Electronic Arts learned a big lesson after 2013’sBattlefield 4 proved to be riddled with bugs and glitches: the more passionate your fan base, the louder their protestations when you get things wrong. But, to its credit, it has turned the debacle into an opportunity.
Battlefield Hardline is a proper franchise reboot, with a different developer (Visceral, which made Dead Space) taking the reins and the previously rather run-of-the-mill military setting ditched in favour of a cops-versus-robbers dynamic. Happily, Visceral has done such a good job that Hardline should attract a whole new demographic to the franchise.
If you’re new to Battlefield, you will naturally head towards its single-player game, and in that respect, Hardline is streets ahead of its predecessors. You’re cast as Nick Mendoza, a Miami cop getting stuck into the ongoing drug-war, who falls foul of a dirty colleague bidding to become a crime lord. Interestingly, you’re invited not to go in with all guns blazing but to take a more stealthy approach, thanks to a gameplay mechanic which lets you flash your badge and incapacitate baddies (although if you’re spotted in the act, a fierce gunfight, which you’re likely to lose, will break out).
Driving-and-shooting sequences plus scanning for evidence that uncovers sub-plots add extra interest, and there are ten episodes which take at least an hour each to complete. So Hardline actually offers a decent, memorable single-player experience, which is not something you can say about any of its ancestors.
But it wouldn’t be a Battlefield game if it didn’t focus on multiplayer action, and Visceral has cleverly used the cops-and-robbers vibe to shake up that side of the game, too. Hardline has seven multiplayer modes, of which five are all-new, and some are particularly unusual.
Perhaps the best is Hotwire, in which the criminals set out to steal designated cars dotted around the map, while the cops strive to thwart them, either by getting to the cars first or chasing them down. This being Battlefield, they can do that by jumping into armoured vans, helicopters and the like. If your gaming skills are skewed more towards driving (or manning fixed guns) than fast-twitch gunplay, you’ll find Hotwire a breath of fresh air.
Heist sees the robbers breaking into a bank (or safe) before loading up bags with cash, then trying to get them back to an extraction point where a helicopter is due to arrive – again, with the cops trying to thwart their every move.
A similar mode called Blood Money is more or less the same, but dispenses with the break-in element (the robbers are sitting ducks when loading up on cash), instead giving each side a vault of their own, with another pile of money in between. This setup breeds more conventional first-person shooter gameplay (although driving does come into play in Blood Money on the bigger maps). Because Heist requires more co-ordination between team-mates than Blood Money, we ended up preferring the latter, but both should prove popular.
There are plenty of modes designed to seduce existing Battlefield aficionados, too. Crosshair and Rescue pit two five-player teams against each other, in quickfire, best-of-nine, rounds. In the former, one team has to protect an all-but-unarmed VIP as he gets to an extraction point; in the latter, one team must rescue several hostages.
Those two modes, in particular, have been designed with competitive gaming in mind, but are fast and fun. And the classic modes Team Deathmatch – a mighty, hardcore free-for-all, especially when 64 players occupy a map – and Conquest, in which the two factions battle to control three designated points make a welcome return. Conquest offers a nice bridge between the less hardcore modes and the likes of Team Deathmatch.
Visually, Battlefield Hardline is absolutely spectacular: even online, you can trigger events like giant cranes that crash to earth or sudden sandstorms, and the sandbox-style ability to jump into vehicles, plus some cool gadgetry like zip-lines and grapples, throws up an endless stream of the sort of over-the-top moments that Michael Bay likes to pack into his films. Even if you die a lot, you’ll find yourself chuckling at some of the stuff you see.
Hardline is also noticeably more polished and solid-feeling than its predecessors, although we were unable to test the online servers to destruction pre-launch (given that seven million people participated in the beta programme, though, they should be able to take the strain). However, we did experience a couple of sound-glitches, a problem that afflicted Battlefield 4.
Overall, Electronic Arts and Visceral have done a superb job of rethinking Battlefield. Those who previously found it an utterly forbidding franchise will be amazed by how inviting Hardline is – and how much sheer, unadulterated, wrong-side-of-the-law fun it offers. An ideal introduction to online first-person shooters.
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