Hands On: Battlefield Hardline

After a mixed reaction to the beta, including from our own Graham, Battlefield Hardline [official site] is looking to prove that it isn’t simply a reskin of Battlefield 4 with policemen instead of soldiermen. In many ways, it looks like it is going to have trouble shaking that assumption. But in one particular way (a single game mode called Hotwire), it is going to come out fighting. I visited EA to take a look.

Let’s go through the basics first. I got to play two of the multiplayer game modes. Heist is an asymmetric robbery mode where the criminals have to break into a secure location (in this case, a bank), grab bags of money and bring them to an escape zone. The police have to get in the way, and defend the vault and escape points. It’s a bit like capture the flag, except the flag is a centralised wad of cash and only one team wants it.

When we played this mode, I found myself somewhat at a loss. As the criminals, there is a rush to break open the vault. And as the police there is a rush to defend it. All this meant I was often still fiddling with my loadout when the most interesting part of the match had already been fought through. All that was left after that was the back and forth of flag capture.

As the police, it feels like you have a slight advantage. The escape points are at the edges of the maps, making them fairly easy to defend. On the bank map, one escape route puts the criminals in the middle of a mostly-open road, while another puts them on a wide-open rooftop. Although the alternative, offering closed and well-covered routes, would make it too easy for the crims to sneak away, there is still a sense of uphill battle that starts to grate after a while. Meanwhile the cops’ job is far less interesting and far less challenging. The inevitable battles of attrition that break out make your criminal feel like a genuine underdog, but it also feels a bit stalematey.

The traditional complaint that all this feels nothing at all like an actual heist is still valid, as I feel it is for the Payday games. But at least Payday 2 tries to offer a “quiet” option (albeit against AI foes). With so much strange, asymmetric stuff possible within the crime sub-genre I’m afraid the Heist mode offered here gains no points for originality, even if it might satisfy a hardcore Battlefield player who bounces in to cleanse their palate between bouts of vanilla Conquest mode.

This is why Hotwire mode is such a gift. In this mode, players have to gain and keep certain control points, much like Conquest. Except in this case, all the control points are moving vehicles. You rush out into an abandoned city, or a sandy desert town and grab the highlighted cars, vans or trucks, keeping them in your possession and maintaining a high speed for as long as possible. Should the enemy team ram you and pump bullets into your special car until it explodes, a fresh vehicle will spawn somewhere on the map.

It’s a great, simple addition to the roster and arguably the most interesting thing Battlefield has done with its control point formula in years. The most fun I had all day was riding in the passenger seat of a ‘hotwired’ car as we were pursued by an enemy 4×4, bullets whizzing. I stuck my head out the window and threw two explosive charges on the road in quick succession, then as the 4×4 drove over it, I pressed the detonator. In fact, all the best moments had something to do with a moving vehicle. Swerving out of the way as a helicopter crash-landed on the road. Looking out the window in the back seat as a crane came down beside us into a skyscraper (yes, “levolution” is back).

Giving you a reason to use the vehicles, aside from getting from A to B, was always going to be more of a problem for Hardline than its predecessors, since most cop cars don’t house a giant cannon on the top to swing a battle in your favour. But in fairness, Visceral has done a lot to keep vehicles useful. As well as making them the main attraction in Hotwire mode, cop cars and stolen rides have trunks full of ammo and weapons, making them mobile resupply units. Both teams have a large armoured truck that acts as a mobile HQ in Conquest mode, allowing spawns wherever it is parked, meaning whole squads will spill out of its backside over and over, like some terrifying armoured version of Mary Poppins’ handbag. The only thing I didn’t really take to where the motorbikes. As in real life, motorbikes just get you killed.

But there are also a lot of things that strike me as odd. The unusable cars that litter the maps while other, useable ones are placed among them is only one example, but it’s the worst offender. I never quite got used to checking my mini-map to make sure the sedan I was sprinting toward was present and correct – a little grey car icon symbolising its availability. I imagine after I’d played each level the requisite one billion times the unusable scenic cars would no longer bother me, but it is such an obvious let-down. There are all these seemingly interactive things lying around without purpose, except to camouflage the things which are actually interactive. It is the Door Problem all over again. Sadly, it does not feel like Hardline has reached its own reliable solution to this yet.

It’s not just the level design that brushes up against the limits of credibility. Hardline’s theme has come in for criticism as well, some of which is deserved. The idea that police SWAT teams are roaming around stopping car thefts with rocket launchers and parachutes is ridiculous, as many people have noted. The game has even attracted some light criticism of a different kind. Recent events in the US have led to sensitivity regarding the militarisation of the police, calling into question their supposed role as “protectors”. As a result, some view Hardline as a game which is, at best, uncomfortably timed. At worst, it’s seen as needlessly controversial.

My personal take is that any such interpretation is overblown. While the box art from last year is the result of cack-handed thoughtlessness, the game itself (or the multiplayer portion, anyway) is a purposefully unrealistic, over-the-top cops and robbers plaything with no pretensions. The political events of reality are of the utmost importance, but the game that I saw this week doesn’t really fit into that narrative at all. There is as much – perhaps more – to be troubled about in the depiction of military intervention abroad in Battlefields past. As another in a long line of shooty-shooty bang-bangs, Hardline commits more sins of cliché than it does of offensiveness.

To return to the game, Hardline’s multiplayer doesn’t try to do a great deal that hasn’t been seen before. Its crime is not one of insensitivity but one of unoriginality. The loadout screens offer a similar spread of weapons with similar pros and cons as seen in previous Battlefields. Perks (here renamed ‘Gadgets’) also offer the same type of extras, with a few new things thrown in.

The Stunt Driver perk gives you a nitrous boost while driving, for example, but it is not noticeably speedier than usual and it sits next to the ever-useful bomb charges and tripmines every FPS player clings to for survival, so who knows how often the new additions will even be used. Zip Lines and grappling hooks are intended to add even more fun to the mix but, speaking honestly, I did not notice one scenario where either of these devices would be more useful than pointing my gun at someone and shooting them in the head.

All this said, I don’t mean to sound overly negative. Hardline is a solid team-based shooter – as solid as its older brethren – and in its finer moments, racing around in a stolen lorry, smashing into everyone you see, it can be exhilarating. But Hotwire alone is not enough to draw me in at the moment, even if it strikes me as the kind of high-octane addition loyal players will adore. Most importantly, the Heist mode is another sad waste of a good crime caper opportunity. It looks like cops and robbers games – which arrive rarely – are still waiting for the perfect job.

45 Comments

  1. Ogun says:

    The only thing I didn’t really take to where was/were the motorbikes.

    Doesn’t sound like it’s worth 40-50 quid, or 30 quid and then extra payments to unlock maps/stuff – it sounds like a mod for BF4 using features that weren’t appropriate/finished in time for BF4 itself. Not that keen to give any more money to EA after the ‘Final Stand’ DLC for BF4, which was basically just an advert/announcement for a new 2142 game.

    That said, it’s just occurred to me that if they made a pirate themed mod instead, I’d probably buy it :)

    • wengart says:

      Yea, I agree with you. While I really enjoy Battlefield’s multiplayer I’m at the point where the very prolific nickel and diming has pushed me away from the series.

      I bought 3 and premium for that. I was left sorely disappointed because it was incredibly hard to find a server that didn’t just do vanilla + a single expansion. When i bought premium I expected to be able to play Caspian Border, Gulf of Oman, Alborz Mountain, and Operation Riverside all on a single server over the course of an hour or two. That was never the case.

      I bought 4, but resolved to not buy any of the DLC. I didn’t and while I enjoyed it for a while I eventually got bored and drifted back into Dota and Red Orchestra.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        How’s RO doing currently when it comes to performance and population? I’ve been thinking on getting back to it after drifting away past the first launch month or so.

        • wengart says:

          Really well.

          Performance has gotten a lot better (although my PC was beefy enough at launch to ignore the worst of the performance problems). It runs really nicely and if performance was an issue for you it probably won’t be anymore.

          Population wise. It hovers between 1,000 and 1,500 players online pretty consistently. That population is split with a slight weight on the Eastern Front stuff, but Rising Storm is also popular. At anytime you will find 10ish servers that are at 64 players are close to it. So you won’t have trouble playing unless you live in Australia or something.

          • Vin_Howard says:

            I can confirm. At this very moment there are 1.7k people online.

  2. Baines says:

    Recent events in the US have led to sensitivity regarding the militarisation of the police, calling into question their supposed role as “protectors”.

    Militarization of the police is only a minor side issue to a much larger and deadlier problem.

    SWAT teams are roaming around stopping car thefts with rocket launchers and parachutes” might seem ridiculous, but it might be the saving grace of Hardline. It gives an unrealistic absurdity to the game, something that wouldn’t be present if the police were more realistically armed and deployed. Kind of like the old cartoon violence rules, where you could have gunfights with lasers and ray guns at will.

    After all, the odds that a cop will parachute out of the sky and fire a rocket launcher at your car are much lower than a cop pulling you in the middle of night, performing a wrongful arrest, tasing you when you ask for proof of ID, assaulting you, lying about the whole encounter, charging you with assault, while neither the cop’s dash cam nor body cam were recording. I don’t believe the former has ever happened in the US, while the latter may have happened to a guy two weeks ago.

    EDIT: I might should point out that when I said “the latter may have happened to a guy two weeks ago”, I wasn’t joking. That is the account that UFC fighter Dave Herman and his wife gave of their recent nighttime encounter with police.

    • MrUnimport says:

      I can’t say I terribly agree. For me it robs the proceedings of even the most tenuous link to reality and ruins the whole point of playing cops and robbers in the first place. It’s not like the Battlefield series was ever a realistic depiction of military conflict, but here even the make-believe breaks down and leaves nothing but Themed Manshoot.

      As for police militarization, I think the point is somewhat defused by the fact that the criminals in this game are armed and equipped like a military force themselves. See also the Payday series in which the criminal protagonists are confronted by heavily-militarized police forces, up to and including armored juggernauts and corporate mercenaries: in this situation it almost seems as if the players’ crime spree has CAUSED the escalation.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        I see it merely as an excuse to add some new interesting gadgets and to tighten the action a little bit, any modern Battlefield works best when you avoid to give too much thought to the premise.

        I just think the whole series at this point just needs to be taken extremely lightly, i would understand more if someone had to complain about the extra close quarter and fast action, as i understand that not everyone thinks of that when the Battlefield name appears.

        Personally speaking i’m sort of waiting for this change of pace, i feel it’s a fine balance. I might be in disagreement with many there but i don’t feel Battlefield works so well with any map being many square kilometers and the closest engament 300 meters. Sure, this is how it historically works but then again we had less choice back then and it felt epic, now if i want this stuff i just move to Arma which is better tailored for this kind of gameplay.

        • MrUnimport says:

          Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy shorter engagement ranges: I spent many happy hours in BC2 and my Planetside addiction remains unbroken. But part of what I like about those is that it forces people into tighter clusters and stops them from roaming the map on their own fighting their own personal skirmishes. As Graham astutely pointed out in the last hands-on, big open maps with freely-available vehicles do lend themselves to this sort of individualism, and I think the focus on personal feats is only exaggerated by the unlock system and the myriad gadgets.

          Hardline though just seems like a baffling ‘revitalization’ of the franchise by porting it to a different context and abandoning any sort of unifying theme. What does the name even conjure up? A fixed telephone?

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            Yeah, i’m not sure i have an explanation ready for the name.

  3. Chuckleluck says:

    Does anyone remember the Trailblazer gamemode from Driver: San Francisco? Basically an invincible AI car would drive around the map, and players were in a free-for-all quest to grab the magic yellow dust that was spit behind the car which game them points. It was marvelous, and if Hotwire is anything like that, I’m sold.

    As for the way the cops and robbers have miniguns mounted on helicopters (like in the picture above), I think it’s just DICE doing their thing. Battlefield since at least 3 has always been gratuitously over-the-top explosiony. I’d be half offended if they *didn’t* have cops with rocket launchers.

    • The First Door says:

      Driver: San Francisco had surprisingly fantastic multiplayer modes! Then again, it was a surprisingly fantastic game all around, at least for me.

  4. ran93r says:

    Latest beta should be available to preload on origin in about 90mins (if their spin is to be believed). Will give it a whirl and see what’s changed since last time.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Uhm, then it’s either delayed or i have no clue how to access the thing!

      • Chuckleluck says:

        You have to go to the store page for Battlefield Hardline on Origin, there’s a “Pre-load” button above the ESRB rating. It took me a bit to figure out too.

  5. Radiant says:

    Brushing off the controversy of a game fetishizing the militarisation of police as “overblown” to me is disgusting.
    Maybe to the average white guy this isn’t a problem.

    Sure play a game of lethal cops and robbers, that prison management game or fly a drone equipped with a camera around a park.
    Tools of oppression as fun and games!

    You can take this game and shove it up your fucking pee pee hole. This is some bullshit.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Or maybe there’s no feticism involved, maybe cops and robbers is just an excuse for a different spin. Maybe it’s just as stupid and over the top as their previous games that featured unlikely and ridicolous war scenarios. Maybe there’s nothing to worry about and it’s just mindless explosion porn.

      Maybe it’s so insane and unbelievable that there’s no real risk of upsetting any free thinking and non paranoid person over the theme of militarized police. Sure, there’s a place for concern, but getting so up in arms about it sounds rather silly to me.

    • Wytefang says:

      I think you ran out of tin-foil for your hat.

    • Synesthesia says:

      I agree with this sentiment, but not on the prison architect front. It is not a fetishization of prison culture, specially when prison cultures differ wildly from country to country. it has some reeducatino programs, etcetera, instead of focusing on rape/shanking/whathaveyou. I think they did quite a good job at that balancing act.

    • wengart says:

      I think the world will be fine with Battlefield: Hardline in existence.

    • Slouch says:

      Just pretend all the criminals are transphobic and racist white males robbing banks to fund the publishing of books from the Western canon like John Milton or Shakespeare and the police are genderqueer, anti-racist, privilege aware hate speech law enforcement officers.

    • OmNomNom says:

      But… it’s fun.

      Also, they have books with no words on the pages that you might like.

  6. xcession says:

    The previous beta of Heist mode was weirdly unfocused, I do hope they’ve addressed that. Almost no fighting occurred outside point A where the cash was, and points B where you had to take the cash. The entire lovingly crafted city was just pointless.

    Most players appeared to conclude that when you know exactly where your enemy has to go to achieve their objective, there’s no point trying to chase them down during their journey there, when you could just go directly there and wait, which made for seriously boring games.

  7. thedosbox says:

    I’m still waiting for a remake of SWAT4. Maybe throw in a vehicle chase mode where the cops need to capture the crooks, but not kill them.

    • LionsPhil says:

      That sounds far more interesting than this, at least assuming no easy-out incapacitation. (I don’t believe SWAT was known for magic tranq dart guns.)

      • MrUnimport says:

        Unfortunately you need to counterbalance the unrealism of tranq darts with the desire of a human player to fight to the death rather than go quietly when cornered.

  8. Freud says:

    Since it’s a Battlefield game, it means there is a game followed by map packs, season passes and DLCs.

    We’re no longer consumers. We’re just money.

    • MrUnimport says:

      Don’t forget the incremental unlocks that are designed to rob you of any sort of engagement with the actual object of the game.

  9. Xantonze says:

    What’s with the [official site] ?! Looks like every game has a OFFICIAL SITE subtitle on RPS…
    Hope you’ll find another way to mark the links…; )

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, that’s been spreading like a virus. Some sort of counter-SEO thing?

      • LTK says:

        I think it’s so that you can easily find all the other articles on this game by its tag: the game’s title links to the tag, and official site liks to that. It saves you from scrolling down to the tag list and looking for it there, which I think many people don’t think of doing. It’s a small thing but I think it’s a good move, certainly better than using the search function.

        • LionsPhil says:

          But they’re not actually doing that tag link consistently.

          • LTK says:

            True, it would be kinda pointless to do that for orphan tags, whereas there are plenty of articles tagged Battlefield Hardline already.

  10. SlimShanks says:

    It disgusts me that battlefield is now making games with thieves, and yet we STILL DON’T HAVE OUR BLEEPING GOLD BACK!
    Capitalist pigs, very nice.

  11. Raoul Duke says:

    You know what would make this great (but more controversial)? Loads and loads of NPC civilians everywhere. The game could make it especially bad for the cops to harm them. This is why real cops don’t generally use rocket launchers, and would make the whole thing more plausible.

  12. Frank says:

    I am a confused customer. Devolver Digital and Dennaton should sue these guys because I almost thought of Hotline Miami

  13. AJ says:

    NO JUST NO.

    Battlefield bad company 2 was the height of this franchise.. everything since has been a severe letdown.
    Fool me once (battlefield 3) shame on you. Fool me twice (battlefield 4) shame on me …… you can’t get fooled again

  14. Flea says:

    I know I’m not saying anything original, but it blows my mind how they can charge full AAA price for a freaking reskin. Almost everything is the same, for crying out loud! The whole game mechanic, the modes, the squads, a lot of the weapons, even the colors, the friggin’ fonts and user interface are basically the same as BF4. It’s a new skin applied on the same game. They dressed the characters in different clothes and instead of Chinese and Americans called them cops and robbers.

    If this actually works and a bunch of people buy it, I have another idea: Battlefield: The Wild West. Reskin the characters into cowboys and Indians and give them rocket launchers, AK-47s and armoured vehicles. Replace motorbikes with horses and call it a feature worth charging €59,99.

  15. Heliocentric says:

    They had me at this when I hopped in a car.

  16. darkside says:

    The main character is being dubbed by a famous Brazilian rockstar for the portuguese version: link to youtube.com