Battlefield Hardline Beta Impressions: $60 of an Expansion Pack

battlefield-hardline-headerI know that it’s been a few weeks since the Battlefield Hardline beta has wrapped up but I think I’ve documented (either here or on The Lowdown) how busy I was during the month of June. Now that I’ve finally got a little bit of free time, I’m going to start pumping out reviews and other long-form pieces with a bit more frequency.

So let’s start with the beta for Battlefield Hardline. It was launched with great fanfare at the end of EA’s E3 keynote and was so popular that the Battlefield website crashed as people tried to get into the Beta. With all that hype, it would be hard for BF Hardline to live up to it. And, wouldn’t you know it, Hardline didn’t live up to the hype.

On the surface, Battlefield Hardline is cops and robbers in video game form. We all played it as kids and now we can played it as adults (assuming that you adhere to the likely ESRB rating of M [17+]). Trailers seem to show that the single-player mode puts you in the shoes of an LA cop trying to take down a crime syndicate in something that appears to be NCIS: LA (the cop show that seems to be the farthest from being a realistic cop show while still featuring law enforcement) on steroids.

It wasn’t the single-player campaign that was demoed in the beta but two of the four announced multiplayer modes. The two modes were Blood Money and Heist. The other two modes were Hotwire Mode, which sounds like a high-speed chase mode, and Rescue, which involves the rescuing of hostages.

Let’s start with Heist. This was the game mode demoed by EA at the E3 press conference. The criminals have to break packages out of two armoured trucks and take them to designated extraction points.

While it looks unique and tactical in the professionally played demonstration at E3, in practice, it degenerates into a glorified deathmatch. The objective often seems secondary to everyone and if one of the criminals sneak off with the package, few of the cops are generally too interested in chasing it down. Fewer of the crims are interested in support either.

battlefield-hardline-beta-screenshot-01I’d tell you how it plays out but my experience is that a couple of people on either side go to the truck at the start of the match and stand around while countdown times run down until the truck is opened or secured. If the package is stolen and the carrier killed, the cops have to stand around it for a timer to countdown to secure the package. If any criminal team I was on could sit through the timers to extract the packages, I’d tell you how that plays out but no one cared enough about the objective for that to happen. Only once did the criminals extract both packages in a Heist game I played.

Most of the time, people would charge into the middle of a battle on the streets, shoot at anything in sight and do the objective later. When I said that it degenerates into a deathmatch, that actually is something that cops want to happen. Unlike the police, the criminals are on the standard Battlefield respawn ticket system so the team has limited collective respawns. When the game turns into a deathmatch (not if), it favours the cops.

The whole mode seems to be a bit out of balance in my experience. The cops have a few ways to win the game though killing enough criminals, securing the armoured trucks before they can be broken into and securing packages after they’re extracted from the trucks. Criminals can only win if they extract each of the two packages. There’s a reason why the criminals won one game out of the dozen-plus Heist games I played during the beta.

Either the win conditions for the cops have to be made harder or the criminals have to have their lives made easier. Eliminating the respawn tickets is a quick first step. Giving a timer advantage to the criminals balances out their two of two win condition or adding the possibility of a draw and rematch would be quick fixes to Heist. I think that it would be ideal for two equally skilled teams to have their win rates balance out to 50% over time. In my experience, it’s nowhere close to even.

battlefield-hardline-beta-screenshot-02The other demoed mode was Blood Money which is the better of the two modes. In this, you and your team of up to 16 players have to steal money from a pile at the centre of the map and return it to their vault. You can also raid the other team’s vault to steal the money they recovered. The winning team is the first to $5 million (fairly easy when you can carry up to $500,000 at a time yourself) or the team with the most money when time expires.

Unlike Heist, Blood Money saw players actually try to play the objectives. Players were going in groups to the central money pile, doing pincer moves on the opposing team’s vault and leaving vehicles near the money piles to use as spawning points to expedite assaults on the money piles. The focus was on increasing the money in your team’s vault or stopping the other team from winning rather than pointless shooting.

The reason I liked Blood Money more is  that, while it seems like a reworked Capture the Flag mode, the fact that people didn’t treat it as a deathmatch made it feel like the superior game mode. While Heist might be the flagship game mode for EA in the game’s marketing, as it stands, Blood Money is the game mode that I want to keep coming back to. It’s fast, it’s fun and it’s competitive. If Hardline makes the jump to eSports, this should be the mode that’s played.

battlefield-hardline-beta-screenshot-03One thing that confuses me about Hardline is that for a game about cops and robbers and set in Los Angeles, this game sure seems like a reskin of Battlefield 4. For some reason, everyone has access to military grade weaponry. There are helicopters with military grade miniguns, RPGs, snipers, automatic assault rifles, grenades and more. Maybe that’s level of weaponry is standard in America but I don’t think Canadian police wouldn’t be issued with anything more than handguns, shotguns and tazers.

And for a game about police, arrests seem so inconsequential. To arrest a criminal, you have to melee them from behind to arrest them. The problem is that there is no benefit to doing that rather than going up behind a crim and shooting them in the back of the head point-blank. An arrest should be worth double the respawn time or, if DICE and Visceral insist upon keeping the ticket respawn system, two respawn tickets. There should be a benefit for being able to pull that off given that it’s a police game.

From a technical standpoint, I didn’t notice any real problems with running the game. There were a couple of instances where the game executable wouldn’t launch from the weird web menu and once where I got stuck in the loading screen but I didn’t crash out of the game or see many issues with the framerate outside of looking right at the collapsing crane “levolution.” It’s almost sad that Hardline’s beta probably runs better than the full retail release of Battlefield 4.

battlefield-hardline-beta-screenshot-04It’s not quite perfect, though. Vaulting cover seems more like climbing onto cover and running over it which is dangerous in a firefight. The in-game menus are disastrous with no actual main menu so all your options are controlled through the standard pause menu. You don’t even get to set your options when you first open your game. For me, that mean running the game in windowed 1280 x 720 until I could die and delay respawning by a while until I could change my visual options. And character and loadout customization is better done in the web browser menu than in-game because the menu is so confusing that you need the extra time to figure it out.

However, the real problem with Hardline is that it doesn’t really do anything new or interesting for the genre. Even the supposedly unique gamemodes turn into team deathmatches. The weapons seem pulled from BF4 too. It looks and feels like a cleaned-up expansion pack for Battlefield 4 rather than an evolution of the Battlefield franchise let alone a new experience.

And this will all be yours in October for $60. For a game that looks and plays like a (working) reskinned Battlefield game, doesn’t that sound a bit steep? This seems like something that could be added onto Battlefield 4 and called an expansion pack. I think that someone in sales and marketing took one look at that plan and said that selling it as a standalone release at $60 will bring in more money than as a $30 expansion pack or a budget standalone release.

The problem with a franchise that goes annual, even if its taken care of by multiple devs like COD, is that they tend to stagnate. If there’s one word that you can use to summarize all the complaints as more of the same from Battlefield.

While one could certainly say that the Payday franchise is cops and robbers, BF Hardline is closer to standard Battlefield fare with a pinch of cops and robbers to change up the flavour ever so slightly. I get the feeling this will turn out like another famous recipe change. Based on popular opinion during the beta, Battlefield Hardline could end up being Battlefield New Coke. Well, there’s still Battlefront to look forward to.

The Battlefield Hardline beta was reviewed on PC but was also available on PS4. The game will also be available on Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.  The impressions of the game as written do not necessarily represent the state of the game at final release. Your impression of the game may differ based on platform played on, PC specs, Battlefield franchise experience and what you think cops and robbers should be.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on July 8, 2014, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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