Version played: PlayStation 4.
Release date: 17 March 2015.
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One.
With development of the newest Battlefield game shifting from DICE to Visceral Games, change is most definitely afoot. Hardline sees the action moving away from Battlefield’s traditional warzones to the urban setting of cops versus robbers. Previews of Hardline have suggested that there could be a single-player campaign worth playing in this Battlefield game, possibly for the first time since Bad Company 2, but as always eyes are firmly fixed on the multiplayer.
With that in mind, I’ve been playing the multiplayer open beta on PlayStation 4 to see how Hardline has improved since the closed beta last year (my thoughts on that can be found here), and to get an understanding of how March’s finished game will play. Three game modes were available in the Hardline beta, which is now finished, and these were tied to three maps.
Heist mode took place on the map titled Bank Job, and saw the criminals breaking their way into a bank vault, and then trying to escape with the loot. The police team’s job, quite obviously, was to stop them. In Heist mode, the police have unlimited respawns, whilst the robbers are limited in their numbers, needing to get away with the loot in order to win. The Bank Job map offers tight internal corridors perfect for close combat encounters, but also clear lines of sight out on the streets for medium- to long-range weaponry. The criminal team can also use the map’s levolution features to their benefit, creating new escape routes, such as collapsing an air conditioning unit through the vault’s ceiling in order to create a makeshift bridge up to the roof and away. Bank Job is a smaller map than those usually found in Battlefield games, but it’s fast, dynamic and enjoyable, and the Payday-inspired objective game mode worked well within the over-arching Battlefield framework.
Hotwire and Conquest modes took place across the maps Downtown and Dust Bowl. Downtown featured in last year’s closed beta, and is set in the inner streets of LA, whilst Dust Bowl is a Breaking Bad inspired small-town desert map. Think of Call of Duty’s Nuke Town, but on Battlefield’s much larger scale. The new mode, Hotwire, plays like a mobile version of Conquest. In this mode players aim to take control of vehicles, driving them long and fast enough for them to become their team’s Conquest points. This can lead to some exciting car chases as players hunt down and destroy control point vehicles, with trigger-happy Engineers potentially waiting around every corner, or squad members hanging and shooting out of pursuit car windows. All of the vehicles in Hotwire mode are vulnerable, and can be blown up relatively easily, which helps keep the action exciting, and made vehicle spawn points a hotbed of activity throughout each match. Conquest mode was the same as it always has been; large scale, 64 player (the other modes cater for fewer players), map control warfare.
Battlefield 4 was a bit of a mess when it came out, but for now at least, Hardline seems to be in much better shape. Engine and online performance were mostly stable during my play time, with the only noticeable dips coming in the Dust Bowl map when there were lots of players and a lot going on. This bodes well for the full release considering Hardline’s open beta saw a reported six million players join in over its week long run. Still, given the franchise’s last entry, I’m not counting any chickens before they’ve hatched.
The new maps seem well made and decent enough, but to me they don’t feel as destructible or changeable as previous Battlefield maps. They’re still good environments to go to war in, but with the levolution seemingly toned down, Hardline feels a bit less exciting and the gameplay a little less dynamic. What’s more, although the new modes mix things up by being faster-paced and more hectic than the traditional Conquest, Rush or Deathmatch modes, this still feels very much like a Battlefield game. And whilst this isn’t in itself a bad thing, it does show a lack of innovation within the series. The loadouts and mechanics are so similar to the games that came before, and there’s little in Hardline’s core gameplay to distinguish it from Battlefield 3 or 4, except for the fact everyone looks like a cop or a robber instead of a Marine or a Spetznaz. Even Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare tried harder than this to spice things up, with its borrowed Titanfall mechanics.
Die hard fans will probably still find a lot to like in Hardline, providing the beta remains a representation of both the finished gameplay and the online stability, but it’s hard to see Visceral Games’ first Battlefield outing taking the world by storm. The new modes that were shown off in the beta were fun and at times genuinely exciting, but the lack of evolution at the heart of Battlefield’s key systems and mechanics was, and is, disappointing.
If Visceral Game’s can tidy up the few technical glitches, maintain this level of online stability at launch, and provide a single-player element worth investing time into, then Hardline could be the best Battlefield game since Bad Company 2, although that wouldn’t be that difficult. If not, then Hardline could be the game that sees Battlefield becoming just another one of the many first-person shooters out there.
For now, I’m prepared to say that Battlefield Hardline has stolen a tentative thumbs up. But can we please have Bad Company 3 next time?
Images from http://www.battlefield.com