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Battlefield Hardline Beta Impressions: Disappointing

They’re not making Payday better, they’re making Battlefield worse.

That was my knee-jerk reaction after playing the admittedly very limited beta for Battlefield: Hardline. From its initial reveal (well, official reveal) at E3, I was expecting an explosive, over-the-top version of Overkill’s cooperative bank-robbing shooters Payday: The Heist and Payday 2. While I personally find the harsh reality of the theme a bit off-putting as you take hostages and fend off waves of police while stealing money or drugs, the gameplay is solid and an interesting way to mix Left 4 Dead’s emphasis on cooperative survival with more nefarious goals.

The Battlefield series, meanwhile, hardly needs an explanation given its blockbuster status for the last decade. I’ve been casually playing and enjoying the franchise since the original Battlefield 1942, but with recent entries the fatigue and oversaturation of the modern military shooter has definitely set in. The strength of the franchise over its competitors has always been about large-scale warfare, huge maps with tons of vehicles and a constant barrage of awesome action sequences (I call them Great Battlefield Moments) happening all around you. All of which Hardline lacks.

To witness my first time playing Battlefield: Hardline, check out the recorded live stream below starring Chris and yours truly.

The beta comes with a single map – High Tension, supposedly downtown L.A. but looking like any generic American city. The actual size is similar to medium to smaller maps from the main Battlefield series, and the beta currently supports up to 32 players (which starts getting hilariously crowded when an army of criminals runs back and forth between the money pile and their stash).

Only two modes are currently available, Heist and Blood Money. Blood Money spawns a cash money pile in the middle of the map, with both sides having their own stash. The cops thus aren’t so much cops as just another faction of criminal with different dressing – cops murder just as the criminals do and are gathering money as “evidence” using the same score bar as the criminals. The first group to acquire $5 million wins.

Heist tasks the criminals with grabbing packages off armored trucks then moving them to a secure location, while the cops attempt to stop them. If you’re thinking a timed Capture the Flag, you’re pretty close, and it’s definitely more fun than Blood Money’s capture points that you can’t capture. With no overall ticket system to watch, Blood Money often ends suddenly and very anticlimactically, and the best strategy in the server I was in was to simply camp the opponent’s stash and mow them down as they attempt to return with money (and stealing directly from their stash, which is a nice touch).

I’m not even sure Visceral could legally use the Battlefield name without having a few vehicles, but the urban cops and robbers setting vastly limits the variety. Sedans, motorcycles, armored cars (with ridiculous mounted weapon turrets, might as well be tanks or APCs) and a single helicopter make sure you always have something to hop into when you spawn at your base. Give the size of the map and the modes I was playing none of the vehicles were particularly interesting, but they do help to occasionally create those Great Battlefield Moments when cars go whizzing past as both sides erupt in gunfire, and someone inevitably crashes the helicopter in the middle of it.

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While I wasn’t necessarily expecting the cooperative, tense experience of Payday, I was extremely disappointed in how flimsy the theme was used in Hardline. I never once felt like I was a cop chasing down a criminal, or like I had any motivation to steal the money or the packages other than I’d like my team to win. It just felt like I was playing a scaled-down version of Battlefield with less interesting vehicles, less players, the same objectives and a boring map.

Given the already crowded and tired space of modern-day shooters, I’m just not sure who the audience is for Hardline. Maybe when more exciting modes are added and more interesting maps can be explored it can find its rhythm and offer something unique, but as of now the beta for Battlefield: Hardline makes one of the most grievous errors among AAA games – being utterly forgettable.