The Battlefield Hardline Beta arrives at a time when its predecessor, Battlefield 4, has left the landscape before it completely vitrified. This was a game that not only failed to deliver on its promises, but also harmed the Battlefield name in the process. At its heart remained the traditional Battlefield experience: an undiluted sense of destructive joy that had you muddying your knees in the marshes and ripping dog-tags from the neck of your unwitting assailants. But, this formerly unhindered Battlefield ethos instead found itself at the mercy of all manner of balance problems, latency issues and lack of developer communication. And whilst title updates put a hold on some rather selective concerns that the game was burdened with, consistent DLC releases only served to make the existing problems seem that much more prevalent.
Unsurprisingly then, Hardline’s arrival comes with a certain amount of stigma attached to it that it’ll have to shake off should the Battlefield brand seek to rise again. Not only does Hardline need to be a good game in its own right, but it also needs to right a few of the wrongs that Battlefield 4 is accountable for. Refreshingly though, Battlefield Hardline is neither a conventional Battlefield game nor a game developed by stalwart development team DICE. As DICE have taken the reins of the next Star Wars Battlefront title, another one of EA’s studios will be taking the helm, with Dead Space gatekeepers Visceral Games heading up its development in their absence. Can Visceral’s first ever Battlefield excursion stop the rot then, or will this be another case of missed chances and malpractice that leaves the brand facing another uphill struggle for redemption? Well, if my first ten hours with the Beta are anything to go by, then Visceral may just be on to something.
Battlefield Hardline is based on the simplistic premise of cops versus criminals, with Battlefield’s usual blend of wide-open warfare downscaled to fit within the walls of a freshly evacuated metropolis. In the game, you’ll take control of either a balaclava-clad robber or a badge-wielding officer as the two forces jostle for supremacy against the backdrop of a towering high-rise. It’s here that you have two choices for how to approach your first Hardline game; you can either delve into a match of ‘Heist’, during which cops have to stop robbers from delivering two freshly-looted packages to a dead-drop, or ‘Blood Money’, a game type that asks you to raid cash from a neutral loot pile and fill up your own personal vault as quickly as possible.
Each of the two new game modes represents a voyage into the unknown for the Battlefield series. ‘Heist’ takes some of its cues from ‘Rush’ and ‘Capture the Flag’ but generally plays like neither, whilst ‘Blood Money’ is unlike anything the series has seen before. Of course, with the series never unwavering in its glorification of team-play, both game modes had to favour the team triumph rather than the individual one, and thankfully, they do just that. In ‘Heist’, it takes a team effort to crack open the rear doors of the defeated armoured truck before the loot can be picked up by any other player. Then, it’s up to clutches of players to escort the objective carrier to their destination, be it on foot, in the air or in a ground vehicle. ‘Blood Money’ tends to favour smaller feats of selflessness in order to end up on the winning team, however with the constant threat of your cumulative bankroll being lifted right from under you, there’s always the need to balance attack and defence of both cash vaults in equal measure.
Aiding you in either your stalwart defence of a smouldering armoured truck or your assault on the city’s cumulative payroll are a host of gadgets and gizmos perfectly suited to Hardline’s cops versus robbers theme. Two gadgets in particular stand out above the others, with both the zip line and grapple hook bringing a game changing application that the series has never seen before. Have you found yourself atop a tower with a rifle in hand, only to require a quick getaway that doesn’t involve base jumping directly into the war below? Well, why not simply fire a bolt across to an adjacent building and continue your sniping unhindered. Or perhaps the structure ahead of you is too tall to navigate? In this case the grappling hook has you covered, as you discharge a shot towards the top and begin your ascent in due course. These are only two of the cluster of new gadgets introduced thus far, and although their usage is tremendously fun and rewarding, much more importantly, they’re completely in keeping with everything Hardline is trying to achieve. On one occasion, I was a part of a team of criminals who each used the zip line in order to quickly reach the opposing teams vault, while as a cop, I used the grappling hook as a means to provide over-watch to a group of allies raiding a cash pile. As well as these two terrific additions, other new gadgets, like tear gas canisters, gas masks and personal self-revive injectors all aid the frenetic pacing without ever seeming out of place of superfluous.
Without a doubt, the game simply wouldn’t be fit to bear the Battlefield moniker had it not come complete with a large vehicle compliment. Hardline doesn’t disappoint in this respect then, as vans, bikes, helicopters and sedans are all supported in the Beta. Just like the slew of gadgets on offer, each vehicle fits a certain role and can be utilized in a variety of different situations. For example, bikes are the speedier option, however their lack of cover means that you’re much more prone to gunfire as you tear through the streets. Sedans and muscle cars offer a much safer way of getting around, although they paint a much bigger target than the relatively miniscule bike. If you’re looking for something with a little more offensive capability, then you’ll also have the option of taking the helm of the weaponized SUVs and clearing a path for your team. Most interesting is the inclusion of mobile spawn-points though, with these taking the form of hulking armoured trucks that are just as effective ferrying players as they are bringing extra manpower to the mouth of the opposition vault. Slow and laborious, they tend to attract a lot of fire and are rarely useful outside of their intended purpose, however if their inclusion was for the sole purpose of keeping the action flowing, then they’re most certainly doing their job.
Visually, the Hardline beta is everything you’d expect; muddy, low-res and a clear work in progress. From a design standpoint however, there’s a real sense of inconsistency. Everything from the colours of the HUD to the logotypes used seems to bear too much of a similarity to Battlefield 4, as well as not remaining confluent to the Hardline theme. And in the case of the menu’s, Hardline’s frustrating UI design is as confusing as it is time consuming, with a simple task like adding an attachment to a weapon requiring far too many clicks and tabs.
If Hardline falls short in its quest for a perfect user-interface though, its improvements to many of the much maligned Battlefield 4 perplexities more than make up for it. Firstly, the game actually works. No more getting killed from behind cover, no more fighting with your shadow as you ‘rubber-band’ across the landscape. Next, the party system has returned, meaning that you can now enter a game with a friend without going through the hassle of waiting for a spot to open in their server. But perhaps most impressive is the newly added ability to pry health and ammunition from players who are either too reluctant to give it up or just too oblivious to see that you need it. There’ll be no more screaming “Ammo!” or “Medic!” atop your lungs anymore, for you can simply edge up next to a player and press the square button to relieve them of their precious consumables.
Hardline has perhaps gripped me like no other Beta has. The game is a different kind of Battlefield experience that plays less like a competitor to the usual games and more like a compliment to it. But maybe that’s just why Hardline seems to be working. The game isn’t core Battlefield, rather it’s a Battlefield inspired alternative, and developers Visceral Games seem to recognize that. The game takes the established Battlefield tenets of teamwork, destruction and vehicular combat and condenses them into a more succinct form whilst maintaining the unmistakably chaotic flow of your average Battlefield multiplayer match. It’s for this reason why the game seems so enjoyable and why the transition from its militaristic style to this new breed of cops versus crooks fare has been so seamless. Whether or not this game warrants the exact same price tag as Battlefield 4 remains to be seen, but from what I’ve played, it’s more than enjoyable enough to bear the Battlefield nametag.