Transferring the long-running Battlefield series from military combat to law enforcement was always going to be a challenge for former Dead Space developer, Visceral Games. Set in Miami amid a major drugs war, Hardline does away with the aircraft, heavy weapons and infantry soldiers of previous titles in favour of a super-charged cops vs robbers narrative.
Already there is controversy surrounding the game’s themes and setting – the glamorisation of militarised police forces in the wake of Ferguson is a major talking point – and one we’ll be coming back to.
But in pure gameplay terms, the big question for the multiplayer component was always going to be balance. This is now an asymmetrical urban warzone, with police and criminals sporting different equipment and skills. Can it provide the same sharp, seamless online experience as its predecessors?
Pro-gamer Ben Perkin recently got time with a range of the game’s seven multiplayer modes. Here are the five most interesting features he picked out.
Cops and robbers
Hardline is essentially like playing cops and robbers when you were a kid – just with more of a tactical edge. And bigger explosions. At the start of each game you’re assigned to one of the two groups, each with different objectives. In “Crosshair”, for example, the cops have to get a VIP to the extraction zone without the criminals assassinating him en route, while in “Heist”, the crims need to break into a bank vault, steal the packages and take them to an extraction point. It’s up to the cops to stop this from happening.
It’s likely that Heist will be the star of the multiplayer beta, kicking off later in the month. For the thieves, it’s all about using close-quarter weapons like the P90 submachine gun and sawn off shotguns to deal with close engagements within the bank. New gadgets like the grapple hook allow access to the rooftop – which is one route into the vault. Once the safe is open, criminals chuck smoke grenades for cover, grab the packages and rush for the extraction point located on the top floor of a car park opposite the bank. In our game, we placed snipers on rooftops to provide cover, and I was able to use my zip line gadget to abseil straight up to the car park, handily avoiding the entire firefight and reaching the extraction point to the win the game.
For the police, it’s all about preventing the criminals from gaining access to that vault. Here, assault rifles such as the M16A3 come into play as cops take control of the surrounding rooftops, providing a clear line of sight on all the bank entances. Within the building, we found it was best to equip with shotguns such as the 870P Marine Magnum which give good control within the short corridors near vault. The conditions can quickly change though: in one bout, we were holding the building interior when the criminals breached from the rooftop, causing the ceiling to collapse in on us; the enemy rushing in through the smoke and debris. Exciting stuff.
Tactical warfareBattlefield has always been about effective teamwork, but in Hardline that won’t involve rolling a convoy of tanks into the enemy base. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it encourages more gun on gun action, which creates a far more intense and close up experience compared to other titles in the series.
As a professional gamer, I’m always looking at how to get the upper hand on my opposition, whether that’s in terms of positioning or equipment. In one game of Conquest (the classic Battlefield mode which involves capturing and holding a series of bases) on the Dust Bowl map, I was playing as an “Operator”, effectively the team medic. Using the grappling hook as my choice of gadget, I was able to get onto the rooftop of a building, which would not usually be accessible, instantly gaving me an aerial advantage over any opponents trying to take control of the objective. I was also able to assist the rest of my team by calling out and marking enemies I could see from my elevated position.
As with previous Battlefield titles, there’s a huge amount of weapon customisation available, with a variety of optics, barrels and attachments for different tactical uses. I reconfigure a lot. In one game of Heist, for example, I was using the M16A3 playing as the police controlling the outside of the bank from a rooftop. I started with an ACOG scope for increased range, but as the game progressed and firefights were breaking out, I swapped to a red dot sight, which is more effective at closer ranges allowing me to gain control of the engagements.
The mandatory car chase scene
The Hotwire mode is Hardline’s answer to epic Hollywood car chases - it’s fast, intuitive and once again requires extreme teamwork in order to ensure victory.
The criminals are out to steal a selection of marked cars, while the cops have to repossess them. Points are earned by driving at high speed, which in turn leads to ridiculous car chases where opponents are trying to take each other out with rocket-propelled grenades while smashing into each other’s vehicles.
It’s going to be a really exciting mode for competitive play because there are so many different tactics available to criminals when they’ve captured the numerous marked cars. They could run as a convey making it easier to cover each other during high-speed chases, but they could use other vehicles to block key roads after the marked cars have past by, allowing them to evade the police and build higher scores. Once again, teamwork is crucial for success.
Everything falls apart
Battlefield 4’s dynamic environment system – Levolution – returns in Hardline, providing a series of massive set-piece events. On the Downtown map, you can take out three of the four supporting legs n a construction crane to bring it crashing down to Earth, sending debris flying everywhere. This happened for me for the first time during a game of Hotwire, and truly creates one of those Hollywood action flick moments. On the Dustbowl map, a huge sandstorm kicks in mid-game, severely reducing visibility and requiring you to get up close and personal with your enemies. It’s fun, but it also forces you to constantly evolve your gameplay.
The way of the gun
One of the most impressive features of Battlefield: Hardline is the weapon feel. Compared to previous titles in the series, where guns are a little bit clunky at times compared to Call of Duty, they’re smooth and fun to use. Staples like the M16A1 and UMP-45 are well implemented, complete with a red dot sight, stubby grip and extended magazines, while there are interesting newcomers such as the R0933 carbine, which is awesome up close and has a impressive 800rpm fire rate, and the R700LTR sniper rifle, which has a higher fire rate than most traditional bolt action snipers, though a lower bullet velocity which makes it harder to hit enemies at long range.
Using the taser is a lot of fun, too - it has a short range, but it allows you to interrogate your target revealing all enemy positions on the map to you and your team.
Choosing the right equipment for each mode is one of the most important elements of professional gaming. Battlefield: Hardline offers hundreds of customisation options, including several different optics to suit different map ranges and various grips and barrels to prepare for contrasting engagement styles. In comparison, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has far less customisation available. Like its predcessors, Hardline is shaping up to be a far more strategic alternative to the standard “arcade” FPS where fast and flexible equipment choices will allow you to excel as a team player, whether you’re on the side of the law or against it.
This article was written by Ben Perkin, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 4th February 2015 06.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010