"I expect to learn at least a few new curse words today."
The location may be EA's Guilford offices in the UK, but it's a wave of American accents that greet us as U.S outfit Visceral Games and their latest effort greet us. The accents odder still, this being the first major Battlefield title developed outside of the offices of Swedish developers DICE.
Ian Milham, creative director, talks about "speed" as a cornerstone in the development of Battlefield: Hardline getting into the action faster than ever before. Forget about that slow minute of walking through hillsides and vegetation and staring at distant enemies through your scope. This also means the ebb and flow of the matches are less predictable. The maps are tighter, the front lines always flowing, danger is ever present.
Milham is careful to point out that Battlefield has always been characterised by large maps and Hardline is no exception. Both grander and more intimate maps will be featured, as well as a wide selection of weapons and drivable vehicles.
"I can not think of any other game that offers the same range as Battlefield," says Milham.
We remember how the range and size was the biggest single problem with Hardline last time we sampled it during last summer's open beta. It screamed the need to satisfy the hardcore Battlefield audience as it lacked accessibility and size.
Visceral Games have listened keenly to the feedback from the beta and Milham lists the major changes that the extended development time allowed. Fewer and more dependable weapons. We nod in agreement. A more subtle use of Levolution. We nod again. A new distribution model for playable classes to balance out ease of use (making Assault less dominant). Very welcome. An economy system where you buy the equipment you want without having to rise in rank. Great.
After the initial introduction to the new changes we look into the screens in front of us. First up in this beta version is Hotwire on the new map Dustbowl. In a small desert town me and my teammates hustle around in our vehicles like they baddies we are. The more time we spend in these vehicles, the more points we earn. Meanwhile the cops on the opposing team try to stop us by any means possible.
This was a game mode that we did not find particularly entertaining at first glance, but that grew on us over time. Hotwire is at its best with the kind of moment-to-moment entertainment that highlights the playful sides of the Battlefield. A side of Battlefield many players haven't seen before. Dustbowl feels like a typical map dedicated to the gameplay that Hardline focuses on; a roundabout shaped map with large open areas that are perfect for reckless pursuits and it was enjoyable both as driver and gunner.
After an hour it is time to return to the familiar downtown Los Angeles map, playable in the previous beta. Now the other journalists at the event find their feet and climb closer to us on the leaderboard. Many have played the map previously and the sessions are quickly becoming more tactical.
Hotwire is great, but there are Heist situations in the game where there's great potential, especially with the help of clever level design that encourages team play. The map Bank Job offers well thought out and inspired design. Imagine a classic heist movie and you'll probably see a large, white building with a vault in the center. The different sections creates a maze-like layout and beyond the walls await the narrow alleyways that can both help and hiner your progress.
Bank Job, Downtown and Dustbowl Maps:
It is more compact than the series has previously offered and we now notice how the game forces us to think in terms we normally don't Battlefield. Where are the entrances? Escape routes? Where did we see this or that room? Will our companions be able to escape? Potential scenarios conjured up in our heads and there is greater immersion. Our objectives are more important than just capping some points on the map - we really want to stop the opposing team and we want to do it with maximum efficiency.
Some disappointment is still in play with the lack of civilians. There is a distinct difference in equipment between robbers and cops, but it is easy to conclude that Hardline now feels like a legitimate, very promising new part in the series, thanks to tighter and more focused gameplay. The longer development time is starting to pay off.
Tomorrow will see the launch of this new beta version on all platforms and you have the chance to see for yourself what you think of the changes Hardline has gone through since June. The most exciting part of the game remains the single player campaign, but unfortunately we were not given the opportunity to test it this time around. Hardline has grown better with the added development time, and we cannot wait to see what the full experience will offer.