Battlefield Hardline's announcement was near-perfect. At E3 last year EA showed off a short trailer, a sizeable amount of gameplay footage, and kicked off an open beta that same day - what more could we ask for? The problem was the timing.
Battlefield 4 was eight months old and had been plagued with problems, yet here was EA trying to sell a new Battlefield game. The beta didn't help public opinion either. It worked fine but there wasn't much in the way of progression over the game already available. Replacing soldiers with cops and robbers only goes so far.
Initially set for a late 2014 release the game was eventually delayed, giving developers Visceral Games - taking the reins from DICE - some time to refocus their spin-off into something more individual. Now they're ready to show their work off once again with another open beta.
Three maps and three modes are available, two of each being new to this beta. IBTimes UK was lucky enough to put the beta content through its paces, and here's what we thought.
Visceral are clearly striving to provide something different from the militarised Battlefield, and in many ways they have succeeded, on an obvious surface level, but also in smaller ways.
Two new modes – Hotwire and Heist – are available to play here, as well as the classic Conquest mode, on three maps: Downtown (seen in the last beta), Dust Bowl, and Bank Job. Hotwire and Conquest can only be played on the first two maps, while Heist can only be played on Bank Job.
Hotwire is a blast, and has improved greatly over what was available to the public at Gamescom in August. Across the map are five vehicles that each team is competing to control. These act in much the same way as classic Battlefield capture points but must be driven at speed for the capture to start depleting your opponents' reserve of lives.
The ensuing chaos feels fresh for the series, and clearly adheres to one of the three S's (no, not those three S's) Visceral told us have been at the core of their development: Speed, story, and strategy. Hardline feels like a faster game than previous entries in the series, and that fits the cops and robbers feel.
Increasing the gains for going faster and sharing captured vehicles with teammates also helps steer the gameplay toward its intended vehicular warfare. The maps also ensure that players can't make progress away from the action.
If there's a problem, it's the car handling. Battlefield has always prided itself on its vehicles, but the handling of a muscle car differs greatly to that of a heavy duty infantry carrier. At the top speeds these mechanics are put under some strain and can come unstuck on occasion.
Heist meanwhile is a focused asymmetric mode tasking criminals with cracking a vault before attempting their escape as the police aim to stop them. Deliberately and obviously evoking the famous shoot out scene in Michael Mann's Heat, the majority of Heist's action takes place in its final stage as the police aim to protect the criminal's escape routes and deplete their numbers.
The map itself was clearly designed for this mode in particular, and offers plenty of variation, with players able to attack the vault from multiple angles, and the two escape points (where the vault's cash must be taken) splitting the action nicely.
In practice however it felt all too easy for the police to win through sheer stubbornness. With an unlimited amount of lives behind them there was little need for tactical thought when simply swarming the problem would be enough.
In the heat of the fight it remained fun in that classic Battlefield style, and the Heat comparisons are just and satisfying. Like Hotwire but not quite to the same extent, it was an inventive new mode making good use of classic Battlefield tropes.
Equipped for task
Visceral's efforts to differentiate the game go further than new, speedier modes. Feedback from the first beta led to the developers creating initial load-outs with a focus on lighter weaponry, more in keeping with what the police might have (as timely and scary as that thought is).
Heavy weapons aren't gone completely, instead they come as drops on the map to be fought over. Other changes are smaller: squad commanders are now "hackers" who are able to influence the map in new ways, and taking someone down with a melee kill now makes it possible to interrogate them, which reveals enemy locations.
A new upgrade system also uses cash as currency and allows players to select which weapons they wish to add to their arsenal rather than unlocking them in a set order. Such choice should be mandatory.
EA's so-called "levolution" also returns. Introduced in BF4 these are events that change the map in some large way. In Hardline's Downtown, there's a large crane that can be toppled, and in Dustbowl there's a sand storm that appears at random to drastically reduce visibility.
Visceral have also introduced smaller scale examples of levolution. On Bank Job a roof vent can be blown up to gain access to the bank's vault, and on Downtown parts of the highway overpass can be collapsed to create ramps between two roads.
After its announcement Hardline was justifiably labelled "glorified DLC". On the evidence of this beta, Visceral have done all they can to dispel that notion. The three new modes we've seen (Blood Money was in the first beta) provide an interesting, more playful take on the Battlefield formula without changing things drastically. It is a spin-off after all, not a reboot.
If Hardline's other new multiplayer modes – focused e-sport hopefuls Crosshair and Rescue – can match Blood Money, Hotwire and Heist, and the single player proves to be as robust as it appears, then Visceral's mission to make Hardline the individual and proud cousin of DICE's mainline game looks to be complete.
Battlefield Hardline will be released on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on 17 March.