Battlefield Hardline: The battle for hearts and minds, Preview - Games Weekly

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Battlefield Hardline: The battle for hearts and minds, Preview

Hardline is in trouble. Development appears to be moving along okay, and a delay to release gives both Visceral and DICE more time to optimise and innovate.

The gameplay we’ve seen so far is impressive, so there are no worries there. The trouble this game is in has more to do with convincing long-time fans of the series that they won’t get burned this time around. It could be losing the battle for hearts and minds.

There hasn't been this much concern expressed about an upcoming Battlefield game since it first made the move from PC to console back in 2005. That was a question of transition and translating controls from a purely PC game to the ‘limitations’ of a gamepad. There was also worry from the PC hardcore that it would lead to a watered down Battlefield experience. For Hardline, the concern is simply, will it be playable at launch? After the disaster of Battlefield 4’s appearance last year, that’s actually a fairly valid question.

Visceral is confident, not least because it convinced EA to push the game back into 2015 for more development time. While this was more likely to be for Visceral to better implement its plan for Battlefield’s single player, it can't do any harm in terms of giving DICE the chance to fine tune its online experience and get it in good shape for the launch.

The only real concern left as far as is concerned is whether or not this new format for the series and new setting will hold up in the face of improved and innovating opposition. The gameplay for Hardline is regularly intense and often insane, in ways only a Battlefield game can be. The destructible environments, levolutions and combustible elements that once felt so logical in a theatre of war seem almost insane in a cops versus robbers scenario. As urban locations are torn to pieces by gunfire and crashing vehicles, the chaos is almost gut-wrenching to see. Perhaps that’s a compliment to the job being done, but it can appear a little jarring.

For once it’s the single-player that we have less to be concerned about. What’s been revealed so far is evidence enough of Visceral’s confidence and patience in building a single player experience. Having perhaps looked at how Ubisoft managed to merge sandbox locations with a solo story in Far Cry 3, Hardline feels like the kind of playground we’ve always enjoyed from this series, with the added
bonus of some real weight to its narrative. The action can still get pretty out of hand, but being able to play in a stealthy way, finding and arresting rather than killing key targets, and generally playing as a cop offers a completely new experience through the prism of the Frostbite Engine than we’ve seen before.

There’s a freshness to Hardline that can seemingly only come from a new set of eyes taking a stab at the franchise. The pacing feels different, the story feels fairly unique and even personal rather than empty and generic. And while there’s no question that the movement from location to location is only really an excuse to throw you from one gameplay scenario to another, each is unique enough and cool enough to be worthwhile. Dare we say, there’s a hint of the original Modern Warfare about how this is being structured and pulled off.
 “ This is an awesome opportunity to take one of gaming’s most exciting franchises in a new direction”
The only thing left that might need a little tweaking is the single player AI. While having plenty of fairly easy targets to point your gun at certainly isn't a bad thing, we’ve been rather shocked by the willingness of  Hardline’s thugs to stand next to perfectly protective cover in the face of machine
gun fire rather than leaping behind it. Self preservation seems to be low on the list of priorities for the criminal element facing you down. Over the course of the game, we can see this beginning to grate as it pulls you out of what would otherwise be quite an immersive and engrossing time. Visceral is going to need to use those extra months of development wisely.

VISCERAL PROBABLY WASN'T expecting to face much political backlash against its setting for Hardline, given that the subject of American soldiers fighting abroad would seem more obviously eyebrow raising than enforcing the law on American soil. However, the militarisation of the police in Battlefield has drawn uncomfortable parallels with accusations of excessive force by police forces around the world. It was a hot-button issue that Visceral was aware of, however, so it's chosen situations that would appear fairly black and white in terms of police response.

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