Playing the beta? Check out Brendan's Battlefield Hardline Survival Guide!
After getting to grips with the game last year and lamenting that it felt like a BF4 mod rather than anything particularly fresh, Battlefield: Hardline proceeded to miss its original drop date, and got pushed back to this year. We rejoiced in the hopes of the developers using the extra time to work out what it was that they actually wanted to do with Hardline, maybe even giving the game some semblence of an identity beyond that of its predecessor. Well, now there's a new beta out and, having spent several hours playing cops and robbers in the new build, here are a bunch of our impressions on the latest slice of action from Visceral games and DICE.
Battlefield Hardline is back and much has improved. Instead of feeling like a palette swap, it now feels like a DLC pack.
Improvement is a very relative thing, I suppose.
In many ways, I reckon that Hardline might have been better off without the restrictive Battlefield branding since the cops & robbers theme has been twisted and compromised to fit the franchise, not the other way around. It's all too familiar, too samey, too ridiculously unbelievable. Downtown L.A. police issued with parachutes, for example. It wastes an opportunity to fill the gap in the market that Rainbow Six left behind, and corner said market before Siege finally storms in. In Conquest and Heist, Hardline is fun yet exactly the same fun I've been having in Siege Of Shanghai for months, only with less bombastic armoured vehicles.
That said, though, what vehicles remain are nippy and deeply satisfying to drive (not to mention jump for bonus XP!), making Hotwire mode an absolute blast. It's chaotic, insane, high-octane and brilliant. And could have easily been delivered via a £12.99 DLC pack with a few new maps and modes, admittedly.
The timing of this release is also unfortunate if you've been following the international news, in the wake of the Ferguson riots, but personally speaking I think that Hardline isn't necessarily too distateful. Perhaps I'm too far away from it on the other side of the Atlantic, but at least to me, it seems that the police in Hardline are responding vaguely appropriately to a criminal element who are armed, outfitted and organised to paramilitary levels. The fact that the national guard aren't involved is totally jarring and unrealistic of course, yet Hardline's pantomime villains are at least powerful and dominant enough to warrant a massive armed response.
Despite my concerns, I'm not willing to write Hardline off just yet. The singleplayer campaign is still a massive wild card, promising to feel like a Michael Mann/Michael Bay co-production in an innovative episodic format. How much real police work will be involved remains to be seen, but Visceral are known for delivering impactful and memorable singleplayer stories and I hope that it could tip Hardline off of the fence and onto my hard drive.
Then again, they did make Army Of Two: This Sodding Thing. Considering the familiarity of the action and Battlefield 4's launch woes, my pre-order is firmly off the table.
After spending a fair few hours with the Beta, the main thing I’m happy to report is how smooth the experience has been so far (on PS4). I’ve had no problems connecting, I haven’t been dumped from any matches and there’s been no sign of lag. Given Battlefield 4’s dodgy launch in 2013 (and most big online games in 2014), it makes a nice change to be able to say good things about net code. Fingers crossed the full launch can go this smooth and full credit to EA and Visceral for running the public Alpha and Betas in order to get the code into shape.
Onto the game itself. In general, it’s undeniably Battlefield and the new dustbowl map that sees the cops taking on the thugs in a Californian desert town amongst gas stations, motels and meth labs feels like a more expansive map than the urban stage of the Alpha test. To be honest, it’s still smaller than many of Battlefield 4’s larger arenas, but as a fan concerned that the cops vs robbers slant would lead to more boxy stages, I’m quite relieved.
Hotwire mode marks the biggest innovation as it effectively puts capture points into vehicles, making teams fight over them and tear around the city for as long as possible, building up points as they go. Riding shotgun -literally- is a lot of fun too, especially when you lean out of the windows to get fully-rotational aiming. Everything’s so fast though, it’s often difficult to line up a shot. Grenade launchers have already started to dominate and the simple tactic of drive around the block in circles is a sure-fire way to build up points. The vehicle handling is incredibly basic though and sliding around corners feels way too conservative without a handbrake button. It’s great to see some innovation in a multiplayer mode, but at the same time, I’m not sure how long the mode would be able to hold my interest as I’d had my fill of it for the day after three rounds.
I’ve not put much time into the Heist mode yet, but seeing as the Beta runs until Sunday, I’ll be sure to give it another shot. I’ve spent more time in Conquest to be honest trying to earn some money to buy new weapons as the default loadouts feel incredibly underpowered. The first new assault rifle I bought made the world of difference thanks to the vastly reduced recoil. If I can just find one that stops me getting shot in the back immediately after spawning I’ll be unstoppable. Speaking of unstoppable, if your K/D ratio is looking a bit battered, move into one of the mobile command centres and take advantage of the turret guns on the side windows.
Overall so far, Hardline hasn’t quite pushed me into pre-order territory. I’m a massive fan of Battlefield 4’s multiplayer, and I could probably still get a lot more from that game. Visceral’s biggest challenge is to fix the dreadful run of single-player games and I’m cautiously optimistic about the campaign so far and that’s just as important as the multiplayer if they want to pry me away from Battlefield 4 or Advanced Warfare.
Having had the chance to finally put it through its paces, I’m still not convinced that Hardline is a necessary purchase for me based on just the multiplayer. The recycled use of Conquest mode is understandable, as it allows the existing userbase to jump into something familiar, but it doesn’t deliver anything new or even twist the formula in any way. Of course, the Heist mode does try something different, but despite the explosiveness of the gameplay adding those Bad-Boy-esque moments it comes off feeling shallow compared to, say, the elaborate planning found in Payday 2. I would have liked to have seen the non-lethal options in action, as that might have added in the variation that I was hoping for (as it sort of does in APB: Reloaded) but without it I was left wanting more from those modes.
That said, playing Hotwire mode is without a doubt the most fun I’d had in a Battlefield game for some time.
Whether it’s driving a car or big rig, or hanging out the window guns blazing, I was always having fun while in that mode. The mobile capture points make the action much more fluid, helping to mix up the existing Conquest formula enough to make it seem fresher than it is. Also, and this is important, it allows for freakin’ huge explosions. I cannot stress enough how fantastic it is to see an enemy car go out in the blaze of glory due to you ramming it, passing through the burning wreckage in a scene that would make Michael Bay weep with joy.
The thing is, as great as Hotwire can be, I can’t justify getting the game for full price just for that mode. Perhaps once I’ve had more time and unlocked the non-lethal options I will change my tune, and maybe for the first time since Bad Company we will have a single player campaign actually worth a damn, but for now I can’t justify getting too excited (or more importantly, putting money down) for Hardline.
Those explosions though…
The trouble with Battlefield: Hardline is that it's a Battlefield game. If you slap a brand as big as Battlefield on something, there are perks, but there are also pitfalls too. Right now, the pitfalls seem to be outnumbering the perks.
The Battlefield name has made us all pay attention, of course, but it's also given us a direct comparison in Battlefield 4, and the fact that Hardline does little to differentiate itself from its predecessor is a big problem. In my larger preview I made the point that taking on such a big brand as a mantle earns you a bigger budget and a bigger prospective fanbase, but it also puts you in a no-win situation for something like this. Visceral can't deviate too much from the Battlefield template, but they need to innovate and upgrade enough for Hardline to seem like more than just a map pack.
Having not gone hands on with the singleplayer mode (which has never been a strong aspect for the Battlefield series, barring the Bad Company games), there's little in this beta to convince me into dropping £50 for Hardline.
Hotwire is the mode that gets the most right because it plays to the strengths of what makes Battlefield great -- large-scale, vehicle-strewn combat -- and shakes things up by making the action more immediate, by making the capture points mobile, and by delivering vehicles more readily than ever before. The extra speed makes a difference, chases are genuinely thrilling, and although the mode perhaps lacks the expansive approaches and gameplay opportunities offered by Conquest. But I'm not paying £50 for slightly faster cars.
Hardline doesn't really know what it wants to be. The Cops and Robbers theme barely registers in multiplayer, and the tone certainly isn't one looking for any sort of realism. That's going to disappoint some out there, but really, what did you expect from Battlefield: Hot Fuzz? The problem will be reconciling that with a campaign that looks like it takes itself all-too seriously, if the promotional material is anything to go by. As for the rest? It's just not much cop.
Pun totally intended.