“We’re playing a dangerous game, detective.”
Rule of thumb: When a video game character warns you about the game itself, you’re in for some grade-A cheese. And “Battlefield Hardline” (Electronic Arts, for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, $59.99) doesn’t disappoint.
The latest entry in EA’s long-running combat franchise represents a radical departure from formula. Instead of playing an American soldier battling enemy forces abroad, you’re an American cop battling drug dealers at home. At times, you actually act like a policeman, searching for evidence and taking perps into custody rather than just shooting them in cold blood.
But it quickly escalates into full-blown, Michael Bay-style chaos. That leads to some flamboyant set pieces — one memorable firefight takes place in a mall that’s being ripped apart by a hurricane — but any pretense of gritty realism goes flying out the window.
The story is presented as a series of 10 TV episodes, each about 45 minutes long. That presentation is enhanced by a few familiar faces like Benito Martinez (“The Shield”) and Kelly Hu (“Arrow”), and you even get a “Previously on ...” highlight reel if you’ve stepped away from the series for a while. Still, don’t expect an elite crime drama like, say, “Justified” or “True Detective”; instead, “Hardline” aims more for the ridiculous hyperviolence of Bay’s “Bad Boys” movies.
It’s probably unfair to expect subtlety from “Battlefield,” a series known for serving up instruments of destruction and then inviting you to do your worst. “Hardline” doesn’t skimp on the hardware, offering more than 50 weapons and a couple dozen turbo-charged vehicles.
For most “Battlefield” veterans, the solo action will merely serve as an appetizer for multiplayer competition. After the glitchy online launch of 2013’s “Battlefield 4,” fans have reason to be wary, but EA’s servers seem to be operating smoothly this time around. I’ve had no trouble joining online matches — although, given the number of times I’ve been shot in the back, I clearly need more practice.
“Hardline” offers eight types of online competition. Some are variations on established formats like team death match and capture-the-flag. (The “flag” in this case is a big pile of cash.) The new mode I enjoyed the most was Hotwire, in which you hop into a hot rod and try to keep driving fast enough to prevent the other players from blowing it up. With nine new maps — from downtown Los Angeles to the barren Nevada desert — and plenty of ways to personalize your character, whether you’re a cop or a crook, there’s enough here to keep dedicated fans entertained for months.
Overall, the translation of this franchise’s wide-screen mayhem to a domestic crime story doesn’t quite work; fortunately, the sight of tanks rumbling through American cities is still kind of jarring. But for online warriors, “Hardline” delivers a hearty batch of new battlefields to conquer.