Battlefield Hardline: Preview - Games Weekly

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Battlefield Hardline: Preview

The heat is on Visceral are under pressure, the kind just short of what’s needed to produce a diamond. DICE’s Star Wars: Battlefront is scheduled for this year (although we’ll probably only see it early 2016) and Visceral need to make sure Battlefield Hardline won’t shine for just a few months then fade into obscurity once players start assaulting Hoth in AT-ATs and hijacking speeder bikes on Endor. They also have to prove that Hardline isn’t just some elaborate cops and robbers Battlefield 4 expansion sold at full price. Let’s also not forget that they had to push the release date to this year after less than favourable feedback and comment from the players and press in 2014. To top it all off the recent open beta saw a record six million players try it out more than Activision’s heavily marketed new IP Destiny. There’s a fair bit at stake here for any number of reasons… cue the dramatic music.

Hardline is using the Frostbite 3 engine which, while still competent in getting the job done, is showing its age, especially when compared to what else is out there these days. That special  Battlefield  atmosphere is all over this game, but Visceral have tweaked and polished things in a way that’ll have veterans smiling with appreciation. Naturally the whole game is sporting fresh textures, models and skins, new maps, new vehicles and weapons, and themed gadgets. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything visually familiar or leftover from  Battlefield 4 other than the feel of the game and those crazy trademark Battlefield moments. One thing that Visceral have done very well is refine the experience. For example: the mini-map now shows the boundary box around capture points and also lets you know if someone is nearby, telling you a point is now contested. When you’re counting down to start you can book a seat on a chopper, and a small mark appears on the vehicle icon letting you know how many seats are taken. These vehicle icons also indicate how long until a vehicle spawns with a gradually filling grey box nice polish. The clever code stuff running the networking and bullet detection in the background feels good, and the  Hardline  beta felt much better than the  Battlefield 4  beta when it came out. People take hits when you shoot them and while the guns feel a little less punchy when compared to  Advanced Warfare, they do the job and never leave you feeling cheated. The addition of vehicular running and gunning also feels good and hanging outside a car while firing grenades behind you in a high-speed chase is smooth and immersive. It looks like Visceral has inherited an overall fixed game from DICE and then spent the time wisely making the gameplay fun, frantic, and cool.
Money is a thing now. You earn dollars for playing properly completing objectives as well as just killing the bad guys (or the good guys, if you’re on the wrong side of the law). You can then spend this money on upgrades or even buying Battle Packs which contain random rewards. There is no class weapon progression, so if you like you can save up and get exactly what you want patience being the other currency then. Weapon unlocking and progression is all very free and open just like it should be. Also carrying through from BF4 are the battlefield pickups, examples here include the FIM-92 Stinger (goodbye choppers), SMAW rocket launcher, M240B LMG, and even a set of defibrillators. Health and ammunition can also be found stuck on walls and behind doors. Another small quality of life tweak is the ability to run up to a medic and simply take health from them (same with ammunition).  Selfish medics are no longer a problem just take what you need when you need it. Live game map altering (aka “Levolution”) also makes it into  Hardline , and while we didn’t see a whole building come down in the beta there was a nasty dust storm that rolled through town and a huge construction crane could be brought down to create new pathways and obstacles. Smaller things like raising bollards or collapsing floors all change the map and the way people play on it. The maps are alive and nothing stays as it was when the rockets start flying. You can’t flatten buildings but you can poke more than a few holes in them.
Much of the success or failure of  Hardline  is going to come down to the multiplayer modes available in the game. In the beta we looked at three game modes and three different maps.

First up is Heist. Here the criminals must gain access to a vault, steal two bags of cash, and then escape in a helicopter. The cops, well, they must stop them. This mode requires a purpose-built map with a vault and two escape points, so learning these maps is going to be a wise move. In the beta the action played out on the map called Bank Job. This mode is best played on a small map and well-coordinated teams should do well no matter what the objective. Gone are the distant locations and foreign environments. All the action in Hardline takes place in locations that are just around the corner from your house, down the road at the bank or in that shopping centre you visit on the weekends. Bringing it home and putting the action in places you’ve either visited or seen in countless movies and television shows makes for a fun change of pace.

Next up was a straightforward Conquest game on a little map called Dust Bowl a forgotten dried up town that occasionally sees a dust storm pass through. Here both teams compete to control locations and deplete the other side’s tickets. The more control points your team has the faster the enemy tickets run down. This map was fairly large and had two types of choppers, many vehicles and dirt bikes to get into the action and around the map. If you’re looking for a straight up Battlefield multiplayer fight then conquest is as vanilla as it gets.

The last and most exciting mode was Hotwire, and this mode played out on both Dust Bowl and another map called Downtown. Here the conquest flags are vehicles that you must drive at speed to deplete enemy tickets. If a car is destroyed it quickly reappears and the next chase is on. Players can hang out of windows and poke guns out of the back door while driving vans, making the action fast and frantic all the time. This is really conquest on rails with exploding cars and high speed collisions. It’s a fun and exciting game mode and should be the one most players will come back to.

Besides these three game modes, four other modes are promised in the final game. Team deathmatch, the name says it all. Blood Money, here a pile of loot must be stolen or secured as evidence; get the loot to your team’s vault for the win but remember that vaults can also be cracked and raided. Rescue is a new but also familiar competitive mode where the cops must save the lives of innocents at the hands of the criminals; death is permanent so watch your step. The last mode is Crosshair; death is again permanent as the criminals must put down a former criminal turned state witness. There’s nothing worse than a rat. Hunt him down and kill him.

It’s all very exciting stuff and the developers have spent a lot of time creating some fresh gaming experiences that when combined with Battlefield’s pure craziness is going to have a lot of tall tales and retelling of that one time when this mad thing happened but I didn’t record it so you’ll just have to believe me.
It’s easy to talk about potential and possibilities but you are being asked to pay full price for this game, and based on everything new and the commitment from the developers it seems justifiable especially if you’re a fan of the series. New players will also get something fresh and exciting; Hardline has the potential to attract new gamers into the fold by presenting cops and robbers, something familiar even dad can get into. For fans this is a fun, frivolous and frantic take on an old formula. Hardline takes all those signature Battlefield moments and condenses them, and then delivers them more frequently and in tighter spaces. Having your tanker destroyed by the helicopter you just jumped out of and then the whole fireball crashing into the car you were trying to take down originally is just pure gaming heaven. It leaves you smiling and shaking your head at the screen. It’s just a faster, more and better take on an enjoyable shooter franchise done by a competent crew with an eye for detail and a distinct swagger.

I’M IN… 
“Remember, hacking is more than just a crime. It’s a survival trait.” Razor, Hackers
In Battlefield Hardline you’re a hacker and not a commander, things are a little different and instead of dropping bombs (and sometimes vehicles) on the heads of enemies, you also get to release gas and peek through security cameras. In this mode you can view the action in three ways: a top down overall map mode, over the shoulder of a squad leader, or using an overhead movable camera. As a hacker you can hack a security camera thereby revealing enemy positions or you can activate a gas system or even overload a transformer both excellent for disorientating and slowing down the enemy. GPS spotting is something else you can do, which reveals enemy position in a tight circle and of course GPS blocking, which prevents the enemy from seeing your team on the mini-map. This is good for when your team is trying to conceal which side of the vault they’re trying to break into. Trace is a map-wide scan showing the location of high value targets and other useful bits of information. Fast deploy is good for a squad that’s attacking a location and you can even send a perk-based thank you to squads that do your bidding by offering them upgrades. Of course those that ignore your “suggestions” get nothing. Finally overclock boosts the time it takes for all your hacker abilities to recharge, nice and simple but the risk is overloading random systems forcing you to wait even longer for them to recharge. In  Hardline , the hacker mode is more of a helping hand than a fist of doom meaning you can’t directly kill the bad guys while playing as the hacker. Unless of course you blow up a transformer next to someone on very low health. Hacker is fun but lacks teeth.

The classes are recognisable but different and of course there’s a class for all styles of play. It looks like they’ve been re-engineered around Hotline and keeping up the pace of the game. There are some new gadgets available, so experiment with them until you find what you like.

In terms of classes, first up is the Operator (old Assault/Medic), whose weapon specialisation is assault rifles and carbines gone is the underslung grenade launcher. In addition, Operators drop medic bags, can heal, revive, and even self-revive under certain conditions. Next is the Mechanic (old Engineer), this guy can fix vehicles or blow them up and specialises in carbines; he also has a satellite phone for insertions and a grenade launcher perfect for blowing up moving cars. The Enforcer (old Support) features a shotgun, riot shield, tear gas and gas masks, making him the perfect role for area denial. He also carries ammunition which you can just take off him. Last up is the Professional (old Recon), this class is all about sniper rifles, laser trip mines, and effective close range weapons. DMRs (Designed Marksman Rifles) and bolt-action rifles make him the perfect marksman, good for picking off stubborn targets and taking out vehicles. There’s something for everyone and of course there are so many other toys and gadgets like grappling hooks and zip lines and oops… we’re out of space.

For once, it looks like the Battlefield series is getting a game that actually pays attention to the single-player side of things, and what better studio to handle this than Visceral, the team behind the excellent Dead Space series.

The SP campaign will follow the exploits of recently made detective Nick Mendoza and his partner Khai Minh Dao, as well as a number of supporting characters along the way. Nick will have to deal with a drug war that’s ravaging the city of Los Angeles by going undercover and generally, going way off the books. If this sounds to you like a plot for a serial crime drama, then you’re spot on: themes in Hardline are heavily based on series like Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, and other important-sounding acronyms.

In one mission from the campaign, Nick and another chap have to break out of a jail and then retrieve their gear from a criminal compound by using a mix of distractions, stealthy take-downs, and tactical decision-making very clearly Far Cry inspired, which we’re okay with. The weapons on offer are also more geared towards non-lethal gameplay, although there’s nothing stopping you from running in guns-blazing, if that’s more your style.

From what we’ve seen of the SP campaign, Visceral appears to be treating  Hardline  like it would any of its own games, like an IP isolated from the  Battlefield  franchise. Which, you know… isn’t such a bad thing.

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