We have to admit we were a bit skeptical when first hearing about the cops and criminals themed Battlefield from Dead Space studio Visceral Games. It didn't quite sound like a natural fit with the military shooter that while having ventured from World War II to Vietnam, to modern days and even the future still always very much felt like a game with war at the core.
The EA press conference at E3 was a bit of a let down, really. While we got early looks and brief statements on upcoming games from Bioware, DICE and Criterion - it felt very vague and early. Battlefield Hardline was really the only reveal where we got a good look at the game and to cap it off EA lifted the curtain on 64 stations with the game playable on PlayStation 4 as the conference closed. The fact that the beta also went live was surely one of the great reveals for folks back home. A taste of E3 even when not in Los Angeles.
Obviously a conscious move on Visceral Games' part was to show off the multiplayer first. Being known for strong singleplayer campaigns they knew that multiplayer is where they needed to prove themselves to the Battlefield player base, not only as a result of their inexperience, but also given the problems Battlefield 4 suffered through at launch.
Getting the beta out early, making sure people get the message that they will listen to feedback and adapt is important as EA tries to expand the brand outside of its original war theme and outside of its home studio of DICE. Clearly, DICE are involved with Hardline, but even if general manager Karl-Magnus Troedsson was on stage and DICE technology (Frostbite Engine) is being used - this is clearly a Visceral production at its core.
At first glance some of our concerns are laid to rest. This is very much a true Battlefield game in multiplayer even if the modes, skins and settings are different. We get the feeling that vehicles are even more integral to the experience, and perhaps this emphasises the importance of mobility as modes like Heist focus on moving loot from one place to another. The frontline felt a little less pronounced here, but that sense of freedom and tactical depth that defines Battlefield was present.
While not making a head to head comparison the visuals of Battlefield Hardline feel a little bit less impressive than those of Battlefield 4 if anything. Perhaps some stuff has been toned down to improve stability or perhaps it's just the setting and the art assets that don't come across as equals.
Blood Money is one of four new unique modes for Battlefield Hardline revealed so far. It's a fairly basic and reasonably symmetric mode where criminals try and steal packages of loot while the cops try and take these same packages to evidence. Other modes seem to offer more unique scenarios as they include chases and hostages, and it makes sense for EA to keep the offerings of Hardline and the main series Battlefield separate. From what we've played we can see Battlefield players enjoying both games in parallel as they differ enough from each other.
What really makes or breaks Battlefield Hardline is likely going to be the campaign. Visceral have a few less than stellar games in recent years, but still ride on the excellence of the original Dead Space. It's time to deliver an equally memorable singleplayer campaign - and hopefully they can deliver just that. Taking Heat as inspiration may not be the most unique thing you can do in gaming, but nevertheless we're keen to see where Hardline ends up.
In a recent interview we asked creative director Ian Millham about the work that remains:
"I mean obviously we've got the whole rest of the game to finish, and it's a really ambitious game, so we have a lot of work to do there. But part of one of the reasons that we really wanted to do this with the open beta and having people just play the hell out of it at [E3], not just show some trailers, is to really get people's feedback, not just... They can respond online, we're watching all the forums, we're going to get telemetry, we're going to get a ton of bug reports, we're going to get all that kind of stuff so this is the tightest Battlefield ever."
It certainly appears to be the correct approach to take.