I played a lot of Battlefield Hardline over the past week. I flipped off an attack chopper while leaning out of the passenger window of a redlined sports car that was on fire. I stole money, and I chased bank robbers. I had fun—just not always a Battlefield type of fun.
Hardline isn’t DICE’s Battlefield. Its developer, Visceral, earned renown for its Dead Space horror series. The differences appear in plain view: BF4 is epic combat set on a grand scale of aircraft, vehicular, and foot varieties on expansive maps. Hardline has that too, but it also has bullet-ridden Ferraris corkscrew-jumping off overpasses into armored trucks. Soldiers trade their armor for police vests, bandana masks, and cool shades that always stay on. Oil fields and Chinese villages become downtown Los Angeles.
The beta was a morsel-sized cross-section of Hardline’s fast-paced design. I sampled the new Heist and Hotwire modes, and their respective mechanics—bank robbery and shooty street racing—smoothly facilitated the cops-on-criminals theme. The classic Conquest mode anchored everything with its reliable control point hotspots. Only three maps were available, but they definitely staged bombastic urban warfare. I particularly enjoyed Conquest’s Dust Bowl: a sandy, sleepy layover town with a seedy centerpiece motel.
As for what the community thinks, opinions are understandably mixed. I’ve read afterglow praise from veterans looking for a different approach to familiar gameplay, and I’ve seen rants damning it all as a $60/£40 Call of Duty cash-in. Hardline won’t shake that conflict of reputation for a long time. It’ll struggle to distinguish itself from its core brethren while not distancing too much from what fundamentally defines a Battlefield game: guns, vehicles, objectives, large maps, and lots of explosions.
The good news is Hardline isn’t simply a Michael Bay-ified version of Payday 2. It’s a Battlefield with its feet kicked up onto a desk. Only in Battlefield® moments occur regularly, but they’ll be even more over the top this time. Sure, I’ll ride the thrill of shooting a helicopter out of the sky with an AK like I always have, but the helicopter might boast a police-approved pink zebra-stripe chassis. Or I might use the Force to reload. Those aspects are undeniably Hardline, but my hope for its success stems from enjoying a thematically divergent Battlefield still connected with its roots.
During the beta, I focused on gathering impressions on three important topics most relevant to the Battlefield series. Here's what I came away with:
-Shooting enemies generally feels correct, and bullets register where directed. Less so when taking damage; determining where I took hits from was sometimes difficult.
-Odd deaths sporadically; I’d sometimes flop over after seemingly taking one or two shots at full health.
-Sniping felt awkward at extreme ranges, missing targets perfectly lined up while standing still. (Apparently, it’s a bug and totally not because I suck.)
-Driving sometimes oscillated between buttery smooth handling and jerky jumps forward especially during uphill climbs.
-Time To Kill (TTK) for most weapons is significantly shorter, so engagements are quick and staccato. This is probably one of the more visible differences between Hardline and BF4.
-Predictably, SMGs and shotguns reign supreme in close quarters, but some weapons, like the P90 or K10 SMGs, are noticeably easier to control over others with minimal recoil.
-Assault rifles, available for the Operator medic class, feel far too potent at all ranges. The M16A3 is particularly deadly with near-laser precision. (Note: a recent patch has already adjusted it.)
-Broadly, classes feel unique from each other. The weapons and equipment available for the Operator, Mechanic, Enforcer, and Professional are diverse enough that each bring good utility into a match.
-The Enforcer excels at enemy suppression and close-up combat. A popular kit combo is gas grenades, gas mask, and shotgun for area denial.
-Great momentum retention with the ability to take small amounts of health and ammo directly from Operatives and Enforcers, respectively.
-Hotwire mode falters considerably when players camp rooftops and street corners with C4 placed on streets; cars have no choice but to cross these chokepoints and get blown up.
-Similarly, Hotwire suffers from players having the ability to store special weapons in the trunks of their cars. It feels a little silly seeing RPGs pulled out of parked sedans, and it goes against the mode’s ideal of high-speed chases.
-Map size is overall smaller, leading to shorter intervals before running into action.
-Dust Bowl functions well as a mid-size Conquest map, but its control point placement tended to funnel both teams into the central motel objective for attack/defend scenarios.
-Larger Conquest maps need constant flux on all objectives; such nonlinearity on where to attack or defend next lies at the heart of Battlefield games.
-Heist’s Bank Job map is so small, it runs the risk of becoming known for meat-grindy, lightning-fast rounds. Good criminal teams can swoop in and bolt away with all the cash necessary for a win in less than five minutes. Conversely, skilled police squads can lock down most access points to the vault and guarantee a loss for the criminals.
-Destruction effects are largely disappointing in their absence. Grenades or other explosives don’t chunk walls or crater streets, and quaint suburban homes must be made of magical super-steel to withstand a direct rocket blast.
-Limiting destruction makes sense from a balancing point of view—everyone needs cover to survive, hide, and flank—but all the action doesn’t feel as intense as it could be without turning walls into smoking ruins. Hardline’s inherently limited accessibility to explosives should be enough equilibrium against boom-spam.