-grip only configuration and folding slide mounted fore grip.
The battle rifles available include not only “legacy” pattern rifles like the H&K 51 and the DS Arms SA58, both derived from the H&K G3 and the FN-FAL respectively, both European post-war rifle developments, but also the newer FN SCAR-H. But what really caught my eye was that Visceral decided to include the Ohio Ordnance HCAR (Heavy Counter Assault Rifle), a thoroughly modernized and updated Browning Automatic Rifle chambered in 7.62 NATO. Originally a squad level automatic rifle dating from WWI, the BAR was manufactured in .30-06 Springfield and saw service in all over the world in WWII and in the Korean War. Out of production for decades, Ohio Ordnance redesigned the receiver and barrel for lighter weight, added a pistol-grip stock and optic and accessory rails, and redesigned a 30 round curved magazine. The result is an awesomely outlandish but surprisingly reliable and controllable rifle that in its virtual incarnation, hits like a truck and with a relatively sedate rate of fire, can sustain several seconds of sending thirty caliber hate and discontent downrange before a reload is required. Going strictly by the numbers, the HCAR may not be the equal of its competitors, but it’s an absolute delight to use and a respectful nod of the head to the past.
The “Professional” is what Hardline calls its sniper class, and players can choose not only a high powered rifle with high magnification optics, but they also get the choice of several high-RPM submachine guns as secondary weapons, and some neat gadgets like laser tripmines and remote surveillance cameras.
Starting out with a Steyr Elite bolt-action rifle in 7.62 NATO and a Glock 18 9x19mm machine pistol, the Professional can choose from a few different semi-automatic rifles such as the Springfield Armory Inc. SOCOM-16 M1A, Knight’s Armament SR-25, and a SAIGA .308. A more sporting appearing variant of the infamous AKM type, the SAIGA .308 features an elongated receiver and a straight, pistol-grip-less stock. True to life, the SAIGA is initially available only with AK style leaf and post sights, but the player can soon upgrade it with a clamp-on side mounted optics rail to attach a variety of red dots sights and magnified scopes.
Counter-Strike veterans will be pleased to see the return of the famed Accuracy International AWM, a heavy bolt action rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum. Capable of launching a 250 grain projectile at 3000 FPS, the AWM offered tremendous downrange power and soon developed a reputation for superb accuracy in even difficult wind conditions, racking up many long-distance kills in the mountains of Afghanistan in British service.
As of this writing, Battlefield: Hardline has shown decent sales numbers out of the gate yet not quite challenging its immediate predecessor, Battlefield 4. While the game does have the feel of an expansion despite being a fresh take on the genre, it is perhaps possible that an over the top cops vs robbers game is a tough sell in today’s zeitgeist. That said, moviegoers will enthusiastically root for that rogue cop who doesn’t play by the rules, and cheer along with the dashing anti-hero rising up the ranks in a criminal organization, and so can game players take temporary delight in pulling off that impossible heist or dispensing some harsh street justice. Video games are by nature cathartic, not aspirational, and Battlefield: Hardline manages to thread the needle by being fun, well polished, escapist entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to pack in a ton of thrilling moments into a play session.
If that’s not worth your $60, I don’t know what is.
By Peter Barrett. Originally published in the June 2015 issue of GunUp the Magazine.