Charge someone with a baseball bat in Battlefield Hardline and, after taking them down and slapping on the cuffs, you’ll have the chance to interrogate them, yelling “Spill it!” to reveal enemies on the mini-map. It’s a telling example of how Dead Space developers Visceral are tackling the former military shooter. As I learned in the recent Beta, and as you will when the open Beta runs between February 3-8, Battlefield Hardline’s cops vs. robbers conceit is full of twists.
Take Heist, in which criminals have to raid a bank and nab the cash while cops attempt to recover it. It’s one of three modes available in the Beta, alongside Hotwire and Conquest (the latter comes with the full compliment of 64 players on new-gen systems and PC). To confound players from the Alpha, who cottoned-on to more exploitative methods, Visceral have randomised drop-off points and added a short defense loop. Environmental destruction comes into play several times on the Bank Job map, with great chandeliers in the lobby crashing onto heads, and a collapsing roof providing a sneaky alternative route.
“We’re trying to make players understand destruction isn’t just about removing things from the world,” says lead multiplayer designer Thadeus Sasser. “It’s also about creating new opportunities... it’s about changing the play space, whether it’s player-triggered, or the dust storm in Dust Bowl, or the hurricane in Riptide.” Heist is a twist - think capture the flag with a bulging bag of money - but a good one.
Hardline’s other new mode is Hotwire, which sees two teams compete to jack rides. At certain intervals a vehicle appears and prompts a mad scramble. Ride with a full posse and not only will your score climb faster, but you’ll also have the muscle to fight off tailgaters. At one point riding shotgun I shoot the windshield out to give me a clear line of sight then lean out of the side window like an excited dog to dispatch a motorbike man doing a wheelie. Not only is the mode fast and fun, but it makes contextual sense give the environment I play on, a slice of downtown LA with crisscrossing underpasses and overpasses. Again it’s familiar, this time resembling a more mobile Conquest, but that’s no bad thing.
Then there’s top-down Hacker mode, which is the equivalent of Commander mode from Battlefield 4. “The idea here is more that the hacker is helping control and direct the team rather than dropping cruise missiles on top of people’s heads or summoning AC-130 gunships,” says Sasser. “Those things were very military in nature and didn’t really seem to fit the cops and robbers fantasy very well. We thought in the 'world of tomorrow' cybercrime is a very big deal, so what if these guys can tap into the information all around us?
I hack into a security camera for a new perspective. I trigger a fire suppression system to limit visibility, then disrupt electrical transformers to flash and blind opposition. Everyone is bamboozled, it’s great. It gets interesting when two opposing hackers vie for dominance. The code-based combat here comes from ‘subroutines’, which are essentially powers on a cool-down meter: you might use overlock to recharge your abilities and speed up hacking, or drop a logic bomb to slow down your keyboard warrior rival. Hackers can not only direct teams with waypoints, but dictate a map’s flow and create areas of conflict and denial.
Smaller moments provide fresh talking points. Like hopping into a cop car and hearing “Whoop whoop, that’s the sound of da police” over the radio. Or using a grappling hook to zip up to a roof and providing covering support. Or tasering someone and watching their body dance. Or stashing an anti-armour weapon in your trunk, parking up, then retrieving it and pretending there’s a camera inside looking up at you like in a Tarantino movie.
With seven multiplayer modes in all (five new and two returning), nine maps, and the small matter of a single-player campaign that is actually quite good, Battlefield Hardline is the twist the series needed.