The average gamer has tended to feel somewhat excluded from past versions of Battlefield, Electronic Arts’ flagship first-person shooter, thanks to their collective lack of any credible single-player experience and the hardcore (although spectacular) nature of their online play. But 2013’s Battlefield 4 moved the goalposts, since it proved horrendously buggy and glitchy, and left the Battlefield faithful up in arms. So EA grasped the nettle and the result, Battlefield Hardline, is a full-on franchise reboot, with a new developer – Visceral, which crafted Dead Space – and a move away from the existing militaristic theme to one of cops versus robbers. The result is the most inviting Battlefield game yet – whether or not you’re a master of fast-twitch gunplay.

Miraculously, for a start, it has a pretty tidy single-player game (with 10 chapters, each of which is over an hour long). You’re cast as Miami cop Nick Mendoza who, while delving into the drug-trafficking scene, discovers that one of his colleagues is making a play to become a criminal kingpin. Naturally, Mendoza gets stitched up. But while that scenario translates into a better-than-average storyline, what really impresses is the gameplay. Mendoza can flash his badge and incapacitate baddies without firing his gun, and you must take advantage of that in order not to find yourself swamped by heavily armed enemies. Driving, evidence-collection and full-on gunfight sequences give the single-player element a nice ebb and flow.

But the meat of any Battlefield game lies in its multiplayer side, and there, Visceral has also worked hard to make proceedings far less intimidating than in past iterations – without noticeably alienating existing Battlefield fans. There are five new multiplayer modes, of which Hotwire is the standout. It studs the map with cars that must be stolen and joy-ridden for as long as possible, if you’re a robber; the cops, meanwhile, must either get to the cars before the robbers, or take them out as quickly as possible. And since this is Battlefield, you can spawn into helicopters and man fixed guns, or lean out of whatever car you’re in, blazing away with your assault rifle. But if you prefer driving to shooting, Hotwire has plenty to offer.

Heist sees a team of robbers attempting to blast open a bank vault, extract bags of money and get them to an extraction point where a chopper is scheduled to land. Against them are a team of cops trying to thwart their every move. It plays out on quite small maps and, we reckon, favours the shotgun-toting Enforcer class. Blood Money is similar, except it dispenses with the break-in, instead giving each team a cash vault, with another pile of money between the two. Thus, you can defend your vault, make a play for the money pile or raid the other team’s vault. Since Blood Money requires less co-ordination with your team-mates, we preferred it, although both modes are fast-paced and spectacular to behold.

Crosshair and Rescue pit five-player teams against each other, in short three-minute rounds arranged as a best-of-nine competition. In Crosshair, one team must shepherd an all-but-unarmed VIP to an extraction point, while in Rescue, one team must free a group of hostages. Both modes have been designed with competitive gaming in mind, and will test your fast-twitch skills.

Two old favourites, in the form of Team Deathmatch and Conquest, return. The former throws up classic, free-for-all Battlefield mayhem (with up to 64 players on a map at a time), and the latter provides three strategic points which each team must try to dominate. Both modes, in conjunction with some great maps (there are nine at launch) provide the ideal sandbox for the spectacular occurrences – like sequences from the most over-the-top action films – for which Battlefield games are renowned. At times, Battlefield’s “Levolution” large-scale environmental destruction comes into play and on one map, enacted in a warren of tiny, flimsy houses, almost everything you see can be shot to bits.

Battlefield Hardline looks fabulous: the graphics are so good that you can almost feel the humidity of the Florida Everglades, and the game has all the personality and individuality that its predecessors lacked. But beyond that, it hangs together nicely as a game, rather than feeling like a sandbox with a story tacked on as an afterthought, and at last is no more intimidating for those who don’t see themselves as online first-person shooter ninjas than, for example, Call of Duty. Indeed, it offers the most credible challenge to Call of Duty’s hegemony for years.

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