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Battlefield Hardline sends the wrong message about police brutality

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Battlefield Hardline has an image problem, and it doesn’t want to fix it. The Battlefield series is a major FPS franchise, produced by DICE and Visceral. It is known to be a very realistic military shooter, from its weapons and vehicles to its squads and tactics.

I have a few ex-Marine friends who play it because they enjoy how realistic it is. Last week the newest title in the franchise came out: Battlefield Hardline.

I have played most of the Battlefield titles and I think that they are all good games, even if they go a little heavy on the gung-ho-U.S.-military-is-awesome vibe. Hardline, however, has a problem because it tries to be a modern version of Cops and Robbers, and it does it in the worst ways.

Battlefield titles are ultra-realistic military games, and Visceral Studios took the code for Battlefield 4 and made Hardline from it. Visceral simply turned around and gave the game a re-skin to look like Cops and Robbers and added in a few things to change up the gameplay.

Of course, they didn’t take out the RPGs, armored helicopters with mounted machine guns or military-grade weapons.

In the wake of the Ferguson Riots last year and the national outcry against the militarization of the police, this couldn’t be a bigger mistake. The multiplayer tries to be Cops and Robbers for adults, but the “police” have no way to surround a criminal, negotiate or attempt to settle things peacefully. They have only military options, namely going in with guns blazing to kill everything.

The police in Ferguson were criticized for using assault-rifles, military tech and military armored vehicles. Because Hardline is a re-skin of a military game, all of these things are still there. The responses of police in the game are exactly like those of the Ferguson Police Department, but with all the guns blazing and with a complete disregard for proper police procedure.

There are a few things that Visceral added to the multiplayer to give it more of a proper “police” feel. There are new non-lethal takedown options that can replace the standard knife takedown. By meleeing players from behind in Battlefield, you can knife them in the back to kill them quickly and quietly. In Hardline, you can replace this with handcuffs.

But don’t get the idea that this mechanic in the game will incapacitate your enemies. Instead, after you cuff an enemy, the game pops up the message that says “Enemy Killed” at the bottom of the screen and rewards you the standard 100XP for the kill. So this non-lethal takedown option kills people? It makes no sense.

Obviously, from a gameplay standpoint the goal of the handcuffs is the same as the knife: take out the enemy players and force them to respawn. But then why have the message say “Enemy Killed”? Why not something that says “Enemy Incapacitated”?

This conflict of lethal versus non-lethal takedown sends the wrong message. In one gamemode the police band on the radio orders you to “use lethal force to prevent any stolen cars from leaving the area.” Police brutality is a very important problem and Hardline sends the wrong messages with its mechanics.

Further intensifying Hardline’s image problem is what happens after the handcuff takedown. The game pops up the message “Press X to interrogate.” But just half a second ago the game said the player was dead and gave the XP for it.

How can you interrogate a dead body? If you choose to press X on the dead player to “Interrogate” him, the game rewards you with another 50 XP and shows the location of every enemy within a few hundred feet.

This is so amazingly insensitive I can scarcely believe that Visceral had the gall to put this into the game. Calling this effect “Interrogation” is appalling. It could simply be called “searching the body,” but Visceral chose to call it “Interrogation” instead of anything else that might be a little more sensitive to the fact that the game just said the person is dead.

Hardline was actually supposed to launch last October but was delayed, reportedly because of the events in Ferguson. Visceral wanted to change some things to be more sensitive. As Visceral Vice President Steve Papoutsis put it, “When [Ferguson] started occurring, it really made us scrutinize what were doing to make sure we were balanced in the way we let players approach the game … so we have a non-lethal approach.”

But Alphas and Betas were played last year and nothing seems to have changed between then and February. More likely than not, the game was delayed so people could forget about Ferguson before the game launched.

Regardless of the reasons for the delay, very few of the game’s mechanics seem to have changed. Given that the game has already launched, it is unlikely they ever will. Mechanics have meaning, and those in Battlefield Hardline send all the wrong messages.

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