Battlefield Hardline Preview

How many totally new games have you played in the past year?

Brand new gaming mechanics, rulesets, and methods don’t materialize as often as we’d like in this industry or those gaming trends that may decorate comic book shops on Friday nights filled with people. New board games, new card games, new video games don’t often change things up as drastically as I want them to. Time often keeps us stuck in the loops that drive learning, but only in equal parts boredom. Try your best to identify Battlefield fanatics who don't feel the same about Conquest or Rush after a lengthy play session.

Thankfully, Battlefield Hardline actually introduces quite a few new game modes and each offers something truly alternative to classic standards. With the title’s focus shifting to the narrative-leaning cops and robbers conflict, it seems obvious that the formula had to evolve. It’d only be a few hours with the game at the Electronic Arts corporate headquarters that got me on-board riding an armored SUV and stealing loot.

While we previously got to play Battlefield Hardline at E3, replete with a Disneyland-esque line weaving through a faux police headquarters and out into a 64-player booth space, January’s event proved tame and largely friendly. Before the multiplayer expanded the lobby from 32 to 64, we got to play two different modes focused on pushing players into action as fast as possible. Most of Hardline’s maps are smaller than those you’d find in Battlefield 4, though its objective types seemed to fling squads into combat faster and faster too.

Bank Heist challenges robbers to blow open parts of an enclosed map, steal loot, and make it to an extraction point while cops have to defend both vaults and exits to keep the money. This doesn’t play to the sensibility that you’re scoring points for every dollar stolen or earned, but it does turn what could be the equivalent of a capture point into a meat grinder. Rushing to steal from a vault may put your robber squad at a disadvantage as these points were easier to get to from the cops side. The same can be said for extraction scenarios where players will find that open space makes defense a huge struggle.

I tried my best to pick off robbers as they waited for a chopper to appear and leave with collected loot, but riot-shield toting crooks defended well. Rather than play to the objective, I tried to give Hardline my best operator by reviving, issuing med-packs, and providing suppressive fire. Team play ultimately makes for the best experience in Battlefield and that’s true in Hardline’s fairly well balanced classes. I dislike games that don’t give the player an option to do anything other than shoot and Battlefield 3 remains one of the best shooters (in my humble opinion) because of its overcoming this.

After Bank Heist, we moved to Hotwire. This mode asks the player to race to “hot” vehicles, potentially loaded with dough or weaponry, though you’ll rely on your kits for firepower even when behind the wheel of a particularly desirable big-rig. I leapt from transport helicopters in order to capture vehicles, but driving around for an entire match will get boring if you don’t have friends along for the ride. Hotwire still proved itself my favorite new mode, at least of those we got to play at the event.

Where Conquest offers five static control points, Hotwire dynamically pushes groups of players toward objective combat in order to frenetically build on Battlefield’s vehicular history. Tanks, jeeps, and even dirt bikes have played an integral role in maintaining the franchise’s popularity and the sedans, oil tankers, and sports coups of Battlefield Hardline become the stars in Hotwire.

Getting players to change their focus like that doesn’t always work the way developers want it to, but Hardline’s large orange and blue HUD markers keep a laser sight on this element of gameplay largely ignored by skilled snipers or dedicated demolitions experts. It’d be something like Call of Duty focusing on a game mode where all you do is pilot the big bird in the sky and fire on opponents with abandon. Instead, Battlefield’s driving mechanics get polished and players get to run each other over. At one point, I used a motorcycle to careen towards one of Hotwire’s in-demand vehicles.

I weaved around police cruisers and some rubble to pull closer towards a garage behind a larger bank and vault. Just as I was about to pull into the parking structure, I saw an opponent exit cover from behind a wall. Jamming the 'E' key on my keyboard allowed me to hop off the bike and watch as the motorcycle gently crushed my opponent. That’s not typical of objective play in Hotwire because the bikes themselves aren’t marked as such, but turning a criminal into roadkill while you’re keeping him or her from stealing a vehicle feels satisfying as ever.

After an interview with Visceral and EA’s Steve Papoutsis, which we’ll run separately featuring discussion as to how the team split with DICE’s vision of Battlefield for Hardline, we got to business in general Conquest Large gameplay. I used this time to get a better feel for loadouts, weapon accessories, and a particular map featuring a large dust storm. While a sniper rifle worked wonders on enemies pouring out of B, jutting out on top of a hill to the East, and assault rifle gunplay worked well clearing enemies from a Meth Lab to the West, I was impressed by how destruction stepped back for environmental effect.

Rather than strictly blowing up huge structures and toppling all that material onto a map, this inherently rough weather kicked up huge clouds to hamper visibility and generally slowed vehicle play. Capture points gave little shelter towards the end of these matches and ultimately it felt like a new twist on game progression even with fully one-sided victories. I’ll be interested to see how game modes are affected by other map transitions like this.

Part of me is exhausted by the Battlefield franchise in the worst way. It’s not nearly as repetitive as Call of Duty’s single-player campaigns or some branded shooters with little in the way of actual genre development. It’s not even that Battlefield has jumped sharks or that its player base demands dinosaurs. I think it’s more to do with the fact that some player behaviors have only gotten more predictable. There’s always that one extremely talented sniper or tank driver. There’s always someone camping a central objective or blowing both Rush points because they’re a boss or an expert or whatever. Battlefield Hardline hopes to do the opposite and disrupt that kind of programmed monotony. I hope it succeeds and that players respond too.

Battlefield: Hardline releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 on March 17, 2015.