Update: Joshua Vanderwall
As we divvied up the EA booth tour, it was apparent that neither of us was particularly well suited to covering a shooter, but I have, at the least, played them fairly extensively, regardless of whether that’s apparent when I play. I volunteered to cover Battlefield Hardline, so I hopped in line.
After being ushered into a mock police station – complete with an animated smoked glass window into an interrogation room – and detained there for 20 minutes or so, we were corralled into the demo area. A couple dozen fans and journalists donned headsets, grabbed controllers, and dove into the action.
I had no idea what to expect from the classes, so I just picked randomly at first, ending up with a sniper rifle and a pistol. I was apparently playing as the cops, and the robbers were clearly the dominant force in this match. The criminals immediately threatened the vault, grabbed the loot, and murdered their way onto the streets. We boys in blue rallied and pushed back, at least for a few minutes. I was painfully outmatched – despite having a sniper rifle, SMGs were taking me out from across streets and bridges – so I switched classes until I found an SMG.
I finally hit my stride and managed to take down a couple of the criminals before they escaped with the loot and ended the match. It was exciting in familiar ways, but didn’t really leave me feeling like I’d just played anything other than Battlefield. The cops and robbers motif isn’t really driven home in a single match, although perhaps with more extensive hands-on time, it would have been more obvious.
To me, it felt like a typical objective based match in any multiplayer shooter. Sure, it wasn’t Team Deathmatch, which I can appreciate, but it wasn’t anything all that novel either; at least not from the cops’ perspective. If you just want another Battlefield, Hardline should satisfy you quite well, but if you’re looking for something really new and innovative, it’s probably worth checking out the beta and deciding for yourself. From where I stand, though, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.
Battlefield Hardline‘s beta will release today for PS4 owners.
When it comes to multiplayer shooters, Activision has been king with its Call of Duty series for a while. Competitor Electronic Arts has had flashes of success with Battlefield – as Justin Clouse has said, it’s the only game with crazy vehicular stunts happening fairly regularly – but last year’s Battlefield 4 multiplayer was plagued by connection issues. After Dead Space 3 famously failed to sell the 5 million copies needed to sustain investment from EA, Visceral Games was left with a substantial team without a franchise of their own. All of that seems to have combined to create the circumstances behind Battlefield Hardline. As all of the leaked trailers have indicated, it’s a full game with a focus on a modern urban battlefield between highly armed criminals fighting against the police. I got to play a few multiplayer matches against my fellow journalists at the pre-E3 event in May, and I can report that it feels like Battlefield skinned to feel a bit like Grand Theft Auto V. For better or worse.
But before I get into more of my first impressions of the multiplayer, how the heck did the game like this come about? Well, it didn’t come from the corporate overlords of EA as you might think. According to a revelation at an informal fireside chat during the Pre-E3 event in Santa Monica in May, a chance meeting at a bar in Barcelona, Spain spawned the concept for Battlefield Hardline. “About two and a half years ago I met a guy named Karl Magnus Troedsson,” said Steve Papoutsis, general manager of Visceral, about the DICE GM. “We were excited to meet each other because we were real big fans of each other’s games. He was a big Dead Space fan, I was a huge Battlefield fan, so we just started talking.
“There was just this mutual exuberance about what our teams had been able to make that just started snowballing into this crazy conversation and it became, ‘Hey, you know what would be really cool is if we could take the great sandbox experience that is Battlefield but kind of make it different,'” he continued. “Take that great only-in-Battlefield mayhem that you have and infuse it with something different, something that was very visceral, something our team would make.”
That’s Visceral Games, being all visceral. And lo, Battlfield Hardline was born.
Although DICE will have input on the game, this is clearly Visceral’s baby. A couple of lead designers from the team at Visceral Games stood up to tell us more about it. The combat will focus on modern day in an urban setting that feels very much like downtown Los Angeles. “The cops and criminals fantasy is much more about relatable places. Places that you and I know,” said Ian Milham, Creative Director at Visceral. “Instead of just spotting a bad guy super far away and immediately opening fire, it’s a lot more about having [a dialogue]. They yell at each other, they talk it’s a lot, “You’re never gonna get me!” That kind of feeling.”
There will be a single player campaign, but we didn’t hear very much about it. “We have some really cool ideas with the singleplayer and I think this is an opportunity for this genre to move forward.” said Milham. Hardline is clearly inspired by depictions of crime in popular culture, as seen in the picture Milham Tweeted of the wall of “cool cops and criminals” at Visceral.
The focus of our demonstration was all about the multiplayer. Instead of going on too much about it in a boring presentation, we were allowed to get into the game and test it out playing against our fellow journalists. It’s a team-based game, with cops trying to thwart the criminals. We played two different game modes – Blood Money and Heist – which abandon the whole deathmatch mentality. They are both about bring money bags to various locations on the map; kills are a secondary objective. I found that both offered a focus for movement and coordination with teammates, but it does get a little strange when the goal is watching status bars move instead of shooting a gun or throwing a grenade.
As you might know from the leaked trailers and the official teaser above, there are four classes for both the cops and criminals factions – operator, mechanic, enforcer and professional. It does feel a bit odd that law enforcement and the criminals have the same archetypes – that’s something I hope Visceral changes in development. For a game that’s about crime fantasy wish-fulfillment, I don’t know many cops that want to be mechanics, or criminals who want to enforce any laws. In truth, the classes match up pretty closely to Battlefield‘s, although the loadouts and gadgets available have been modernized.
“We’ve got improved mobility options, like the grappling hook gun that allows you to scale buildings or the zip-line crossbow that allows you to cross that gulf between two high buildings. Of course, we got cop-specific gear that’s really in the fantasy like ballistic shields and tear gas and gas masks. Flash bangs, tasers, Molotov cocktails. If you can think about it in terms of a relatable, modern cops and robbers fantasy, hopefully we’re nailing it here with all these gadgets,” said Thaddeus Sasser, lead designer on the multiplayer of Hardline.
As I said, the maps we played were urban, with roadways, tall skyscrapers, parking garages and bank lobbies all providing ample cover and interesting locations for firefights. It was a lot of fun running with a group of criminals to get to our destination and defending against the cops, and more than once I drove a huge tanker truck into a blockade of police vehicles just for the delight of it. The streets are littered with vehicles. You can get into some of the cars, SUVs and trucks, creating all kinds of mayhem as you drive them into your adversaries, but not all of the vehicles are controllable, which leads to some frustrating moments. If I see a car, I want to drive it.
I briefly chatted with Steve Papouutsis after my session, and he said the visual feedback for which vehicles are driveable is still something Visceral is working on. He didn’t seem that surprised I had a complaint about it; the studio is aware it’s a problem.
In general, the multiplayer of Battlefield Hardline feels polished and near feature-complete. There was even an interesting TV news report lead-in which framed the action as something that could occur in the real world. I’m still not convinced it’s radically different from the Battlefield you may be familiar with, but I’m happy to see the end of gritty military shooters.
So is Visceral Games. “It felt like I had enough ‘Oscar Mikes’ and ‘Tango downs’ to fill me up for a while,” said Milham. “It felt like games we were getting real serious. Lots of grizzled voiced heroes fighting Russian generals who had their own private army who were going to take over and why would the military be doing all that?” Is that a dig at Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare?
“I just want to make a game that pays off on good times and back yard fantasies,” continued Milham. “As a criminal, I want to rob banks. But I don’t want to take over the world, and I want to have a good cause at heart. When I think about a cop fantasy that I can have fun with, I want to be a cop who doesn’t play by the rules. I want to get yelled at by my Captain. I want to do ‘whoop’ with the siren. I want to use the word ‘perp.'”
Come October 2014, and you’ll be able to say “perp” too when Battlefield: Hardline releases on the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and PC.