The latest offering in the Battlefield franchise is here and it is brought to us by Visceral Games. Leading up to Hardline, fans were worried they would merely reskin Battlefield 4 and create essentially what amounts to nothing more than a full priced expansion pack. And judging by the initial E3 beta it was looking like we were right. Setting aside the fact that it was a beta, the game was plagued by many of the same issues that had plagued, and still plague, Battlefield 4. We’re talking horrible lag, instant death by enemies who aren’t even looking in your general direction, half of your bullets failing to register properly and seemingly doing less damage than you would expect when they do, as if your torso shots are registering as arm or leg hits. There are many more issues but I will refrain from talking about them here as that is not the point of this article. There are many videos on youtube, forum posts and other forms of research on the matter.
So what is the point of this article? Well, one could say it is to review Hardline. And they would be correct. However, I see another reason that is equally important and that is to determine if, and how far, it has come since our first taste back at E3. Short answer, it has changed significantly in some areas while remaining close to home in others. What I mean is it is still fundamentally a Battlefield game. It retains the map size, game mode design, most of the vehicle play, the bullet physics and ballistics and need for team based cooperation that we have come to expect from any game that dares to call itself by the Battlefield brand.
What it has changed however is the design direction. Gone is the idea that packing more in makes the game better.
Hardline is arguably a smaller game than the two previous offerings from DICE, BF3 and BF4, and in my opinion that turns out to be of tremendous help getting the game to work. Speaking strictly from a technical perspective this is a very positive change, although I can see how many might think it sucks that the new game has less in it than the previous one.
Frostbite as an engine may be a visual spectacle, however forcing it to work overtime by packing a game with too much stuff has proven very problematic. The engine just doesn’t seem to be able to handle all the stuff DICE have been trying to throw at it. 3 and 4 in the series were very ambitious projects and I think they may have been too ambitious. Hardline takes somewhat of a less is more approach and as a result it seems the engine is getting a much needed break. There is less environmental and other redundant forms of data to process so the engine can really focus on what the players themselves are doing and processing that data instead of worrying about the awesome looking, but CPU hungry, animations of some far away windmill as it turns and turns for most of the match until it finally collapses (added physics processing) and causes a levolution which hurls a ship crashing into C (more added physics processing) and changes the terrain around that objective while leaving the rest of the map untouched, save for a raging storm of wind and rain which requires even more time to process leaving even less for player actions which ultimately are what really determine the outcome of a match.
The game modes are split between your typical Battlefield modes, modes that have been used in other games and entirely new modes.
Starting off with Conquest and Conquest Large, these are your traditional Battlefield staples. Battlefield vets will know exactly what to expect from these modes but for anyone looking to pick up Hardline as their very first Battlefield experience let me break down these modes for you.
Conquest involves 3-7 capture points spread out across the map. Teams start out with a certain number of tickets. Tickets are lost at a rate depending on the number of capture points held and are also lost when a player dies at a rate of 1 ticket per player death. The more capture points your team controls, the faster the enemy team’s ticket count will deplete. The winner of the match is the team with the most tickets remaining at the end of the round, or the team that still has tickets left when the opposing team’s ticket count reaches zero.
Another game mode returning is Team Deathmatch. I’m going to assume you all know what this mode is as it’s pretty much a staple in any FPS game.
Heist is our first new game mode and it involves the criminals team breaking into a vault to steal some loot and attempt to bring said loot to an evacuation point while the cops team attempts to prevent them from doing so.
Hotwire is a game mode that plays very much like conquest on the run. Instead of static capture points around the map, the goal is to capture marked vehicles and hold them for as long as possible. The enemy team’s tickets aren’t depleted until you reach a certain speed in the captured vehicle so keep that pedal floored and avoid explosives and gun fire.
In Blood Money the goal for both teams is to grab cash and return it to their respective vaults. However both teams can also rob cash out of the opposing team’s vault as well. Point counts are constantly shifting from low to high so keep the enemy away from your vault and stop them from reaching theirs with a big bag of cold hard cash.
Rescue is a hostage based game mode where the cops are tasked with rescuing hostages from the robbers. This is a round based mode with no respawns.
Crosshair is basically VIP. One member member of the criminal team is chosen at random. The remaining criminals are tasked with the objective of killing this VIP while the cops are tasked with the objective of protecting them until they reach a specified point on the map.
If you’re hoping to launch Hardline and see mind-blowing visuals you may end up disappointed. The game’s graphics aren’t horrible, they succeed in immersing you into the action and they do look quite good, but they aren’t awe-inspiring. BF4 looks better graphically but not by much. I would say Hardline reminds me of Medal of Honor and Global Offensive in a sense. It’s more colourful and vibrant which resembles CS:GO, but player and weapon models (sights in particular) are very reminiscent of Medal of Honor.
Map design is another area that has taken a bit of a change. If I may compare it BF4 the map design in Hardline just makes more sense logically. In BF4 the map design could be stated as follows:
1) Begin with an open terrain.
2) Place prefabricated structures around said terrain.
3) Shift the terrain and create some hills, mountains etc.
4) Add foliage, trees, signs, street lights etc as added map detail.
This is evidenced by the fact that so many BF4 maps are so open that anyone in a tank could pick you off from across a 750 meter field because there was nothing blocking their line of sight. Lack of meaningful cover was an issue in BF4 and I’m glad to report that Hardline is doing things differently. There are still areas of the map where long shots could be made however they are designed to require more skill to find and use effectively.
Player and Gear Customization
Less is more is the name of the game when it comes to player and gear customization. The only exceptions are sights and melee weapons. Both categories are filled with plenty of options to choose from, however the number of guns and other attachments are significantly lower this time around. Visceral looked at the attachment model DICE used and figured there is no reason why you need eight different grips when there are only four grip effects coded into the game to begin with. Same goes for the barrel modifications and muzzle attachments. Virtually the whole system was stripped down and rebuilt to be slim and barebones. Even the number of guns each class has to choose from has been simplified. You can see some screenshots of the customization menu below. Notice the addition of a loadout system. You can now save up to 5 preset loadouts per class so you don’t have to make individual changes to your gear when you switch between game modes.
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No game comes without issues these day and Hardline is no exception. I’m happy to say that most of the issues that plagued BF4 and the initial E3 Hardline Beta are not present here. The only 2 issues I have found so far are a reload bug that has been with Frostbite since Bad Company and some clipping issues with dead player models.
The reload bug happens when you reload your weapon, and the bullet counter says you have a full magazine, but when you try to fire you will run empty after only a few shots and begin an automatic reload animation. This can be very frustrating when you run into a fire fight believing you have a full magazine but end up being the one who dies because you suddenly stop firing to automatically reload.
The clipping error is more of a visual nuisance. It’s not game breaking but it can be immersion breaking. You can sometimes see the arm or a leg of a dead player sticking through a solid wall or object.
If there are any other issues that I have missed I’m sure the battlelog forum will be flooded with new threads talking about them. But as of right now, after almost 20 hours of play, I can say those two issues mentioned above are the only two I’ve personally encountered.
Battlefield Hardline just surpasses its predecessors in terms of smooth gameplay and tight gun mechanics. The netcode has never felt this smooth and responsive in any other previous Battlefield game built on Frostbite. This is a major improvement and I hope the days of broken patches are over and none of the updates end up ruining how great this game plays right now.