Led by the team at Visceral Games, Battlefield Hardline will take the series to the crime-filled streets of the Unites States of America, bringing things a little closer to home and opening your eyes to an entirely different theater of war. A military-fought all-out war on land, sea, and air this is not. Equipped with tasers guns, police batons, baseball bats, and balaclava masks, Hardline will let you play out the more familiar and relatable cops vs. robbers fantasy, taking advantage of Battlefield’s renown first-person shooter gameplay mechanics.
The idea originated during an EA meeting in Barcelona where Visceral general manager Steve Papoutsis would meet Digital Illusions CE general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson for the first time. There, they expressed fondness for each other’s respective franchises; the third-person survival-horror series, Dead Space, and the iconic military first-person shooter series, Battlefield. Finding similarities in their gaming interests, their conversation turned toward the suggestion of a collaboration between the two, with the idea of a cops and criminals-themed shooter on the forefront of their thoughts.
“Obviously, with [Battlefield] 2142, you know, you had World War 2, you had Vietnam, you had all these eras, and we just started talking about an idea of cops and criminals, and how that would be really interesting to work on,” Papoutsis told us while formally introducing the studio’s latest project during our recent trip to EA Redwood. “So, we decided that, ‘You know what? It would be cool if the Visceral team did something with Battlefield.”
And so they did.
Visceral may be a fresh pair of boots on the battlefield, but that doesn’t mean studio members skipped out on basic training. In fact, if you’ve played Battlefield 3’s End Game multiplayer expansion, you might agree that they even aced it.
End Game’s development was, in fact, lead by Papoutsis and his team at Visceral who considered the DLC’s success their right of passage to begin work on a fully-realized Battlefield title. “So, before we just jumped in and tried to make a humungous game like Battlefield 3 or 4, we thought it would be best if we took the time to really understand what it took to build multiplayer, since that’s kind of the center of what Battlefield has been about over the years,” Papoutsis explained. “So, we took on the task of making an expansion for Battlefield 3.”
“Our team drove the End Game expansion,” he continued. “So that was the expansion where we introduced motorcycles, Air Superiority, and Capture the Flag, which kind of came from that.” Feeling confident in their work, the studio felt that they picked up enough to go forward with their ideas for a cops and criminals themed Battlefield game. “So, we did that and we learned a lot as we were doing that,” said Papoutsis. “And through the course of that, everybody was very excited about it, so we decided, ‘You know what? That cops and criminals game? Why don’t we go for it? Why don’t we make that game?'”
On top of their work with Battlefield 3, Visceral lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser outlined their collaboration with Battlefield veterans DICE who’ve been at the helm of the franchise since inception and brought us Battlefield 4 just last year.
“Obviously, we’re collaborating closely with [DICE], right?” Sasser told us in our talk. “I mean, they’re the owners of the franchise. They’re the builders of the franchise. They know it better than anybody, and for us to come in and say, ‘No, we know Battlefield better than you,’ would be supremely arrogant and so, of course, we didn’t do that. We went over there and – I personally spent months over there talking to them and finding out how Battlefield works. How does this specific thing work? Why did you make this decision? What are the pillars of the franchise? And all these things, making sure that we nail all these things for Battlefield Hardline, because Battlefield Hardline is a Battlefield game.”
And that it is. After my few hours of hands-on time with the spin-off title, it would have never crossed my mind that a studio other than DICE was leading the charge had it not been explained to me beforehand or revealed in the game’s initial announcement. Everything you know and love about Battlefield is here in one form or another. In fact, it almost felt a little too familiar at times. Built once again on the Frostbite 3 engine, Hardline will share many similar visual characteristics to Battlefield 4. To the untrained eye, one might even mistake Hardline as a cops vs. criminals themed expansion for Battlefield 4 at first glance. But as you dig deeper into what Visceral is actually offering here, you’ll find that Hardline’s gameplay will tell you otherwise. New features, abilities, weapons, maps, etc., aside, Hardline captures a feeling I’ve yet to experience in any Battlefield game yet. But before I begin to break down and analyze what that feeling is, let’s get into some of the gameplay specifics.
At EA’s headquarters in Redwood City, CA, myself and 31 or so other members of the press sat down to some friendly matches of Heist and Blood Money, two fresh new faces to Battlefield’s growing lists of game modes. In Hardline, Visceral hopes to capture the cops and criminals fantasy by allowing you to play out iconic scenarios depicted in films like Heat, The Town, and even the intro to The Dark Knight. If you can recall some of the key scenes in those movies, there’s probably a game mode based on those events in Hardline.
Blood Money has both factions wrestling over an intercepted money pile that each team must collect and bring back to their stash. You can only carry a set amount, so multiple trips are required. But the money pile, located in the center of the map, isn’t the only cause for concern. Cash can also be stolen from the armored trucks located near each team’s base, meaning you and your pals will have to be creative when it comes to defending your stash while rushing the other two piles. That’s where Hardline’s transport vehicles really came into play. With an assortment of cruisers, sedans, coupes, and motor-bikes, we were left with plenty of options to get where we needed to go and quickly. The Mobile Command Post and Syndicate Crew Cab also played important roles in our game plans, as each acts as a mobile spawn point. It’s an intense tug-of-war-style scenario where advantages can flip at any moment while both sides attempt to reach the maximum cash value in their vaults.
Heist recreates the the classic robbery where criminals must crack open two vaults, secure the cash, and then make off with it by reaching two designated escape points. The way it all plays out, however, is what really drew me in. We weren’t just plopped into a map and told to go to ‘these’ locations to do ‘those things’. Instead, I remember spawning in as a criminal, immediately bearing witness to an armored transport vehicle filled with cash racing down an overpass in the heart of down town Los Angeles, only to be intercepted by an explosive rocket-propelled grenade that sent it through the railings and crashing to the streets below. Without even knowing what game mode we were playing at the moment, it was clear that my job was to blow open that truck and steal the cash before the authorities arrived. Even then, challenges still laid ahead as we attempted to avoid the fuzz by zip-lining across rooftops to reach an extraction chopper. When I really got into playing the part, which was easy, it was exhilarating.
Later on, I poked Sasser for more details on Hardline’s game modes, who said, “I’m not going to get into specifics player counts or whatever, but what I will say about the new game modes is if you can imagine a cops and robbers scenario, we’ve thought about it, and hopefully have a game mode that kind of nails that scenario for you.”
When it came to gadgets, I was a big fan of the gas grenade and gas mask combination. At all times, my character was immune to such attacks, even my own, which gave me the advantage when coming up on a group of enemies huddled close together. Turns out you’re a pretty tough target to hit when enemies are choking on the toxic gasses surrounding them. When I felt like keeping highly mobile, I had a blast equipping the grappling hook to reach higher ground more easily, and the zip-line to either relocate to new vantage points or to quickly drop myself behind enemy lines without them noticing. There were even certain spots like a hanging window-washing cart that offered a grappling hook as a “Battle Pickup” if you didn’t already have one equipped.
Hardline also offers multiple ways to take down an opponent without the use firearms, which happens to yield some notable benefits for you and your team. The T62 CEW taser gun can be used to drop enemies quickly, for instance, or you can even use your police baton or baseball bat to subdue an unsuspecting foe. Once incapacitated, you can then interrogate your captive using the interact key. After extracting the intel, your character will then radio in enemy locations to your entire crew, tagging their whereabouts on the mini-map. In other words, don’t camp. Allowing others to sneak up on you is bad news for you and your pals.
Meanwhile, class-specific gadgets are what help you define your role as a member of one of Hardline’s four different factions; the SWAT, Undercover Cop, Thief, or Banger. Enforcers are your best friends with access to first aid packs and revival kits, along with a powerful arsenal of assault rifles. PDW-wielding Mechanics will repair friendly vehicles while causing damage to enemy air, land, and water craft. Operators will lead the charge with light machine-guns, shotguns, ballistic shields, ammo packs, and breaching charges. Lastly, Professionals will secure the area with laser trip mines, cameras, and decoys, while providing overwatch with ranged weaponry. As an interesting side note, if you’re tired of others ignoring your plea for more ammunition when your magazine supply is running dry, Hardlne’s got you covered. Simply walk up to an Operator, press the interact key, and voila! You have ammo.
Weapons in Hardline are more suited to the game’s fiction, so you’ll find firearms like your standard M16A3, UMP-45, UZI, MG36 LMG, Sawed-Off Shotgun, R700 Sniper Rifle, and PTR-91 Marksman Rifle. But, how do you unlock all these things? In true cops and robbers style, you earn cash that you can use to purchase weapons, attachments, and gadgets in any order you wish, doing away with the more traditional unlock tree that previous Battlefield games have adopted. Ultimately, it means no more grinding for that one pistol you want at the very end of your unlock progression, which is something I think many will appreciate.
The vehicle game is where Hardline really shakes things up and sets itself apart in the gameplay space from other Battlefield titles. It’s likely you won’t ever see cops and criminals settle their differences in urban environments with roaring battle tanks, high-flying fighter jets, devastating assault choppers, or powerful attack boats. So, instead, Visceral has chosen to focus on a plentiful offering of transport vehicles that are, once again, better suited to the fiction. If my memory serves me correctly, this is the first time ever in a Battlefield game that you’re able to hop in a muscle car or police cruiser to chase down the enemy while your buddies hang out the rear and passenger windows in a lethal drive by shooting. What really stood out to me was the attention to detail Visceral has paid to the interior perspective of these vehicles. You can really feel the engine roar as you step on the gas and watch the speedometer crank up on the dashboard. Those looking for something a little more heavily armored will likely gravitate towards the MCP or SCC with their powerful secondary guns while the daredevils out there will be able to take their speed bikes off of jumps and up elevators. You can even drive a giant fuel truck. I probably don’t have to spell out the sort of destruction you could cause with a tanker filled with flammable gas under your control. We also had access to one or two different transport choppers and I’m told that some maps will offer attack planes and other watercraft.
The primary map we played on, called High Tension, was very suited to Hardline’s new transport vehicle-heavy direction thanks to its wide roads and grid-like set-up. If I had to make a comparison, imagine the layout of Battlefield 3’s Grand Bazaar mixed with the tall skyscrapers of Battlefield 4’s Dawnbreaker. Also, if you’ve watched even an average amount of Hollywood movies in your life time, you’ll instantly recognize the down town LA setting. While High Tension could be considered a small map by Battlefield standards, Visceral made it clear that they are still offering the full range of the Battlefield experience, all the way from large, open-ended, vehicle-heavy maps, to small, close-quarter-combat zones that favor infantry on infantry combat.
In all, I found the more recognizable setting, the more familiar vehicles, and the more relatable war between law enforcement and criminals really brought the fight closer to home and was easier to ‘live’ than the military, sci-fi, or even World War 2 fantasy. It brings the action down to a more personal level, where, just like in real life (or at least the ‘real life’ that’s depicted in movies), cops and criminal even exchange dialogue with each other in the heat of combat. If you can imagine the sort of remarks being hurled at one another in an intense shootout, you’ll probably hear it in Hardline’s authentic character VO. It really helps the game adopt a more playful and light-hearted tone that, according to Sasser, was very deliberate.
“So, I mean, why do you play a game?” Sasser asked rhetorically. “Because it’s fun. Obviously, a lot of people want to play a simulator and so on. This isn’t a simulator, necessarily. I mean, you can take aspects of it and see some simulation aspects specifically with the gun model. I mean, the bullet drop and the bullet travel also is fantastic. But at its heart, we’re really about making a fun, awesome game. So, if there’s a little bit of light-heartedness in here, don’t be surprised.”
After the play session, I asked Sasser if he was aware of the desire out there for the return of another entry in the fan-favorite Battlefield: Bad Company series and if he and the rest of the multiplayer team at Visceral ever considered what made a game like Bad Company 2 so magical and if they tried to incorporate some of that into Hardline. He said, “Yeah!” as if I was crazy for even asking the question.
“I mean, what I liked about Bad Company 2 was that it felt very snappy, very crisp in the gunplay, right? They really nailed that core combat and we’re keeping the same core gun mechanics, but with our little bit more personalized encounters and the way we’re changing up some of the ways the new weapons and the fictional – like the cops and criminals-specific weapons work,” he explained. “Hopefully we’re getting back to that crisp-ness and that kind of snappy-ness of the core combat, cause that’s what I think was really so interesting and awesome about Bad Company 2 at its heart.”
He added that “there’s some other great stuff too in that [DICE] very carefully set up the maps so they worked great with Rush and they worked great with Conquest and we’re putting that same level of focus in our game modes. I mean, obviously Heist is very different from Rush and Blood Money is very different from Conquest, but we’re putting that same kind of thought into making sure the game really supports the game modes and shines with them.”
Much like Bad Company, Hardline is a clear side-step from the core Battlefield experience, which means Visceral has the freedom to really get creative and experiment with new ideas. Hardline is a Battlefield not like any other and one that I was able to get pretty excited about. With the adoption of a more relatable theater of war, I felt a stronger connection to the world around me, which did nothing but add to Battlefield’s already addictive and immersive gameplay. Aside from a small handful of titles out there, it’s not often you get to fill the shoes of an officer of the law or a crooked criminal and experience virtual first-person combat the way Battlefield is able to portray it.
But peering beyond my own personal elation, I get the feeling that Visceral is going to have a hard time selling the idea to everyone out there. Not everyone can get behind the idea of a more personal and perhaps smaller-scale Battlefield. Not everyone finds the cops and robbers fantasy as appealing. So, In the end, I’m not quite clear on what exactly the studio is trying to accomplish with Hardline. Is it the next big thing that will rise above and beyond previous works, smashing all expectations, or is it just a humble offering suited for a more niche audience? Thus far, I’ve seen little that significantly improves upon what Battlefield 4 had to offer just last year, especially anything that is sellable. That said, I suppose Hardline’s label as a spin-off title relieves any sense of responsibility to push the franchise onwards and upwards, but I hope that doesn’t deter Visceral from giving it their all. As a massive fan of the series, I’m totally okay with a laid-back, light-hearted, and more playful Battlefield experience, as long as it’s fun, bug-free, and offers that “tight” and “snappy” gunplay Sasser was hinting at earlier. But I’m not sure others share the same sentiments. With that in mind, I’m quite anxious to learn more about exactly what Visceral is bringing to the battlefield this Fall.
Before leaving, I asked Sasser, why “Hardline”? What does the title and the word mean to Visceral?
“Well, ‘Hardline,’ I think, ties into the philosophy of both the single player campaign and – some of the difficult choices real life people have to make in law enforcement, he answered. “If you think about the definition of Hardline, it’s kind of tricky to make moral judgements in a split-second or in an instant. It’s a very difficult proposition and I think that really ties into the theme, overall, of the game.”
Battlefield Hardline is coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation3, and PC this Fall on October 21. To get all the latest updates leading up to launch, keep your sights right here on MP1st.