Updated (3/22): Ars originally published impressions on the Battlefield single-player campaign on March 17. This piece has been expanded with multiplayer thoughts and work as a full review.
For all problems Battlefield: Hardlines At least the single player campaign has a story, tone and pace tried to do something else. That same spirit of risk-taking doesn’t really carry over to the multiplayer side of the game, which is certainly the most important part for many. Battlefield veterans.
hard line drapes a facade of cops and robbers over what is primarily the same multiplayer modes and gunfights that the series has relied on ever since Battlefield 3. That’s not exactly a damning indictment of the game, especially considering the existence of a few new standout modes to complement the familiar design.
Like its predecessors, hard line is bigger, slower and much more open than most multiplayer shooters following in the footsteps of Modern warfare‘s success. If you haven’t played Battlefield in a while (or outright skipped Battlefield 4 thanks to the horror stories of glitches and server problems) it could be an adjustment. It’s the kind of game where you’ll die incredibly quickly if you’re running around like an idiot without checking your surroundings. There are snipers at every fire escape and rooftop, ready to take you out undetected from 100 yards if you’re not careful. Helicopters are shot down seconds after takeoff. If you don’t pay attention to your minimap, scanning the horizon for targets and ducking from cover to cover, you can be sure to get shot down almost instantly.
In short: it is Battlefield.
New twists on old multiplayer modes
The past few Battlefield entries significantly increased the speed of the game, both in terms of movement and multiplayer progression. To his credit, hard line leans into this adjustment. Vehicles now respawn at a healthy clip, meaning you no longer have to worry about being left behind by your jeep-hungry allies. Players earn money, experience, levels and unlocks for the most miniscule contributions. Killing enemies and taking objectives will certainly bring bigger rewards, but just being around another player accomplishing something will get you digital praise.
Nowhere is this more common than in from hard line striking new mode, Hotwire. At its core, Hotwire is just a variation on the common “point control” concept seen in all kinds of multiplayer shooters (“Conquest” in the Battlefield series). The goal is to hold targets long enough to reduce the other team’s supply of cards to zero. The twist in Hotwire is that the targets themselves are vehicles and they are only effectively “captured” if they are kept above a certain speed. It’s actually the movie Speed… if Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock had shot everyone they approached.
Obviously, Hotwire matches are incredibly fast paced, with the main target cars constantly dodging incoming fire and standard vehicles rushing in to intercept. However, it’s not just the drivers who benefit from this. Anyone driving a shotgun (or sitting in the backseat) will get a slice of the constant tapping experience and “cash” rewards for new weapons and upgrades. It’s a great way to boost your character towards that next red dot sight or submachine gun. By encouraging players to cluster together in one vehicle, the design often leads to a single missile causing four people to explode in a culvert at the same time.
Early Battlefield games feature a lot of these kinds of little funnels into group misadventures paralleling a larger conflict. Such redirects have taken a backseat as Battlefield 3 And 4, which chose to follow “bigger, faster and more explosions”. When I saw the earlier design style return to Hotwire, I was really happy Battlefield 2142– loving heart.
Team Deathmatch is also here. It’s like a fast food item that no one buys, but it’s too synonymous with the restaurant’s branding to disappear from the menu. The big maps, filled with up to 64 players, just never gelled with the swamp standard option. Conquest, on the other hand, seems as popular as ever. It’s the 64-player sniper and humvee convention you know and remember, only without the jets (why would cops or robbers have access to jets? Don’t be silly!)
Then there’s Blood Money, which introduces a slight variation on the familiar Capture the Flag mode. Both teams try to take money from a central location and return it to their respective bases. The wrinkle is that either team can also steal what has already been escorted to the other’s headquarters. A well organized team with a plan, the right tools and preferably an armored truck can always break away from the main conflict and break for their opponent’s secondary supply. It’s not as ridiculously fast as Hotwire, but it does offer similar “funnels” to create your own side story within the larger game, provided you have a co-op team.
Bad teammates, good opponents
The weak link here, as with all Battlefield game, is teamwork, especially when playing with strangers. As a kind of expert on people who are bad at it Battlefield (it takes one to know one), I can say with some authority that most people are bad at it Battlefield. hard line is no exception. In fact, since many of the eight different modes have new fringe twists that mess with the established formula, it’s safe to say that humans haven’t been that bad on balance at Battlefield in a while.
Unless you have a team of friends who are all on the same page, all you have to do is accept some facts about how games will play out. Your teammates shall play Conquest like it’s Team Deathmatch, you shall get left behind by target vehicles in Hotwire, and obviously everyone will run out during the open air Counterattack inspired rescue mode (where death is permanent until the end of each round). Blame what you will: the prevalence of Duty style close combat or simple stats. Either way, the result is the same.
Over time, players get better. At the very least, those playing without a headset and crashing the chopper 10 seconds after takeoff will (hopefully) stop playing and be left with only the masterclass. However, that means the remaining players will all be top level experts who can make short work of occasional players. If you are one of the few who can spend every waking moment sharpening your Battlefield skills (hopefully with a handful of friends to get you through the worst of times), this isn’t a problem. For the rest, the opposition will become frustratingly difficult in the foreseeable future.
This is a criticism I can level at 90 percent of the shooters released in the last eight years, but that’s okay hard line a pass. No doubt there are people reading this who already know they’re going to be part of that dedicated, year-long tour of duty. For me and dare I say the majority of players, that’s probably not the case.
Nasty from hardline credit, the developers made a small but important concession to balance. Rocket launchers, a longstanding base of anti-armour-focused players in the series, cannot be equipped as part of an initial loadout. These explosive killers must now be found on the map itself. It’s not a huge change, but it does limit the prevalence of a single shot. Hotwire in particular benefits from the change, as a flurry of bazooka flak would kill the manic momentum outright.
Speaking of momentum, from hard line doesn’t seem to be beleaguered by the now-legendary server problems that plagued it battlefield 4, at least until now. Congratulations, EA and Visceral, the game you submitted will be playable upon release! But matchmaking (which is still launched from a browser on PC) can be slow at times, especially for those modes with a smaller number of players. However, I suspect this is more of a player count problem than an infrastructure issue.
What Battlefield: from hardline the going forward number of players will look like by the time the next entry in the franchise comes out is unclear. With only one Miami Vice aesthetics and a few (admittedly solid) modes that set it apart from the last two games, it feels like an intermediate step – something to hold us over until the next numbered sequel. We’ll just have to wait and see if what’s here is enough to keep that dedicated core of players around until then.