Battlefield Hardline preview - Multiplayer delivers more than just a game of cops and robbers
Hidden away in a top secret EA bunker, where even the embargoes had embargoes, we came mouse-to-hand with the true test of Hardline's success: the multiplayer.
For those not in the know, Battlefield Hardline does away with the usual military focus and instead looks at police and criminals. This move was greeted with mixed reactions from the fans, some welcoming a fresh approach while others wanted another army adventure.
Two new modes were presented to the journalists assembled in EA: Hotwire and Heist.
Hotwire was essentially king of the hill, but the hills were vehicles and they were being hijacked by both teams. The scoring plays out similar to the Conquest mode that Battlefield fans know and love, but everything is that bit more unpredictable and wonderful.
High speed chases happened in Battlefield 3 and 4, but were hard to come by. When they did strike, magic often happened. The concept for Hotwire was to focus the game on the vehicles and make those exciting chases spark off regularly through-out the session. I must admit it works and brings a whole new level of fun to Battlefield multiplayer.
The developers spoke about wanting to bring the dogfights down from the skies and have them on the streets and while there isn't the same freedom, great handling and well designed levels go a long way to achieving that goal.
Hotwire on the Downtown map was great. Plenty of underground sections, bridges, plazas and carparks to make a map that is quite packed but feels like there's enough room to race around. Like the rest of the maps, there were a lot of environmental objects that could change the course of play, ranging from the simple raising of some parking barriers to a massive crane crashing in to a skyscraper.
Hotwire on Dustbowl, a backwater desert town in the middle of nowhere, was a different animal. Dustbowl just allowed for too much space to drive around. You can see it in the preview video, where we just drove around in circles for a good five minutes before eventually getting taken out. Where vehicles in Downtown increased the excitement and action, vehicles on Dustbowl seemed to increase separation.
The next mode we tried was Heist. It's a straight up cops and robbers scenario. Money is in the bank, criminals want the money, police have to stop them. The criminals need to secure two packages and bring them to exit points. The police have to either prevent them from removing the packages in the first place, or need to prevent their escape. It's familiar capture the flag type mechanics, where the criminal drops the package on death and the police can auto-return it to base after a certain amount of uncontested proximity time.
Now, that may all seem quite straightforward, but there are some nice twists. First, the exits change each game, meaning there's no way to plan one foolproof route. The police have no death limit, but the criminals do, so a war of attrition will always favour the defenders.
With no real reason to play it safe, it may seem that the police have a major advantage and yes, early games did point to some major balancing required, but as the day progressed and the criminals got better, it soon became clear that a solid strategy can win out.
The level design plays a big part in the balancing in the Bank Job map. Initially there is really only two entrances to each vault, through the vault door. A few times we saw robbers dominate and set up a slow cutting process, but really the action should have been happening elsewhere. Blow a hole in the wall of the local cafe and you're in. Drop a container (seen in the video above) through the ceiling and you're in. As the game progresses, the police have more and more holes to plug. If the criminals are smart, they should be able to shepherd the package to safety before the police can formulate a plan.
The final twist comes in the form of the escape pick-up. Here they go a bit like those final moments in Titanfall, where the ship comes in and you have a chance to prevent recovery. Similar deal here, where criminals have to wait for the helicopter and police can either pick off the robbers or take down the whole helicopter.
The final game type we played was Conquest, which is a firm favourite ever since it's introduction way back in Battlefield 1942. We played it in Dustbowl and the level design really lent itself more to this game type. One location (guided tour in the video above) was a meth lab hidden in a regular looking home, but, oh my, there seems to have been an explosion. That's what happens when you try to cook meth, kids. Drugs are bad.
The various territories throughout Dustbowl were well chosen, each with its own special feature to be taken advantage of.
So what's in the kit? Well, there are plenty of gadgets and guns, but few tank-stopping military numbers. The developers spoke of the decision to remove RPGs from the loadout screen, because it just didn't feel right in a game about police. There are RPGs in the game, but they're placed in each level as a strategic point to battle over, just like the Covenant swords in Halo of old. The RPG decision is actually a lovely move, because it removes the fear of being constantly one-shotted, yet, when it does happen it's a far greater "wooooah crap!" bittersweet moment of death and excitement.
Gadgets will make a major difference in Battlefield Hardline, with certain gadgets really coming in to their own for specific gametypes. Remote cameras, for example, will become near-essential items for the escort missions. The verticality buzz is addressed with the use of a grappling hook and zip line. Both gadgets really open up the levels, without bowing to jet boots or whatever is all the rage in game dev fashion shows this season.
Overall, I think the developers have done a good job creating a really fun and different multiplayer experience. I was growing jaded with the annual march of multiplayer soldier-'em ups, but this is a nice blast of fresh air and perhaps exactly what the Battlefield series needs to answer Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare's exo-suits and future mechanics.
Want to play the beta? Details here: Battlefield Hardline Open Beta lock 'n' loads February 3rd