EA dropped the mic with the announcement that we'd be able to jump into Battlefield: Hardline straight after their E3 presser. Despite the snoozefest that came before, it was a cracking way to end their show. But after spending a fair few days getting to grips with High Tension and the two modes -- Blood Money and Heist -- it's clear that there's something of a mixed bag here. I thought I'd make a list of a few things I've enjoyed and things that need addressing with the Hardline beta, following Jon's preview. But it sort of turns into something of a despondent rant at the end, which is sort of how my time with Hardline has gone in all honesty...
Excitement, frustration, elation, disappointment, realisation, shrugging.
I like... the vehicles
Ragging around in a Police Interceptor with the siren blaring and your mate in the passenger seat literally riding shotgun is glorious. Stick on a custom music playlist with some blues, a spot of Miami Vice and some Hawaii Five-0, maybe the Heat OST, and it's so awesome. If you manage to rack up some roadkill whilst you're at it, even better. Equally satisfying is running an armoured SUV or an APC into the enemy base in Blood Money and having a vehicular showdown, or terrorising would-be thieves in an attack helicopter (as long as I'm not driving). The vehicular respawns seem a bit snappier in this game, too, which adds to the immediacy of the action.
Also, sick jumps are awesome.
I dislike... that most of them are fake
There are vehicles everywhere in this map. Police cars have cordoned off areas of the street to make it seem like there's a serious showdown going on, but they're husks to hide behind, nothing more. My first game, I desperately hammered E whilst being pursued by a pair on a motor bike. They'd blown up my car, but I'd jumped clear just in time having spotted another vehicle. Only it wasn't a vehicle, it was a prop. I was gunned down in seconds, all because I'd happened to buy into the game world for a brief moment.
Well done Battlefield.
I like... the immediacy to the action
There's something to be said for the middle ground in between tight-quarters, almost arena combat, and the sprawling, epic maps of Conquest. There's an immediacy to the action in Hardline that feels fitting. Yes you died, but there's an interceptor there with your name on it. It's time to get back in the fight. And when you do, there are options depending on the mode that you're playing. Do you try to employ a spot of overwatch and lock down the Money Pile from afar for your team in Blood Money, do you take off to the enemy base to steal their stash, or take up a position in between to pick off would-be robbers and nick their plunder? Are you a wheelman, a point man, a supporting lookout, or a stopper? Whatever your poison, it's easy to get back in the mix.
I dislike... that there's only one map. And it's boring as hell.
High Tension is a decent name for the Hardline beta's only (currently) map. It's a a tight few blocks of a simulated downtown LA, with two multi-storey car parks facing one another from either side of a glass-windowed mall of sorts. There are plenty of skyscrapers providing splendid opportunities for sniping and grappling and ziplining, but it's not a terribly adventurous map by any stretch of the imagination. The "Levolution" is a bit laughable and involves a crane falling into a building and wrecking a couple of streets, but frankly the scripted destruction seems a little laughable. The game modes help to make the map seem more interesting than it is, but that wears off after a very short while.
I like... Blood Money
I really like Blood Money. At first I thought I was leaning more towards Heist, but this is actually the only mode I play now. I think that there's just more to it. You have a pile of cash in the centre of the map, two opposing van vaults t the north and south, and it's the first team to reach $5 million in swag that wins. You can only carry $500k individually, you can steal money from the other team (which often becomes a desperation play) and the back and forth suits the nature of Battlefield far better, I feel than Heist. That's not to say I dislike Heist -- it tries something different, and trying something different is in fairly short supply in the beta to be honest -- but it doesn't quite come off like it should.
I dislike... that the whole thing feels like a BF4 mod
This is the biggest criticism levelled at Hardline thus far: that it's basically a map pack, a BF4 mod, an add on pack that should be released for £10-15 rather than the full price package we're going to be hit with this winter. Here's what our very own Jonathan Lester said in his preview:
Despite the new additions to the formula, I can't help but feel that Hardline will struggle to earn its keep on the strength of its multiplayer alone given how similar it feels to Battlefield 4. Luckily it won't have to, because Visceral Games also plan to flex their singleplayer muscles to deliver a quality solo campaign; a high-stakes OTT police drama packed with personality, humour and action. As such, this year, Battlefield might actually deliver the complete package rather than a great multiplayer suite that should have released at a lower price with no campaign whatsoever.
But given that DICE have only just fixed Battlefield 4, it could just as easily be a case of too little too soon.
The guns feel like retextured models we've used before, the graphics look unchanged (though it's difficult to tell given that this is a beta and the map is visually uninspiring), and the whole cops and robbers thing feels a bit like an ill-fitting costume forced over the body of the Michelin Man. Seriously, imagine that podgy goofball in a leotard, that's Battlefield: Hardline's beta. You begin to wonder if EA actually thought this through properly. The cops and robbers are fairly interchangeable, police lights aside. The vehicles are virtually identical, just wearing different colours. There's little to differentiate between the two factions beyond red and blue. The objectives obviously differ in Heist mode, and there it's possible to feel like you're in a game that might have had more than a beermat's worth of conceptual planning, but otherwise it's a highly familiar experience rejigged for another lazy annual release.
At least, that's what I'd say if I were able to make value judgements from a beta, and we can't do that. Can we?
Well, given that this is the age of pre-ordering, of securing games before they're ready, we should at least be able to warn against that. And there's nothing in the Hardline beta that suggests it's going to be worth considering buying at all at this point in time. Yes, there's supposedly a singleplayer element that will deliver where Battlefield has faltered since Bad Company 2, but when was the last time you bought a Battlefield game for the singleplayer? Bad Company worked because it introduced a PC franchise to home consoles, delivering memorable characters, expansive maps, and as much of a fully-fledged multiplayer experience as the consoles could handle at the time. It made sense.
Hardline, however, makes very little sense at all as a game thus far. As a business proposition, it's clear that EA are in love with the idea of making Battlefield a yearly franchise to match Call of Duty. But the "something is better than nothing" mentality, the antithesis of Nintendo's output for example, is suspect at best. Moreover, at a time when COD is perhaps feeling its own fatigue and trying to branch out more than ever, EA and Battlefield seem to be happy recycling and repackaging the past.
Of course, it's just a beta, and a tiny one at that. Come the end of the year we might all have been wowed by a Battlefield experience like no other, that delivers unlike anything we've seen before. Or Hardline might just prove to be a stopgap, whose money and effort could have perhaps been spent on making battlefront or BF5 something utterly mindblowing.