Do you want to play more Battlefield-style multiplayer, with some new modes and an ever-so-slight spin on said multiplayer's scale and weaponry? That's the question you need to ask if you're considering a purchase of Battlefield Hardline. It seems to be functional (which is more than you could say about its predecessor when it launched in 2013), and it plays like a Battlefield game, generally speaking. Either that's something you're interested in paying full price for or, for whatever reason, you aren't. The other parts of Battlefield Hardline aren't interesting enough to further justify the purchase, so I probably wouldn't take the single-player campaign into account too heavily if you're on the fence.
Or, to put it another way, you probably already know whether you're going to buy Battlefield Hardline or not.
To separate a bit from the crowd of people who are already either firmly in or out of Camp Battlefield, let's talk a bit about those modes and tweaks. Battlefield Hardline is about cops and criminals instead of the military and "opposing forces." So the scale of the conflicts you see in the multiplayer mode are... somewhat smaller. Or, at least, you can't spawn with a rocket launcher. Instead you just have to miraculously find a rocket launcher out in the environment. And you aren't flying jets around all crazy-like... but yeah, there are still helicopters. It's a somewhat minor change, which is kind of ridiculous (or, depending on your viewpoint, quite worrying) when you think about the scope of most police operations.
Hardline leans into no-respawn, round-based modes a bit more heavily than BF4 did with a hostage rescue mode and a VIP escort mode. It also turns the conquest control points into vehicles that must be driven quickly to score in the Hotwire mode. Hotwire's a cool idea, but with vehicle-destroying weaponry being a little harder to come by, it's not quite as explosive as I'd originally hoped. Heist has one team defending money from the attacking team, and Blood Money turns that into a two-way money fight as both teams try to secure cash from a central vault by returning it to their base. That gets interesting because you can steal cash from the enemy team's base, potentially making for some big score swings. From there it's Team Deathmatch and two sizes of the standard Battlefield Conquest mode. It's a solid variety of new things to mess with that doesn't sacrifice the things that typically bring people to a Battlefield game. That said, I found myself sticking to Conquest and TDM, just like I did in BF4.
The single-player side of Hardline is interesting, but the more I played of it, the more that interest became academic, rather than anything to do with the actual game. It's built around episodes, a bit like a makeshift TV show. This is nice because it forces each mission to have a little bit of setup up front, some action in the middle that crescendos into some kind of light payoff. Every 30-45 minutes or so you're getting some bit of advancement on the story. That would all work a bit better if the story was any good. Instead it feels like something that is attempting to approximate "gritty" television police dramas without any of the character development, tension, or logic that drives the genre's best work. Double-crosses happen out of nowhere in what quickly becomes an affair about dirty cops doing things to other dirty cops. By the end it attempts to wrap it up into some kind of message, but the way the story gets there only manages to make the final shot laughable.
The gameplay end of the campaign is quite a bit different than what you'd expect from a Battlefield game, too. It's a stealth-optional game that gives you a silly-looking "freeze" mechanic that you can use to flash your badge and effectively "stun" up to three enemies at range. Then you can waltz up and, unless one of them gets too jumpy or another patrolling guard sees you in action, you can handcuff and arrest enemies, clearing whole encounters without firing a shot. You even tag enemies with a cell phone camera, completing the loop on making this feel a bit like a low-rent Far Cry.
The dumb thing about all this stealth is that you frequently roll with an AI-controlled partner, who the developers have seemingly decided to make totally invisible to enemy AI. So I ran into multiple situations where I was stalking up behind some obviously corrupt security guard to make a completely legit arrest when my AI guy came up, ran right though the enemy's vision cone, and got behind me all without causing anyone to be alerted. Make no mistake, it would be way worse if the idiotic partner AI could break your stealth, but it makes the whole thing look and feel stupid. You can, of course, just shoot your way through those situations, but the combat against the AI isn't especially exciting. I ended up playing it fairly low-profile most of the time because, hey, at least it felt different than the typical Battlefield campaign that way.
The game handles collectibles in a way I appreciated. As you find various bits of evidence, different "cases" are opened up. Some of these factor into the main story, but they mainly just give you context on some of the crimes happening around these dirty cops. So you'll find, say, a drug lab in a militia compound or a box of liquid cocaine. Or maybe just a business card or some scrawled notes. You can scan all this stuff in with your phone, get a little bit of dialogue about the significance of said evidence, and move on. When you collect all the evidence for one of your cases, a quick video plays out to wrap things up. It gives the collectibles actual context in a way that made them feel worthwhile. It's a nice touch in an otherwise unremarkable game.
Battlefield Hardline is hardly a disaster, but it feels like a franchise spinning its wheels with minor adjustments, rather than truly advancing forward. Given the embarrassingly long time spent patching and getting Battlefield 4 up to snuff, maybe a "stable" Battlefield will be enough for some players. And if you're a die-hard fan of the franchise, perhaps the ability to play Battlefield on nine new maps will be worth the price of admission on its own. For me, Hardline just made me realize that I paid for the map packs on BF4 and never played them because the game was too broken for too long. I'd probably be served just as well by going back and playing that stuff some more.