Visceral Games (Dead Space, Dante's Inferno) seek to put their mark on a beloved franchise with Battlefield: Hardline. Dropping the large-scale destruction and military themes of previous games, Battlefield: Hardline segues into high octane urban battles between cops and robbers.
Thanks to EA Access' Xbox One exclusive trial period, we've been able to go hands on with Battlefield's latest installment and all signs thus far seem positive.
Inspired single player experience
One of my personal gripes with Battlefield and other multiplayer focused military FPS games is the treatment of single player. Even Kevin Spacey's inclusion in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare did little to put the aging franchise on the same footing as say Bioshock: Infinite or Wolfenstein: The New Order in terms of plot quality, and Battlefield is no different.
Enter Visceral Games, famed for the plot heavy Dead Space series, and their severely underrated adaptation of The Divine Comedy - Dante's Inferno. I was hoping Visceral could inject a bit of depth into Battlefield's single player story mode, and so far it seems as though they're delivering.
EA Access only provides users with the first episode, but its a hearty appetizer leaving me wanting more. You play as Nick Mendoza, a young detective in Miami's vice unit. The game begins with a drug bust gone wrong, and Frostbite 3 really shines in this setting. Facial motion capture in particular is incredible, some of the best I've ever seen. The uncanny valley is eliminated entirely, and makes the characters immediately sympathetic. Akin to Breaking Bad's first season, Battlefield: Hardline takes place in retrospective. Detective Nick Mendoza is in cuffs on a prison wagon, being chastised by the prison warden for being a crooked cop. The game then cuts to 3 years earlier, and presumably the rest of the plot revolves around how Nick wound up in the slammer. It's instantaneously intriguing for fans of cop shows like The Wire or movies like Training Day, and my expectations that Visceral will deliver big on the story aspect seem well founded.
Gameplay wise, there are elements that separate Battlefield: Hardline from other games in the series. You can sneak up on enemies, flash your police badge and then arrest them, instead of just running around guns blazing. Certain segments will require you to gather and analyse evidence, and provide further context for the mysteries as they unfold. They're not as in-depth as say L.A. Noire, but players coming in to Battlefield: Hardline will likely be expecting a shooter, not a police puzzle game. I find myself hungry for the next episode, which is preceded by a bit of a cliff hanger.
Familiar multiplayer, sans server problems
Battlefield: Hardline feels similar to Battlefield 4, but with some important caveats. You're unlikely to be killed by tank shells and falling sky scrapers in this installment, as the game places a firm emphasis on close quarters combat, albeit on a larger scale than Call of Duty. Movement speed is decidedly higher than Battlefield 4, giving it a slight edge into a more arcade feel.
Vehicles continue to play an important role in combat, and enjoy increased survivability thanks to limitations on rocket launchers. N̶o̶o̶b̶t̶u̶b̶e̶s̶ Grenade launchers will not kill players as easily as they do in Battlefield 4, forcing players to retain ammo for their intended use against vehicles and buildings. There's still a vast array of weapons, tool kits and mods for each weapon, retaining that sense of unlock addiction which I am incredibly susceptible to. Classes return with similar functions, medic, engineer, assault and recon are now named operator, mechanic, enforcer and professional respectively, and each carry new gadgets and tools over previous games - perhaps most famously, the grappling hook and zip-line tools.
Battlefield: Hardline features 8 gameplay modes across 9 maps, and modes like Hotwire and Heist offer enough differentiation from Battlefield 4 to be a worthwhile purchase. Hotwire has teams capture and maintain vehicles to accrue points, which has players leaning out of windows to commit drive by shootings and setting up C4 traps on roads leading to explosive hilarity. Heist is an assault/defend type mode which really captures the essence of cops v. robbers. Cops have to defend a vault from encroaching thieves, who are tasked to steal assets back to their escape chopper. These are in addition to classic Conquest and Team Deathmatch modes, and various others.
Crucially, I haven't experienced any of the server/client problems prevalent during Battlefield 4's launch. Whilst the only people online right now are EA Access subscribers, so far its been an encouraging experience on this front.
There's a growing backlash against some of the larger franchises moving into an annualized model. Assassin's Creed launched not one, but two titles last year alone, and Assassin's Creed Unity in particular was plagued with bugs - presumably due to poor testing and tight deadlines. Call of Duty has also descended in quality (but not sales power) since becoming an annualized franchise. These games still sell ridiculous amounts (for now), but if Guitar Hero's descent into obscurity is anything to go by - annualization may not be a good long-term strategy.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that we need to annualize Battlefield and that's the way it's going to be forever and ever."
EA Studios Vice President Patrick Söderlund spoke at E3 last year to stress that this was not the case, and that Battlefield: Hardline came about simply because Visceral pitched for it. Visceral's Steve Papoutsis met with DICE head Karl-Magnus Troedsson three years ago to declare 'Hey, we have an idea,', the result was Battlefield: Hardline, and so far, it's all looking positive.
Now, let's all hope Battlefield: Hardline is a success so EA funds another Dead Space...