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Platforms: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC, 360, PS3
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: 20 March 2015
Buy Battlefield Hardline on Amazon
Battlefield is all about the multiplayer. Series creators DICE nurtured it, the fans expect it, and Hardline developer Visceral Games have been under no illusions either.
The single player portion of Hardline – despite its many flaws – is the series' best and most interesting in years. There Visceral have introduced new ideas which help Hardline stand-out as a spin-off, but difficulties in the execution prevent it from being of top quality. The same can be said of the multiplayer.
Focus has been given to five new game modes – Blood Money, Hotwire, Crosshair, Heist and Rescue - which sit alongside the requisite Team Deathmatch and Conquest, the modes that define the series. Only the latter two support 64 players, with three of the new five supporting up to 32 and the remaining two based around smaller 5 on 5 games.
Visceral's desire to stamp their authority on the franchise is clear, and these new modes succeed on a conceptual level in shaking up the Battlefield formula. For that they deserve credit, they've done as much as can be expected of them to make Hardline its own force while still being a Battlefield game.
In fact, as has been mentioned a lot since the game's release, Hardline may well have been better off not being a Battlefield game at all. Where once it seemed that Hardline's cops and robbers theme might hold back Battlefield, Visceral's ambitions have created the reverse impression.
Blood Money and Hotwire are the two modes which best blend the cops and robbers aesthetic with classic Battlefield gameplay.
In Blood Money teams fight over a pile of cash at the map's centre, then take that money back to their vault. The frantic start as players converge on the pile eventually dissipates as each team's vaults fill up and teams target each other's to raid. It's a simple capture-the-flag style premise but with a little more depth and required tactical thought.
Flying in the face of that however is Hotwire, which turns classic Battlefield mode Conquest into a fast and furious high-speed car chase in which capture points are vehicles of various sizes and speeds. The mode successfully trades on its anarchy, keeping games moving quickly around the map at the expense of much need for strategy.
However Hotwire is undone by at best rudimentary and at worst calamitous driving mechanics which are exposed with surprising regularity for an otherwise polished game. Players capture vehicles by driving at high speeds, and at these high speeds the game's physics model can't seem to handle cars crashing into each other.
Vehicles have been given less of a focus in Hardline overall but that's no excuse for Visceral making one out of seven modes centred around them and then not creating driving mechanics that are up to scratch. It's a shame because when it is working well Hotwire is great fun.
Heist is the third of the new 32-player modes. It is an asymmetrical game type in which criminals must complete a robbery in stages as the police try to whittle down their reinforcement tickets. Like Blood Money it also captures that sense of tactics Battlefield has always held over its more chaotic contemporaries and blends well with the cops and robbers theme.
Given that the police's only goal is to whittle down tickets the game is weighted in their favour as they are more likely to throw themselves into scenarios with a slim chance of survival. The criminals must be more careful in their approach so there's an imbalance here that switching sides at the end of a round doesn't do much to remedy. Police should have been given objectives of their own to, for example, make the criminal's escape more difficult. A greater sense of back and forth would improve Heist, but it remains a fun new mode.
And so we come to Rescue and Crosshair, two modes of a much smaller scale unashamedly targeting the eSports market. Each is 5 on 5 with three minute rounds and one life in a best of nine scenario. In Rescue victory can be achieved by either side through eliminating the other team, with the police also able to win by rescuing a hostage.
Crosshair meanwhile puts a player on the side of the law in the role of VIP – which gives them a big gold Desert Eagle pistol as their weapon but also makes them the focal point of each round. If the criminals kill the VIP they win, if the police eliminate the opposing team or get him to an extraction point, they win.
Each is further removed from what Battlefield is about than anything else in the game, and so are unlikely to find success on the professional gaming scene. If Battlefield were to be represented, it should really be in a style befitting what the game is about.
Imagine Counter Strike made as a mod for Battlefield? That's Rescue mode in a nutshell, which makes it seem a little pointless. The fact damage to map (which can open new paths or create obstructions) carries over from round to round is a great idea though, and adds a little meta game.
Crosshair is better, but both modes require a level of team work and patience famously hard to find in public online lobbies. Noble additions, but not modes that will live long in the memory.
Then there's Team Deathmatch and Conquest, the only modes to support 64 players. In prior Battlefield titles these modes – particularly Conquest – would be there to take full advantage of the game's large maps. However in Hardline those maps have been made with Visceral's own modes in mind, and those modes are for up to 32 players.
While the reality isn't as cramped as that makes it sound, I often found myself respawning near or even among enemies. You die quickly enough in Battlefield in those early stages without having a gun trained on you from the second you enter the game. One map in particular (Everglades) it was nigh on unplayable.
The progression system has been given a slight overhaul with cash replacing experience points to fit with the cops and robbers theme, and works essentially the same if not a little too slowly to start with.
Visceral have also made changes to load outs, removing heavier weapons and placing them on the maps. While intended to represent the shift from military to law enforcement, the unintended consequence is that helicopters are now fairly over-powered considering there aren't as many options now to take them down.
Battlefield Hardline's multiplayer mode succeeds in offering something different to previous games in the series. There are great ideas in most aspects of the new additions but everything is undermined slightly by the execution, which will prevent it from becoming a multiplayer mainstay between now and the inevitable Battlefield 5.