I'm fresh off the back of a four-hour stint with Battlefield Hardline's multiplayer mode, and I'm not quite sure what to think. On the one hand, the demo gave me a good insight into just how rich and complex the game is for an FPS, but on the other, I wasn't exactly having a lot of fun with it. And I'm trying to figure out why.
We played two modes, hotwired and heist, over three different maps. The two hotwired maps were downtown LA and Dust Bowl – an abandoned desert town – and the heist map was played in a typical financial district area surrounding a bank, which is central to the action.
Taking things from the top, Battlefield Hardline is a cops and robbers game, where the two sides face off against one another with similar, but asymmetric weaponry that gives each side a slightly different feel (think along the lines of AK-47's and Uzis versus standard police issue weapons). The game features four different classes. Operators are basically medics who carry assault weapons and gear that enable them to heal and revive teammates. Mechanics tote submachine guns, grenade launchers and repair torches that can be used to fix vehicles. Enforcers are essentially a support class that have heavy rifles and shotguns, and can carry high explosives, and lastly, Professionals are reconnaissance and fire support who wield sniper weapons and anti personnel devices.
The game also features super-destructible "levolution" mechanics from maps like Battlefield 4's Siege of Shanghai, and it's promised that most levels will see some kind of destructible elements. In the case of downtown LA, players can bring down a massive crane and destroy a portion of the map, which essentially re-routes and changes the dynamics of the level's roadways.
While the final game will feature numerous multiplayer modes – most, like conquest and team deathmatch, inspired by ones in prior Battlefield games – the two formats we played during our demo were brand new. Hotwired makes use of the game's vehicles. The point being, if you're a criminal you take cars and drive them for as long as possible to rack up points. Needless to say, the police want to shut down this joyriding, and to that end have their own range of vehicles and, of course, weapons. What transpires is basically a strange hybrid of Need for Speed and an FPS where you're constantly shooting at other vehicles, whether dynamically hanging off the side of cars, vans or bikes, or running around the complex roadway system looking for a prime spot to launch attacks from a position that's relatively safe so that you won't become instant roadkill – something that happens surprisingly often if you're not paying attention.
What I'm not sure about here is the handling of the cars. I know this is an FPS game, so it's not like there needs to be much in the way of an accurate simulation of handling dynamics, but even so. There's something inert and wooden about the way the cars steer and move. Even the engine sound and effects such as the suspension compressing when you make a big jump feel a little on the weak side. Handling is at least predictable and easy, so that's a plus, but overall the driving mechanic just isn't inherently exciting – particularly since the cars essentially shrink maps, and you end up driving around in what feels like fairly limited circles and loops.
Indeed, it's more fun sitting in a car as a passenger and hanging out of the window shooting at stuff – something that there's a lot of in this mode. That's an aspect of the game I enjoyed. It really has the feel of a classic cops 'n' robbers movie as you chase one another through the streets filling the target car with as much lead as possible.
The second mode, heist, is exactly what you'd imagine it would be. The criminals pick up bags of money from a vault (or the back of armored cars) and then have to transport them to specific points on the map so they can be picked up by helicopter. It's a quite entertaining mode, and it's all about teamwork and supporting one another – whether you're the cops or the villains.
Without getting into too much criticism – that's ultimately for the review, after all – I enjoyed the breakneck speed of Battlefield Hardline. Everything plays at quite a clip, and the speed of the action does take some getting used to. What I found was that I did suffer from numerous "WTF?" deaths where I died seemingly without warning. Of course, this is a feature in any FPS game where people can sneak up on one another, but I did notice that some ranged weapons seem to be very powerful, and you can get taken down quite easily from range, since many of the maps are open. Once I cottoned onto that, started playing the professional class (the one that comes with a sniper rifle as stock) and found a few camping spots, I found I could pick off people quite easily. It felt very old school in some respects. I'm sure once you get more used to the game and its cues, it'll be easier to avoid instant deaths, but coming in as a newbie, it's quite challenging to avoid them.
I think my slight lack of fun with the game comes off the back of playing so much Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare recently. Comparatively, Battlefield Hardline feels much faster and looser. I probably need to fiddle with the controls to get the right balance, but the sights feel a little too light and twitchy, and the reticle acceleration quite linear. COD: AW feels a little tighter, and has a bit more momentum that makes aiming and tracking easier. Battlefield Hardline is probably more accurate in terms of pinpoint precision, but its speed and handling takes a lot more getting used to.
Ultimately, Battlefield Hardline is shaping up as a very interesting multiplayer game. It's clearly going a more complex and varied route than many of its peers, and because of that will no doubt have a steeper learning curve. At least, for its more sophisticated modes. Fortunately, we'll all be able to get a good glimpse of them when the game goes into open beta on Feburary 3rd (and runs until the 8th). Apparently, anyone who's interested can sign up and play, meaning it's a great way to check out the game and see what you think.