Battlefield: Hardline takes multiplayer shooters away from the military and into civilian territory – but not much else has changed. This is probably good news.
“What really differentiates Hardline from other shooters are the vehicles, which are accessible, numerous, and easy to handle.”
EA held a Battlefield Hardline preview event at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney, and as I was rocking up a small group of state police officers filed out, laughing and joking.
Chatting with PR staff inside, I learned that the police had swung by and asked about the event – there were signs up around the venue – and come in to chat about it. They’d shown enthusiasm for the game, saying they’d like to play it, and EA had said it might send a few copies over to them at launch.
This surprised the heck out of me because I forget that police are real people who play video games. Police violence is a hot political topic at the moment, and I would have thought cops would be anxious to distance themselves from anything which might be perceived to glorify the extremes of the job rather than the community outreach, patient investigations, and general public service miasma that is the bulk of it.
But it turns out Hardline is to gritty, grim police action pretty much what Fireman Sam is to emergency services work: silly, playful, colourful and about as realistic as a whoopee cushion. It’s very hard to get offended or have political thoughts about it, because it is ridiculous nonsense of the highest order.
In other words, it is an accessible multiplayer first-person shooter, and police officers like that as much as anyone.
Battlefield Hardline is a video game, and most video games are ridiculous. I know some of you hate hearing that, but it doesn’t make it any less true: the majority of triple-A video games are the equivalent of big brash summer action flicks, or mindless, high-octane TV dramas. That’s not a bad thing to be; if it were, the industry wouldn’t be the multi-billion dollar affair it patently is, and the box office would report quite different results each week.
So Battlefield Hardline is ridiculous, and that’s okay. It’s not a slow, tactical SWAT simulation requiring strategy, communication and thought (although of course these things will help you a great deal). It is instead a multiplayer shooter where you respawn shortly after death, soak up a certain amount of damage before dying, can recover your health, and have access to a preposterous amount of weaponry in such a small space. Just like all those other ones, then.
What really differentiates Hardline from other shooters (and even from other Battlefields, despite their own reputation in this field) are the vehicles, which are accessible, numerous, and easy to handle. Probably this is because “speed” is one of the core design pillars of Hardline, according to senior producer Scott Probst.
“This is the fastest Battlefield yet,” he said. Players “get into the game faster, get into combat faster, and start making their presence felt faster”.
This is absolutely true. Despite Battlefield’s reputation as a more hardcore military sim than rival Call of Duty, this is no ArmA or Red Orchestra. This is pure PvP chaos.
The maps I saw weren’t huge, but they weren’t tiny either, and getting from one side to the other on foot took a while. To combat this, players spawn next to or even inside one of a constantly replenished pool of vehicles, allowing them to be in the action moments later.
Some modes favour this approach more than others – Hotwire, for example, which is all about getting to and then controlling or taking down vehicles – but it’s hard to argue with the easy availability of shortcuts into the action.
Of course, you can always spawn with your squaddies, and there will be plenty of times where this is advisable (and very welcome if you’re zipping around in a muscle car and need someone to ride shotgun). But even then, you need to get around, and to get around fast, and the vehicles really make the game feel different to competing shooters.
In fact, Hotwire didn’t feel so much like a shooter to me at all. I’m rubbish at competitive shooters, so my experience isn’t standard, but I fount Hotwire mode the most interesting because I was able to contribute more to the team’s efforts. After some adjustment to the in-car first-person view (and subsequent difficulties of near invisible knee-high obstacles) I had a great time careening around the map.
I preferred Downtown to Dust Bowl. The former is a city map with various ramps, overpasses, car parks and towers, with plenty of nooks and crannies for enterprising pedestrians but some great tense driving sequences. The latter is a desert town, largely flat but impossible to take shortcuts through thanks to frustratingly sturdy concrete fences (which you often can’t vault; I wish I knew how the grapple worked).
“What really struck me about Battlefield Hardline during my brief play was how much more it fit my mental image of what GTA: Online should have been.”
On both maps I spent as much time in a vehicle as possible, and not just because that’s the point of Hotwire. Even more than when I was in control of a vehicle, racking up points, I felt like a target on foot. I couldn’t take many hits to myself or my vehicle before I’d go down, but on foot I was far more vulnerable despite being more visible – I couldn’t just hammer the accelerator to escape nasty situations.
There were occasions where I’d stupidly drive into a corner and end up pinned down and wiped out by a group of players on boot, but in general, apart from rocket launchers and grenade launchers, pedestrians didn’t strike fear into my heart. They struck paste on my tires. “Grand Theft Battlefield,” I thought to myself. And also, “Christ, that joke needs work.”
Siege mode required rather more on-foot work which I didn’t enjoy as much, but your mileage will definitely vary; I was quite a lot happier when the baddies stole our vault full of goodies as it meant we could go outside, out of the maze of twisting corridors where on-squad spawning meant we racked up dozens of cheap and confusing deaths in bare moments. Outside, you could run the man with the bag over. It was interesting to see how much play varied between the two stages of the heist.
I was playing with a large group of games media and some of them were very good shooter players indeed, so naturally I spent a lot of time dead and annoyed. My personal assessment of how Hardline plays is therefore less valuable to you, perhaps, than the knowledge that these hardened veterans would regularly break into whoops, exclamations of satisfaction or outrage, peals of laughter and other general excitement at all the ridiculous stuff happening in matches.
What really struck me about Battlefield Hardline during my brief play was how much more it fit my mental image of what GTA: Online should have been. All power to GTA 5, but it’s Rockstar’s first attempt at a decent persistent multiplayer suite, and its chugging matchmaking and unbearable grind show that. It’s not the sort of thing where you just jump online and start hooning around capping fools and sharing those sorts of insane moments (landing a motorcycle on a tanker, dismounting, dropping a pack of C4 as you fall off, blowing you both up into smithereens, then watching in astonishment as a helicopter lands on the smoking ruin and three other players have a head-on collision pile up trying to avoid the debris).
Battlefield Hardline, on the other hand, delivers those moments quickly and satisfyingly. Whether its campaign lives up to Visceral’s reputation for character-driven story-telling and rescues Battlefield’s poor reputation in that regard we are yet to discover. But there’s little doubt about the multiplayer (assuming it works at launch of course, a caveat we have to insert these days, much to everybody’s shame). DICE and Visceral together have made a video game. You’re cops, instead of soldiers or gang members, but there’s no doubt: this is a video game.