Complex, demanding, uncompromising, Battlefield is one of the most polarising games in the modern industry. EA’s multiplayer first-person shooter franchise attracts a fanatical group of hardcore devotees, but at the same time, swarms of players find it too exacting and intimidating.
While Call of Duty is a garish fantasy of modern military conflict, Battlefield is almost documentary-like in its gritty authenticity.
The latest iteration, Battlefield: Hardline, is a major departure from the tried-and-tested formula, conceived and designed with the overt intention of bringing the brand squarely into the mainstream. It is not so much a reboot, however, as a spin-off; it's being handled by Visceral Games (of Dead Space fame) rather than Battlefield’s long-term developer DICE, which we can safely assume is still working on new versions of the core game. Like Bad Company, then, the aim is to produce a remix on the standard Battlefield dish rather than an entirely new menu.
Police and thieves in the streets
The obvious change is in the subject matter – the po-faced miltary theme of previous Battlefield titles has been discarded in favour of a cops versus robbers setting. In the single-player campaign, missions take place throughout the US, following detective Nick Mendoza on a quest to take down some rotten cops. The multiplayer game, meanwhile, pits SWAT teams against criminal super groups, in a range of both familiar and fresh competitive modes.
After a substantial play of the E3 demo, it seems Battlefield: Hardline may well achieve its aim of being more welcoming to, "teh noobs". We jumped in to a match on the side of the criminals. The only mode on offer – Blood Money – turns out be a spin on the familiar "capture the flag" option. Each side has a vault to protect – for the cops it's where they place stolen money recovered from the robbers; for the criminals, it's where they safeguarded their hoard. The object is to make it to the enemy vault, steal a chunk of cash and take it back to your own. It's an odd set up for the cops to be effectively engaging in the same "steal the cash" gameplay as the crims, but it's exciting and fun, so we'll let it pass.
This being Battlefield, you can jump into any vehicles you come across – and this is where the first evidence that Battlefield: Hardline is much more forgiving than its military predecessors emerges. Cars, motorbikes and vans feel much more intuitive to control than than the tanks and APCs of previous titles; although, those playing as cops can jump into a helicopter on the police station’s roof, which is just as challenging to pilot as ever. At one point, we manage to hitch a pillion ride on a motorbike ridden by another player, generating some excellent driving-and-shooting action – thoroughly satisfying until the driver took us way off course.
Beyond the general theme, the gameplay is much as you would expect from Battlefield, and the weaponry if familiar. We sampled a sawn-off shotgun and an assault rifle, but cops do get tasers and tear gas to add some urban flavour. There are also several types of law enforcement in evidence – including riot police and SWAT-style military outfits.
Refreshingly, there was a distinct absence of sniping in our session. A common complaint of those trying out Battlefield for the first time is that they get taken out from a mile away more or less whenever they set foot on a map. Of course, sniper rifles will be part of the armoury, but perhaps they won't be quite as domineering as they have been in the past. Certainly the pace of the game is much faster than in the more considered predecessors.
The city maps are large and open, with a notable vertical component. In the mode we played, set throughout downtown LA, one of the vaults is at the bottom of a multi-storey car park, while you can also gain access to a skyscraper. There looks to be plenty of familiar Battlefield-style environmental destruction too – as witnessed in a scene when a construction crane collapses tearing through a nearby office block.
The full extent of Battlefield: Hardline’s multiplayer functionality currently remains unconfirmed – and more modes should be revealed soon. As for the campaign, we'd love to see two interlinked stories, one from each faction’s perspective; this could go a long way toward answering the main criticism of previous versions of the game: that their single-player modes were almost cursory additions.
There’s no doubt that Battlefield: Hardline will be much more approachable for those who haven’t bought into its predecessors. But one wonders what the Battlefield hardcore will make of that. Visceral also has some work to do to prove this is a genuine cops and robbers experience, and not just Battlefield in a police uniform rather than army fatigues.
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