EA’s latest shooter shuns soldiers and all things military in favour of cops, car chases and organised crime. Set amidst Miami’s seedy underbelly, the single-player campaign sees police detective Nick Mendoza being paired up with the headstrong Khai Minh Dao to find those responsible for the influx of a new drug known as Hot Shot.
It soon transpires that not everybody on the police payroll is quite who they seem, knowingly leading Mendoza into increasingly messy situations. At what point does stopping a fellow officer from heading to an early grave count as aiding and abetting? For Mendoza this fine line is blurred right from the outset – no time at all is wasted getting the storyline up to speed.
The plot is a clear cut above other games of this ilk. New faces are introduced frequently while the story takes Mendoza and Khai to Miami’s slums, city streets, hilltop villas and even the surrounding swamp land for an unexpected free-roaming mission involving an air boat. The quality of facial animation during the cutscenes impresses, as does the voice acting, and there are a fair few decent one-liners. Also: one-liners that fall woefully flat. A reference to Candy Crush Saga meanwhile falls somewhere between the two. Nevertheless, Hardline does a remarkable job of reminding us how far storytelling has come in videogames over the years.
It’s also evident that DICE/Visceral Games wanted the single-player campaign to offer something slightly different from the countless other shooters out there. Even on the default difficulty setting, Mendoza can only take around four shots before hitting the dirt. AI controlled cohorts do sometimes stick close and throw health packs in your direction, but in most missions Mendoza goes in alone. As such, a low profile has to be retained throughout. This means avoiding enemy paths, deactivating alarm systems and throwing empty shell casings to create distractions. Standard stealth routines, basically. And basic they are – staying out of sight is a pretty easy task, which is partly down to general stupidity of the enemy AI. Once we even went unnoticed while arresting a gang member in the same room as another.
Arresting enemies is another mechanic that although new to the franchise feels a bit underwhelming. Being a cop and all, Mendoza is able to flash his badge at unalerted enemies before performing a silent takedown. If another enemy catches you doing this then all hell breaks loose, so it’s essential to only arrest those isolated from their group. At first we thought this idea would result in dozens of unexpected moments – bad guys unwilling to co-operate, running off when your back is turned, pulling a hidden weapon, etc – but everybody Mendoza faces is seemingly happy to comply with the law. Try to arrest three enemies at once and the last may start shooting before you get round to putting the cuffs on, but instances like this are remote and you’ll quickly learn to only arrest a maximum of two criminals at once.