When you decide that you want a yearly franchise in gaming, you have to do everything to make each iteration interesting, especially a multiplayer-focused game since you know you'll have a significant amount of people still playing your product when you're releasing the next new one. It can be a good problem to have if your product has a solid track record, but if your last game was messy, the release of a new title can be an act of redemption. That's what EA faces now since the release of Battlefield 4 was rocky due to dodgy online performance on almost all platforms. During its pre-E3 press conference, EA formally revealed Battlefield: Hardline and made a beta available to PC and PS4 players, the latter of which bogged down PSN for a while. We checked out the multiplayer beta of the cops and robbers game on the PC, and what we found was interesting.
The online beta only has one map: High Tension. Set in an approximation of downtown Los Angeles, the map has criminals starting off in an underground garage while the cops come out of the station. The map is littered with debris and burned vehicles in addition to several elevated streets and walkways that should be familiar to those who've visited the city before. There's an abandoned construction site and lots of skyscrapers set in a grid-like pattern that matches the layout of a typical downtown city. Walls and pillars are destructible, but the highlight of the city is a crane that, when blown up, creates a nice barrier that crushes any vehicle in sight and makes road travel more difficult.
There are only two modes in the game, and they're new but feel familiar. Heist is a CTF/Territories hybrid where the cops are charged with protecting two armored trucks that have fallen on the road. Meanwhile, the crooks must plant charges on the trucks to blow them open, grab the suitcases within, reach the drop-off point and collect the loot. Should the suitcases be freed from the trucks, the cops have the chance to recover the cases, but the crooks no longer need to blow it open again to get the cases back. The game ends when time has run out or when the crooks safely get the second package to the base.
The second mode is Blood Money, and it's a little more intriguing. Players on either side must retrieve money from a central pile and deposit it in their base. As expected, there's an inherent risk/reward system for those who are tempted to linger in a spot to carry cash while hoping the opposition doesn't kill them. The twist is that the money isn't secure once you bring it to the base; the opposition can go to your spot and steal the money back. The game becomes a constant tug-of-war since players are constantly switching from attacker to defender and back again as they try to find fast routes from their base to the cash while securing all of the opposition's choke points.
No matter which mode you pick, Battlefield Hardline carries that familiar Battlefield vibe. Even with the 32-player cap on the beta, the fights are frantic. The presence of cars and choppers leads to chaotic fights where you can be run over by speeding getaway cars or be saved by a chopper flying in at just the right moment to lay down some cover fire. Parachuting in to get the drop on an enemy is always fun, and the addition of grappling hooks and zip lines adds a nice vertical element to the fight. Other than that, expect lots of quick kills with accurate shots, and expect a well-oiled team to dominate uncoordinated teams each and every time, regardless of the mode.
Of course, that's the issue the game must tackle. For all of its emphasis on cops and crooks, they merely feel like skins to the soldiers of Battlefield. The weaponry is pretty much the same as its lineage, with very little deviation that represents urban warfare. Both sides share the same weapon set except for the taser, since even the criminals can wield batons from the outset. While some vehicles seem right, the presence of parachutes and armored SUVs feels slightly out of place. Even the badges feel relatively unchanged from the previous title. This isn't to say that the switch from soldiers to something more local isn't welcome, but when you compare the game to the likes of Payday and Kane & Lynch, both of which have the weapon sets and objectives down pat, the effort here doesn't feel fully fleshed-out beyond a reskin.
As it stands now, Battlefield: Hardline is in an interesting place. The two modes in the beta version work well, and the game can be lots of fun when you have two well-skilled teams competing. It performs well for the time being and looks rather good, but the cops-and-robbers theme isn't taken to the fullest since all of the weapons feel like they were ripped from the previous Battlefield game, and we're still a bit wary about how the final product will perform online since the Battlefield 4 beta also exhibited good online performance. We'll be monitoring the game's progress, and hopefully, we'll have more opportunities for online play and snag a glimpse of the single-player portion.
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