Two years ago at E3, the teams of DICE and Visceral Games were eager to announce the announcement of their first-ever game creation collaboration. Back then, staffers from each company privately hinted at their creation and the massive emphasis on multiplayer. At a party, we forced almost drunk Visceral designers to reveal the secret, but they only spilled their drinks.
The developers managed to keep their lips tight about the shape of Battlefield hardline, the cops-and-robbers spin-off of EA’s biggest military franchise, though the momentum of their announcement was all but stalled by a leak two weeks ago. Somehow today’s full, official reveal has reignited the excitement and then some.
Monday’s EA press conference included early looks at Star Wars Battlefront and entries in the Mass effect And Mirror’s Edge series, but Battlefield hardline managed to elicit the biggest cheers, possibly due to its beautifully choreographed gameplay reveal. Shortly after, EA put its choppers where its mouth was, unveiling a massive lineup of PS4 consoles hosting the game’s live beta.
We wanted to see how the real thing compared, and while the demo’s perfectly timed bombast and invincible lead criminal were more amazing, we walked away from hard line genuinely impressed. Battlefield consistently tried to shoehorn Duty-like, fast-paced combat in its open-world, vehicle-laden formula, mostly in the form of underwhelming DLC. But here, the combined forces of DICE and Visceral have instead skipped CoD’s tired formula with a city-driven, cash-laden twist.
We started in the game’s “Heist” mode, which was the same as in the presentation. In this asymmetrical mode, a squad of robbers combs a battlefield, in this case downtown Los Angeles, looking for a few safes full of money and valuables. Cops must stop the criminal squad from detonating explosives and taking the money, or stopping them at various drop-off points along the way, before the criminals finally get the last cache in a getaway helicopter.
On his face, hard line does not deviate from it Battlefield‘s general formula, especially in terms of very powerful weapons. For starters, since when was LA overrun with arms dealers thick in rocket launchers? Both sides can also choose from classes and loadouts, but instead of upgrades based on experience points and grinding, hard line seems to depend more on an in-game money system. During each mission, you collect cash to stock up on mid-combat upgrades such as better vehicles, zipline hooks, and “non-lethal” taser equipment (which proved surprisingly effective at dispatching enemies).
The secret sauce, at least in today’s demo, was how the Heist mode forced players into high-octane, group-charged paths to protect (or get back) big bucks. At least get from point A to point B Battlefield game can take different paths, but you need a motorcade mixed with motorcycles and SUVs with guns to do it effectively this time. The game seems to have been built from the ground up to host skyscrapers full of cityscapes, blown-up highways, and beautiful action-packed paths that make us most excited to lose hours on the multiplayer mode.
The other mode revealed today, “Blood Money”, is a more traditional “protect your territory” mode, asking players to loot a central vault and return the money to your home base. The catch is that you can also hide out at your enemy’s base, kill one of his thieves, and transport that money home (or pick up money from dead bodies along the way). This symmetrical mode felt a bit more sedate, but we liked it as a cool twist Duty‘Kill Confirmed’ mode.
In terms of performance, we only saw the game running on PlayStation 4 consoles today. While it fell short of its developers’ “60 frames per second” promise, that’s more forgivable in beta form. Explosions and particle effects weren’t quite up to par with the PC visuals in the dazzling demo, but the series’ signature collapsible set pieces still blew up very nicely.
Really, the biggest shame about this game is that it didn’t pre-empt last year’s launch Battlefield 4, which was marred with incremental updates, a sorry solo campaign, and horribly broken multiplayer servers. This demo felt like a refinement, not a total overhaul, and we have to wonder if it could have been launched as a BF4 expansion pack instead. Yet this is one Battlefield experience we could become addicted to, a bit worn out by the open-prairie, run-mile stuff of the past two entries. We are eager to put our optimism to the test on October 21.
Frame image by Andrew Cunningham