Austin Walker, writing for Paste Magazine, wrote one of the best video game reviews I’ve ever read, about Battlefield Hardline. BF:H comes from a long pedigree of military shooter games, but now it’s about cops. Yes, as a country, we’ve spent the last seven months watching the results of local police forces acting more and more like soldiers in our own streets. Yes, the review addresses that. This is a grown-up video game review.
Actually, the review addresses the entire failed narrative of the game:
At the climax of Episode 4 — the open air mall, the neon signs, the hurricane force wind and rain — I noticed something. With my experience bar nearly full, I slammed a “Warranted” suspect to the ground and collected my Expert Points. But I didn’t level up. Less than halfway through the game, I’d capped out at Expert Level 15. Only then did I realize how empty this incentivization was. What do you get for unlocking expert levels? New, more lethal weapons. New scopes. A laser sight. Special, more deadly slugs for your shotgun. I couldn’t add a scope to my Taser. I couldn’t unlock new ways of safely apprehending suspects.
Being “Good Police” only offered me new ways to be the worst sort of police. And that wasn’t the end of it.
I realized that time and again, the game had acted as if I’d been gunning folks down when I wasn’t. Even when I carefully and cautiously arrested every single enemy in a level, Mendoza would sprint into a cut-scene, out of breath and covered in sweat from a gunfight that never happened. “Jesus Nick,” one character said, “Nice shooting. I’m officially scared of you.”
This is the kind of criticism you get about art. Movies, TV, novels, music, etc. do not exist in a vacuum; there is a political, cultural, and social backdrop to these things. This video game review puts Battlefield Hardline in its context.
I don’t mean to make it sound like a mind-blowing concept; quite the opposite. If games are art, then they have to be criticized as art. Lazy, sloppy, shooters ought to be called out as such. It’s 2015. If you’re not bringing anything to the table beyond “Lethal Weapon If It Were NC-17”, well, you’re … going to make tons of money.
All right, nerds. Hand in your badge.