It is easy to envision Battlefield Hardline as a vague, harmless mosaic of television police cliches. It’s split into episodes and comes with a splashy network-like opening credits package. Cities whip by in glossy establshing shots as bassy music slams the subwoofer. By its climax, rookie VICE member Nicholas Mendoza enters a tank – hurriedly written into the script – to shoot down the helicopters of a radical sect of doomsday preppers. It’s weird.
But Hardline’s campaign narrative is strangely restrained. Mostly, anyway. Mendoza traipses through Miami ghettos not to shoot, but observe. A teenager learns chess. A woman, frustrated, curses a garbage can lid which will not fit. Another speaks of restraining orders during an overheard phone conversation. Shirtless men defiantly drink in public even as approached. Other just lock their doors.
This is what amounts to policing in Hardline, not the glamorized shoot outs, not the perilous chases. Rather, the people. It is interesting to see such an expensive video game, produced in such technical luxury, slip away from conventions. A shooter without shooting. How novel.
Don’t shoot! No really, don’t shoot.
You are not supposed to shoot as Mendoza (although you can). His gun is a permanent screen fixture, but this is not a weapon with a needed trigger. This is a device of intimidation. Pointing the barrel makes mafia members drop their assault rifles. Corrupt cops lose their position of power. Low rung drug dealers raise their hands in panic. Hardline is doing what it can to mask the veil of current police state politics. Obey and all is okay, it says.
… no overt symbolism lest they appear to stand for something, even though EA has released a video game about American police with the title Battlefield.
These characters do not fire unless provoked. There is no correlation of color or race. Rough arrests are for animated show. It’s actually bland, safe in the way high dollar corporately produced entertainment often is – no overt symbolism lest they appear to stand for something, even though EA has released a video game about American police with the title Battlefield. They have given police the same weapons as their military series and swerve from the obvious societal irony. Subversiveness is lost for the sake of the awkwardly commercial.
As such, the gamification intrudes instead of naturally melding with these surroundings. Everything, every interaction, is conducted by conscientiously prepared rules. Move Mendoza’s line of sight after a surrender and suspects will reach for their weapon after a set time. A meter says how long. Only three gumen may be held at once; four is considered too many. A mere one may be distracted by a sound at a time. An “evidence scanner” device buzzes when near an item of interest. How does it know? Technological convenience.
Imagine an episode of the reality show Cops this predictable. No one would gawk at the struggling heroin addict who follows a prescribed edict of behavior. This is Hardline’s central gameplay scenario – an interactive take on TV no one would watch.
A Hardline seperation
Strange is how different the final acts are. After Hardline parades through the litany of corrupt cop cliches, Mendoza is framed. Escaping prison, he continues to follow procedure. He still acts on those who have warrants and rewards are given for their live capture. Why?
It appears executives panicked partway through development. As such, Hardline closes on the utterly ridiculous. Battlefield “the product” is back. Phew. Korean mafia members are gun targets who sell cocaine in cars. A geeky, fast talking computer hacker is a snarky hero. The caricature of far right, second amendment devotees, armed with rocket launchers and living in their isolated desert trailer park, suddenly replace the the city’s slums. Mendoza can shoot the people living here – with a tank. And the decommissioned, grounded plane which happens to be loaded on a runway they control. They’re lunatics so their grandiose and highly explosive execution is acceptable to Hardline.
Then Hardline flows into a trashy depiction of Miami, rappelling through a spectacle of fireworks before the final, predicable one-on-one monologue with the villain. Logic turns utterly synthetic. “Police” is no longer a function of the story.
Now you can shoot
Oddly, it is multiplayer which institutes the core conceptual problem. Hardline has acceptable (dare to say fun) modes. Its wild bank robbery presentation is all theatrics, wilder and goofier than the comparably seedier Payday. Cops versus robbers – kids playing by pointing fingers at one another and shouting, “You’re dead,” just with production values.
Deathmatch carries a different connotation. Jackets emblazoned with all-caps POLICE battle a blending of ill-defined “bad guys.” Sometimes they’re gang members – coded by their colors – or those masked bank robbers. Personalities are suddenly stripped. This is a war of people shouting loudly, angry, vile, vulgar things in fact, with no context and to no heroic solution.
To ask why this is different than Battlefield’s war scenario, it is more intimate, more suburban. Wide scale video game conflict is told a distance, eerily perfect at eliminating the visible population with settings in bombed out buildings and inserting prompt villains (faceless Russians, Koreans sworn to a propaganda oath, desert people in headdress). Hardline thusly fails.
Hardline is shallow, as sincere about its premise as five-year old children who believe they’re fireman, dinosaurs, or astronauts.
The spectacle, with cranes smashing through high rises, costs lives. We know it does, and without a sensible end. There is no winner, no ambiguous right to achieve, nor a sensibility as to why these bullet-based slug fests are happening. Streets are uncomfortably empty. Citizens are hiding from tanks and questioning why police have them at all.
This Battlefield is socially irresponsible, the Facebook news feed of video games where each side only sees representation of their own limiting subjective right. Never is it complex. Never does it challenge. Never is it compelling. Hardline is shallow, as sincere about its premise as five-year old children who believe they’re fireman, dinosaurs, or astronauts. It may only be pretending to be a game about police, but this Battlefield is guiltless in profiting from the surrounding social fallout.