To say that we were not exactly impressed with Battlefield: Hardline's testing period last year would be an understatement, and we weren't the only ones to find ourselves wondering if Hardline would just be a skins-and-maps download expansion for Battlefield 4. To call Hardline a palette-swap might have been something of a disservice at the time given that what we saw of it was just a sliver of the full game, but that didn't stop many fans from levelling that accusation at Visceral Games and DICE, and writing Hardline off as an attempt at annualisation that one could afford to skip out on until Battlefield 5 turns up.
To be honest, playing through familiar game types like Conquest and Team Deathmatch in this week's beta, that's probably still a fair reaction. Then again, when you slap a huge, recognisable brand like "Battlefield" on a game, you're rather limiting your own options for diversification.
That being said, the Bank Job map included in this beta actually does a decent job of making the Heist game mode that we tried out last year feel like something a little new. Robbers go for the loot, and have to work together to drill through and collect the swag, defending their position until they're ready to depart and head for a randomly generated exit route via a spawned helicopter. The cops, of course, have to stop that from happening... by any means necessary.
Scurrying around the Downtown level we played on last year, things devolved into spray-and-pray anarchy relatively quickly, but on the Bank Job map, the overwatch spots for the cops and the tight corridors of the bank make teamwork an absolute must. It's no Payday 2, mind, but it's a little more strategic than we've previously seen, particularly when plotting your entry routes to the target building. Outside, however, things get pretty familiar pretty quickly, and vehicles are disabled in this mode, sort of nerfing Battlefield's trademark best qualities. The addition of things like ziplines and grappling hooks are nice, but if you're a fan of heist titles that lean towards meticulous planning, you're going to be disappointed here.
Again, Payday 2 this really ain't.
Thankfully, though, Hotwire mode puts the Battlefield into Battlefield: Hardline. When Hardline was first announced and the game mode that revolved around high speed car chases was unveiled, I thought that's it. That's what I want from this game! So it's perhaps little surprise that Hotwire is the mode in which I've spent most of my time.
The premise is basically the same as Conquest. There are a number of capture points on the map, and you have to hold them for as long as possible. The difference here, though, is that the capture points are all vehicles, and you rack up points by driving them very fast around the map. This leads to what will surely be the iconic image that sums up the best of the Battlefield: Hardline experience: hooning it around diverse maps with a buddy riding shotgun, hanging out of the window and blasting fools while you attempt to lose the SUV bristling with guns on your tail, and shake the marauding helicopters overhead that are trying to cut short your joyride.
It's a simple tweak -- make the capture points mobile -- but it works brilliantly, and suddenly Hardline turns into a merry mess of motoring madness. Downtown is the best map in the beta for this, offering up split levels and mazy paths that the new Dust Bowl can't really hope to match. Then, when the Levolution hits home and the crane comes crashing down on the main overpass, new avenues open up for the wheelmen and the cops chasing them.
It's frenzied, frenetic stuff, and I heartily recommend sticking the Blues Brothers soundtrack on while you play it. You're sort of screwed on foot, but vehicles are abundant and respawn quickly, which helps massively in having you back in the fray within seconds. Hotwire eschews the sometimes-ponderous nature of rejoining the fight in Battlefield titles by giving you all of the pursuit vehicles you could want, with cars and bikes given little speed boosts and more generous handling.
Some of the capture vehicles are actually big rigs, and there's something to be said for smashing them into smaller cars and cackling as your enemies blow up under all eighteen of your wheels. Michael Bay would be proud.
That's what Hotwire feels like, really. Bayttlefield.
It's not all rosy, mind. Helicopters suddenly become incredibly powerful in Hotwire, and the lack of an RPG option on the Mechanic makes taking them down a little trickier. They can ruin everything, though at least the sandstorm Levolution that sweeps the Dust Bowl map can put them out of action for a bit. The fact that there's no real destination for driving the capture vehicles can lead you to end up doing laps of levels, and it can seem a little aimless when that's the case at times.
Hardline is a mess thematically, of course. It feels incredibly similar to Battlefield 4, and you'll have to decide whether or not that's a good thing, but I can't help but feel that the singleplayer will really have to try and mix things up if this whole cops and robbers thing is going to prove any different to soldiers and insurgents. As it stands, Hardline still feels broadly like an expansion, and that's not necessarily a bad thing considered on its own in a free beta with new modes, but if £50 price tags start zipping around, that perceived lack of any real upgrade might kill off interest until the game can be had for much cheaper.
The similarities in multiplayer deliver something of a dichotomy in terms of the touchy subject of police brutality. Hardline could not be coming out at a worse time, and the fact that its multiplayer seems to play so similarly on a moment-to-moment level as previous games could be seen as a further conflation of armed police and military soldiers. Alternatively, the shallow nature of it all in multiplayer sort of works to defuse that. Make no mistake -- this is not a game that comes anywhere near approaching realism. This is cops and robbers as orchestrated by cinematic Michaels -- Bay and Mann. It'll be interesting to see if the singleplayer's tone matches up to that of the multiplayer. Considering the dreadful, po-faced attempts of recent Battlefield titles, I won't be holding my breath.
So Hardline is still a bit of an enigmatic mess, then. But this beta is also a lot of fun, especially when you're living out your dreams of high speed car chases, or gunning down stolen trucks from on high. I've got Battlefield 4 along with all of the DLC, and so I still feel like I can take or leave much of what Hardline has to offer, but I'm not willing to let go of Hotwire just yet.
For high-speed vehicular awesomeness, it's pushing all of the right buttons for me right now. I just want to see it go even bigger. Battlefield-meets-Need-For-Speed bigger; now that would be something to see.
Platforms: PC (tested) | PS4 | Xbox One
Developers: Visceral Games | DICE