You have the right to remain sceptical
3,902It's been a shaky start to the beginning of the generation for the Battlefield franchise. Battlefield 4 was one of the first in what turned out to be a long line of titles suffering from persistent issues at launch. The 64,000 dollar question is what lasting affect this will have on the series as a whole. Battlefield 4 still has a steady community who have ridden out the problems and populate more than enough servers to allow someone joining to find a game easily, but many walked away at launch and simply never returned, distracted by newer titles and deterred by the the pervasive "It's still broken" narrative.
I doubt this is how Visceral Games expected their first shift at the helm of the franchise to pan out. All eyes are on them to see just how the story unfolds next. Have they been able to drag extra performance out of the Frostbite engine? Will the servers meltdown at launch? Will the game function as intended? Can they make a worthwhile single player campaign? Can they justify this spinoff's existence?
Will the game function as intended?
Can they make a worth while single player campaign?
Will the servers meltdown at launch?Thanks to EA Access i've been able to sample up to 10 hours of the full game, while single player is limited to just the prologue and the first mission, subscribers have been given a free run at all the multiplayer modes allowing them to get a jump start on the competition as all progress carries forward into the full release.
Before jumping into the online though, I went through the brief taste of single-player which, for me, is the most intriguing part of this product. This is after all from the creators of Dead Space; a series which may have lost its way towards the end of the trilogy, but in comparison to the recent narrative efforts in a Battlefield game would be considered a master class in story telling.
The buddy cop styling of the freeze frame intro sequence and the predictable yet entirely welcome use of KRS One's classic "Sound of da Police" immediately endows Hardline with more character and personality than any entry in the series since 2010's Bad Company 2. The sliver of gameplay on display certainly sets the stage for finally delivering a meaningful campaign which exists to be more than a glorified multiplayer tutorial. Flashing your badge and trying to hold suspects at gunpoint before cuffing them is an interesting mechanic that deviates nicely from the "headshots for everybody" thrills of your everyday shooter, and the mild CSI-like environment hunting could lead to some non-combat focused crime solving along with the inevitable stealth sections. Underneath it all though is the bedrock of gun play which makes it instantly recognisable as a Battlefield title.
As it stands, shoe-horning this game underneath the Battlefield umbrella rather than breaking out a new franchise has more chance of harming Hardline than it does of selling it in my opinion. It's unlikely a full fledged single player campaign is high up on the wishlist of die hard players, and while multiplayer plays identically to its troubled cousin there are some changes which might not appeal to the existing player base.
More character and personality than any entry in the series since 2010's Bad Company 2The biggest and most instantly noticeable of these changes is the map size; although they are all intricately designed with multiple paths and levels, it genuinely feels like you could fit several of the Hardline maps into something like Golmund Railway from BF4. Yet even though the combat takes place in a much more claustrophobic arena, numbers are still soaring up to the 64 player count. In the previous expansive environments this made sense but here in Team Deathmatch it's genuine chaos. I would blame it on a poorly designed spawn system but with so many people in such a confined area safe spawn spots are hard to find, leading to some of the shortest spawn to death lifespans I've seen since my days on Shipment in CoD4. Conquest expands the borders of these skirmish points but the action is still more focused rather than sprawling as usual. Without Tanks and Attack Helicopters vehicles are returned to mere modes of transport if you can't take the short journey between points on foot.
Although it handles and looks the same, the reduced scope creates a much faster pace of game play; with more emphasis on shotguns and sub machine guns. Although you can still find the signature lone wolves on the edges of a map with a sniper rifle trying to cope with the abundant amount of fish in the barrel..
There are some new objective based game modes including Heist, which appears to be "Payday 2 lite ", where criminals must break into a vault and ferry cash to an extraction point, while Hotwire plays like a mobile version of Conquest, where the flags are cars which must be driving at high speed to reduce the enemies' tickets. Unlike Conquest and Team Death Match, these and a few other additions have reduced and altogether more appropriate player counts. This makes them less slightly less frenetic and allows the objective based gameplay to breathe. There are some fun variations, but it remains to be seen if the bulk of the player base simply filters into the old staples of the series.
With so many people in such a confined area, safe spawn spots are hard to findRegardless of whether or not you jive with all of the changes on display here, it's reassuring that, so far, the multiplayer experience has been comfortably robust. As expected, if there is any silver lining to the BF4 fiasco, it's that Hardline has benefited from all the knowledge and experience gained from fixing that title. That said, the number of players playing through EA Access is clearly a mere fraction of the amount that will pile on come launch day; at which time it's entirely plausible that the servers may be reduced to smouldering piles of plastic, as is the trend with large scale online releases these days.
As of right now, things look encouraging across the board, the first missions from the single player show promise but those who played the "Fishing in Baku" from BF4 have already been fooled once by a good opening. Multiplayer is a less strategic, smaller and a more frenetic experience, but might appeal to fans of fast urban skirmishes. All of which is currently functioning surprisingly well.
Still, like a good cop eyeing a suspicious suspect: Approach with caution.
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