Battlefield Hardline beta impressions: not looking good
Here’s something I don’t think I’ve said about a Battlefield game in years: I’m not going to buy this.
As a fan of the series, I was excited to get my hands on the beta, and though my first impressions of the game were not great, I pressed on. Unfortunately, things did not get better. Since this is just a beta, it would probably be unfair to talk about the game’s graphics or the bugs I ran into while playing, so I’ll leave those issues alone. Anyway, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.
In terms of controls and overall feel, Hardline plays much like previous Battlefield titles. Too much like previous Battlefield titles, in fact. If there’s one criticism that I, as a not-very-good player, could level against the entire series, it’s that the amount of time I spend getting to the action in Battlefield games is too high. And although I’ve only played the one beta map, Hardline seems to be the worst of the bunch. The beta map isn’t as big as the maps in BF4, but the clustered objectives meant that I was basically running to the same place over and over and over again. It got old.
And of course, Hardline probably shouldn’t feel like Battlefield anyway. The previous Battlefield games have been military combat games, and this is ostensibly a cops-versus-robbers heist game. It ought to feel at least a little different, but instead it comes off as a pretty predictable re-skin. The vehicles still drive like tanks and jeeps, the police and criminals still feel like infantrymen, and the firefights are a lot more Black Hawk Down than they are Ocean’s Eleven.
The game, at least in its current state, is also extremely shallow. Very little about the environment feels interactive or real or immersive at all. Half the vehicles you’ll see are just set dressing—even many of the police cars, despite the fact that you can drive others. Skyscrapers have functional elevators but each elevator serves just two floors. A few aspects of the environment are destructible, but most of it is as permanent as it is sterile.
The best way to describe how the beta feels and plays is probably this: it comes off like a mod. It’s as though some enterprising PC modder took Battlefield 3 or 4 and re-skinned it, tweaked the game mode objectives a bit, built a new level, and released the results to the public. That’s not to say it isn’t fun—it can be, although I had very little fun with it personally—but it doesn’t feel like a new game.
My biggest problem with Hardline, though, isn’t so much what it does as what it fails to do. The idea of a combination FPS/vehicle combat game centered around bank heists is inherently interesting, but Hardline misses out on almost everything that would make such a game unique. For example:
- Bystanders: If criminals were ripping of a city bank in broad daylight in real life, there would be plenty of civilian bystanders. And NPC bystanders could add a lot to Hardline‘s gameplay: perhaps criminals could take hostages, for example, or try to hide in plain sight amidst the crowds. If too many innocents were killed, perhaps that could trigger police reinforcements or even military backup, just like it might in real life.
- Asymmetrical gameplay: Generally speaking, you wouldn’t expect criminals to have access to as much as the police do. The cops and robbers in Hardline are artlessly balanced by giving them equipment that’s virtually the same—where did the criminals get armor-reinforced SUVs with mounted machine guns?—but a more interesting game could have done something more fun, like give the criminals stealth abilities to make up for their lesser firepower or their lower numbers.
- Car chases: The car chase is a major part of many heist movies, but they can’t really happen in the Hardline beta because the map is just a few city blocks. A really exciting game might employ the tactical gunplay of Battlefield games for the initial heist, but expand into an open-world driving game for the getaway chase.
Those are just a few ideas, of course. The bottom line is that nothing about Hardline feels like cops-versus-robbers. It’s possible that the single-player campaign will come up with some plausible way to explain why massive armies of police and criminals are duking it out with military-grade hardware in the middle of a mysteriously-abandoned city downtown. But I rather doubt it.
And frankly, even if it does, it won’t matter much. It’s pretty clear from the beta that the impetus in creating Hardline was “Let’s make another Battlefield game” and not “let’s make a cool heist game.” I suppose I can’t fault DICE, Visceral, or EA for wanting to make more money off of a successful franchise, but it feels like making the game good took a backseat to serving the Battlefield brand in Hardline. The result—based on the beta, at least—is a mediocre shooter that’s not as fun as a real Battlefield game but doesn’t have any other unique twists to make up for that failing.
Can it be fixed?
Now, granted, this is just a beta. It includes just one map and two multiplayer game modes (Blood Money and Heist). The final game will ship with much more, including a full single-player campaign. And the game’s graphics should also be improved when it finally ships.
But to be honest, I don’t know if any of that can save it. The gameplay can be tweaked, but unless the game gets a major overhaul between now and its October release, the conceptual problems are still going to be there.
Yesterday Polygon ran an interesting article about why you shouldn’t pre-order Battlefield Hardline; the short version of it is that the Battlefield series has a terrible track record when it comes to smooth launches. But having played the beta, I have to say that a better reason not to preorder the game is simply that it doesn’t seem to be very fun.
Perhaps the final release will prove me wrong; I hope that it does. But I definitely wouldn’t bet money on it, and I don’t suggest you do either. Based on the beta, this is definitely one for the wait-and-see column.