Ahead of E3, leaks forced EA to confirm the rumor that Visceral Games, the house that made Dead Space, was working on Battlefield Hardline, a cops-and-robbers-themed sequel to EA's most popular, though recently troubled, multiplayer FPS. We now know that Battlefield Hardline is coming October 20, and today I'm free to share my thoughts after playing it last month.
I played two rounds each of Blood Money, which has cops and robbers fighting to recover money from a single pile, and Heist, a CTF-like mode where the police team defends two briefcases from the crooks. Blood Money interested me more; both players had to pull cash from the pile in the middle of the map, holding E to fill their bags $100,000 at a time. I liked the risk/reward mentality here—I could linger and grab more money (up to $400,000), but being greedy got me killed several times.
I was initially worried that a shared, single objective would result in a lot of grenade spam and meat-grindery action around that focal point, but the presence of team-specific vaults mitigated this, at least on the urban map I played. Each team has a defensible position that it banks money into, but this cash cache can be raided by your opponent. One of our matches felt like a see-saw as both teams made successful grabs from each other's vaults.
I liked Blood Money's chaotic rhythm of stealing, running, chasing, and defending, especially as both teams learned to use cars and helicopters as getaway vehicles. But the mode was one of the only things that distinguished Hardline from Battlefield 4. Broadly, Hardline felt more like a professionally-made BF4 mod than a significant refresh of the series. Hardline shares BF4s neon, geometric UI. Four BF4-equivalent classes are available, each with similar assault, sniping, support, or healing specializations—the Mechanic can repair vehicles while riding shotgun, for example. Most of the weapons are just as military: assault rifles with optics, helicopters with miniguns, armored vehicles with protected, mounted machinegun, and both sides have an identical armory. And most dissonantly, every cop and crook can deploy a parachute at any time.
When I sat down to play Hardline, I didn't expect to see a police officer leap out of a combat helicopter, burst open a parachute, and flick an RPG in mid-air at some criminal on the ground. It may end up being fun, but Hardline is surprisingly, jarringly familiar. There are no jets or tanks in play, of course, but every other vehicle type from BF4 will be represented, including boats. A few new gadgets are introduced—a gas grenade that impacts accuracy, and a stun gun or melee takedown attack that allows you to “interrogate” enemies you've incapacitated—EA wouldn't tell us what benefit this provides. I'm more curious about the grappling hook and zipline crossbow, which seem like they could be used to create effective shortcuts for looting cash, but didn't feel encouraged by the design of the map I played on.
These traversal tools are one of the handful of things that could distinguish Hardline from BF4, but as it stands I'm left with the impression that Hardline's multiplayer won't be more than a modest reconfiguration of what we played last year. If this ends up being the case, it's a massively missed opportunity for Visceral to embrace the asymmetry that's native to cops and robbers as a theme. It's boring that both sides will have identical weapons and equipment. It's bizarre that everyone has a parachute. I liked Blood Money mode, but it's a bit contrived that both the cops and the crooks have to grab the cash (sorry, “evidence”). Why not design a mode where the police are simply guarding the money? I can't remember a heist movie where the police are trying to achieve the same goal as the criminals. If Blood Money's format ends up facilitating good gameplay, maybe it won't matter.
It's a different type of shooter, but one of the things Payday got right was structuring a heist as a multi-stage process and scattering civilians in the crossfire. Bank robbing and war are different businesses, and it was surprising to see Hardline do so little to represent that.