Leaked early, Battlefield: Hardline was meant to be one of Electronic Arts' E3 2014 surprises for their press conference last week, albeit one we all expected. In the increasingly irrelevant Battlefield vs. Call of Duty competition, EA has been striving to annualize the Battlefield series much like Activision had done successfully with multiple developers working on COD installments.
After Danger Close's Medal of Honor titles both failed to win over critics or hit big sales figures, we're getting Battlefield games every year. It's so rushed now that BF4 released in a problematic, incomplete state last fall and now EA high-up are talking about offering "Early Access" to future BF games to keep rushing them out. What this means for the Battlefield formula however is that we have another developer offering another spin on the franchise, leading us to Hardline - a game that steps away from modern military combat and puts players in the boots of police and criminals.
During E3 week, EA released closed beta codes for Battlefield Hardline so they can test the game out. There's currently one map (High Tension) based in downtown Los Angeles and two modes (Heist and Blood Money) to try out, so we did and have a video of each up top and below.
Heist mode is a very fast-paced mode where the criminal team must race to blow the doors off the back of a flipped over armored truck to get the prize inside (money) and once they do, they need to bring it to an escape/extraction point to win. It's a bit of a twist on 'Rush' from previous BF games. The police must simply stop the criminals from exceeding. We have a video of that up top so you can see it in action.
The other mode, 'Blood Money' is a twist on Capture The Flag (we previewed this at E3) where there's a central location with $5 million in it and both teams much gather as much as they can and bring it back to their "vault" - an armored truck for each team. Players can try to take as much as they can hold from the central point, in increments of $100,000 up to $500,000, but they longer they sit there grabbing cash, the longer they are exposed to enemy fire and grenade spamming. You can also head directly to the enemy armored truck/vault and take money from there as well, keeping matches more dynamic than a fight over a central point.
Like Battlefield 4, Hardline also features Levolution events and for this map ('High Tension'), there's a construction crane that can be knocked down in the center of the map. As it falls, crashing through other buildings and onto the bridge, it creates a massive dust cloud that affects player vision as they battle on the streets.
As you can tell from the two embedded videos, the game's interface, maps, vehicle selection and playable classes are practically identical to BF4, even down to the progression system and weapons/attachments, with the exception of letting players use cash to purchase weapons. We couldn't get all the gadgets to work but there are those as well which haven't been in the series since the days of Battlefield 2's expansions.
The game runs smooth and feels just like Battlefield, which is good for longtime players, but our first impressions from these two modes indicate that this game doesn't aim to do much new. For a long-running franchise and the second release on PS4/Xbox One we are hoping to see more. There's no life in downtown Los Angeles, making it feel like it's not a real city. Because the interface and mechanics are so similar to BF4 it's understandable to see players in-chat asking why this isn't simply an expansion or DLC for last year's installment - and it's a fair point if we didn't already know that Visceral Games is focusing heavily on delivering big on the single player campaign of the game, something DICE's last two installments didn't impress with.
Our first impressions from playing a few hours of Battlefield: Hardline are that it's - first and foremost - fun, but it does feel like a mod/map pack/total conversion of Battlefield 4 and we need to see a lot more to justify a full retail price tag (and the obligatory premium/DLC offerings) so soon after BF4 when DLC is still releasing for that game. While the players are dressed as cops and robbers, the game is built around over-the-top army warfare. Make no mistake, this is nothing like crafting and executing a heist in the Payday games. There's still however, something special about playing Battlefield with friends and working together using vehicles to hatch plans and utilize vehicles to complete objectives so we're at least curious to see what other new modes and features Hardline will deliver.
Battlefield Hardline releases October 21, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.