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Beta Impressions: Battlefield: Hardline

June 18, 2014, Author: Andy Corrigan

It’s probably no real stretch to assume that EA would like the Battlefield series to become an annual release à la Call of Duty, and that apparent desire seems to have lead to Dead Space developer, Visceral Games, trying their hand at a cops ‘n’ robbers themed spin-off using DICE’s Frostbite engine. It seems a bit of a departure for Visceral given their story-heavy back catalogue, but it allows them to show just what they can do in the multiplayer space while DICE are no doubt busy readying Star Wars: Battlefront and Battlefield 5.

Just as surprising as the initial announcement, however, was that a beta – for PC and PS4 – was to go live during E3 and beyond, allowing for a solid look at the new setup, unique modes and one of the maps.

Aiming to emulate certain US TV cop dramas, Hardline lets you straddle both sides of the law as you either try to steal all the money or save all the money, depending on your allegiance. The setting, at least in a multiplayer sense, is kinda broken; loading screens explain that the lack of civilian activity is due to a city-wide lockdown because of gunfire heard in the area, yet they’ve locked everything down before any shots actually take place. Weird!

The beta allows you to battle for moolah in downtown Los Angeles in ‘High Tension’. This urban arena is small in perimeter for a Battlefield game, but is huge vertically, making for a nice mixture of street level and office space combat as the events of the game modes dictate.

Unlike Battlefield 4, however, not every building allows entry, nor can every wall be demolished in the manner we’ve come to know and love. It makes sense, granted; you don’t want a smaller number of total players to be spread too thinly in random office blocks with nothing to shoot, and the ability to destroy every building this size would bring any gaming system to its knees, although it’s still a notable change in this spin-off in spite of differences in upward scale.

‘Levolution’ has made it across intact, though. Hit the right structural weak points and you can bring a crane crashing down on the city, changing the lay of the land (hopefully taking out some enemies with it), while sending dust and smoke flying atmospherically through the streets.

Elsewhere tanks, jeeps and quad bikes are swapped for squad cars, armoured trucks and motorbikes. Military-grade weapons are still in abundance, save for some police-specific items like tasers and handcuffs. Still, when you get down to it, very much Battlefield in its essence.

Hardline will come with some original modes to set it apart from the regular series, though, and two are currently on offer in the beta. Blood Money is the most typical multiplayer mode, requiring the winning side to grab 5 million dollars from a central location and get it back to their armoured van. Money can also be stolen directly from the opposition’s stockpile, meaning that not only do you need to collect from the big cash pile, but you’ll need to steal funds in enemy territory while defending your own. Unfortunately, this was the one mode that – I felt – saw too many players abandon tactics in favour of self-glory or their damned kill/death ratio.

I did this with a well placed grenade.

I did this with a well placed grenade.

Heist was much more memorable and not only seemed to encourage more teamwork than Blood Money, but also more teamwork than I’ve experienced in the Battlefield series as a whole.

When starting out as the criminals, you’re thrown into the streets as two armoured vans roll on by. In dramatic fashion, a rocket launcher from a nearby rooftop makes them immobile, and this is when the match starts proper. You must plant and protect charges on their doors before nabbing the loot and hotfooting it to one of two designated exit points. One is at the end of a packed road and the other at the top of a skyscraper; you have to use both. As the cops, you’re taking a ‘hard line’ (eh? eh? *nudge*) on law-breaking and are out to stop the perpetrators at any cost, racing to the scene of the crime with sirens screaming.

Both scenarios can be absolutely exhilarating.

On the right server where everyone is working together to achieve their respective goals, this mode is insanely fun and possibly represents my favourite Battlefield experience ever, even in this rough state. When it’s working, it feels like a hectic take on Payday 2 or the movie Heat, especially when you’ve got the loot on your back and are desperately looking for an escape plan.

In the wrong room, however, with people only out for themselves, it can feel a little disorganised, frustrating and ultimately disappointing. As much fun as I’ve had in my time with this mode, I did unfortunately experience more than my fair share of that too.

Regardless of which side you find yourself on, there are four classes to choose from: Operator carries an assault rifle by default and acts as the medic of the team. Mechanic class, which I spent most of my time with, offers up SMGs and allows you to carry some explosive power for enemy vehicles. Enforcers use devastating LMGs and can drop ammo, while Professionals, as you’d expect, act as your snipers. Each class is fun to play with, seems balanced and, thanks to their varying skills, provides you with a number of ways to contribute to your team that aren’t solely about killing.

As you play, you’ll earn cash to purchase weapons and gear upgrades in your class, such as new stocks or sights for your guns. There are some really cool gadgets too, such as zip-lines for getting from one rooftop to another (especially awesome when you’ve got the bullet-attracting duffle bag), plus grappling hooks to climb up to ledges, tear gas and gas masks for attack and defence. There’s a lot of variation to play with, even in this short taster.

One thing that did nag at my enjoyment a little, despite feeling immediately at home with Battlefield 4, was that Hardline‘s handling took a little while to get a feel for. I’m not sure if the weighting has been changed at all since Battlefield 4, but there were moments I felt like I was fighting against the game rather than playing it. Changing the sensitivity of the sticks did help somewhat, but I rarely felt at one with the controls. That could just be me, so I’m happy to reserve judgement on that one for now.

LA was already in lockdown before our assault. Handy! Thanks mayor!

LA was already in lockdown before our assault. Handy! Thanks mayor!

Lastly, while I suspect a large part of what I’m about to say is due to the developers wanting to keep the beta’s client size down to a minimum, I can’t help but notice that it looks a bit… well… bland. Regardless of your thoughts on Battlefield 4, it’s hard to deny that it looked absolutely stunning on both next-gen consoles and PC last year, whereas Hardline – on this indication only, let me reiterate – looks positively last-gen. The draw distance isn’t great, there was pop-in aplenty and, when perched on one of many tall buildings, the ground looks washed out, while flickering a whole lot too.

Visceral did make comments shortly after the Hardline announcement about making sure that 360 and PS3 users weren’t getting a ‘lesser experience’, and the cynic in me says that this could mean that the potential of the PS4 and Xbox One versions’ could be slightly dialled back in the quest for fairness and ease of development across all formats. That said, DICE did achieve a decent balance last year it has to be said, so hopefully we’ll see more polish in the finished article.

So, on this evidence, Hardline could go either way. I am definitely intrigued enough by Heist mode that I want to give it another look closer to release, especially when we’ve seen more on other maps and the other two known game modes: ‘Hotwire’, apparently a cat-and-mouse car chase, and ‘Rescue’, which has the police trying to liberate hostages.

There’s still definitely a lot to be be tightened between now and launch and, of course, we’re still to discover if Visceral’s storytelling expertise can finally lead to a Battlefield single-player campaign that’s actually worth playing through, but I look forward to seeing how it all comes together when Battlefield: Hardline hits shelves this October.