Battlefield Hardline: Redefining The Series

“That's definitely been a criticism we heard early, ‘Oh, it's just going to be a re-skin or it's just going to be a DLC at best’,” says Papoutsis, executive producer on  Battlefield Hardline. “Obviously, as people working on it, that's absolutely not what we want to hear and that's absolutely not what we're doing. What we've done from the beginning is really try to lean into the fantasy, like, what is it about cops and criminals that would be fun? We created the heist mode that we had, which is kind of your classic bank caper bad guys trying to break in and steal money, the police trying to stop them. That [and other new modes] really seem to synergise what we're doing fictionally. But we also have other classic modes that are Battlefield staples, or first-person shooter staples, such as Team Deathmatch and conquest. Those are things that are definitely cool about  Battlefield, so we wanted to make sure we had those.”

“We are bringing a level of innovation to the franchise with our single-player campaign… I don’t want people to think about our game or evaluate it only on the single-player, or the multiplayer,” says Papoutsis. “They have to look at the entire package we’re putting together, because these games, these triple-A games are just a huge undertaking, there are so many people at work on them, I think it would be short-sighted for people to only zero in on one piece; they need to evaluate the whole thing.”

Our favourite new feature in Battlefield Hardline does what so many games that let you play as a cop fail to do: actually make you feel like an officer of the law. The ‘freeze’ mechanic is integral in doing this. It allows you to whip out your badge and have your enemies throw down their guns, rather than just shooting them into a bloody puddle without warning. As you do this, you’ll have to keep your gun locked onto the target as you cuff them, before leading them away in the police car. Being able to halt and arrest enemies plays well with the overall theme of the game.

While levels in video games are like episodes of a television series divided into bitesize chunks of gameplay that last around 30 minutes to an hour, Visceral Games is taking the concept further. “When you turn off the game, you’ll be prompted if you’d like to watch a ‘Next time on…’ like when you watch a TV show,” says Papoutsis. “So it’s like, ‘Next time on Battlefield Hardline…’, showing you a little teaser about what’s coming, so maybe you’ll think, ‘You know what, I’ll just stick around and play another episode’. [Also], now you can watch a ‘Previously on…’.”

After playing through Hardline’s first mission, we’re given an overview as to how the rest of the campaign will play out. What surprised us most was the amount of diversity, and how the game invites a variety of playstyles. While there’s plenty of linear, corridor-style segments and explosive setpieces, there will also be missions that act as mini-sandboxes, enabling you to choose whether to go in guns blazing, or take a more strategic approach (stealthily moving in and tagging enemies).

It looks like there’s plenty more to come when it comes to Heist mode . “We created the Heist mode, which is kind of your classic bank caper bad guys trying to break in and steal money, the police trying to stop them. We had that in the beta and that seemed to go over fairly well, as well as our Blood Money mode. But there were things that we noticed coming out [of the beta] that we could improve to strengthen that tie to the fiction, so we’ve been incorporating that stuff,” Papoutsis says.

After compiling feedback data, Papoutsis and his team realised that there was a lot more work to be done. “We came back and we were like, ‘Wow, there’s a ton of stuff here to do, how are we going to act on this with the release date in the near future?’,” he tells “We’re not taking everything everybody says and putting it into the game. We have to go through, look for commonalities, really decipher what some of these comments mean and then have our designers think about ways that we
can improve what we have based on that feedback.”

You’ll have noticed by now that the Battlefield series has something of a penchant for blockbuster spectacle, injecting a level of exaggerated action that’d make Michael Bay blush. Hardline continues the tradition, albeit by focusing on thrillers that delve into the parallel lives of crooks and law enforcers. With adrenaline pumping car chases, metropolitan-set street shootouts and explosions aplenty, Hardline takes its cue from the likes of Heat, Ronin and the Bourne series, so you best buff up on your film viewing before you pick up the pad next year.

“I think we as a development team would love to see [Hardline become a franchise],” muses Papoutsis. “Right now this is really the proving ground. Let’s get this game out and see what the players say. If they enjoy it and they want more of it, hopefully the company will be like, ‘Let’s go do more of it’. We’ll just have to see. The most important thing is making sure people understand this game offers a ton of variety in terms of the multiplayer, the single player, it’s a deep experience. It’s a total package.”

Releasing the beta shortly after its E3 debut wasn't just an opportunity to give fans a chance to get hands-on with the game early, but was also fundamental for Visceral to shape a new kind of Battlefield multiplayer experience. “It was about getting our legs under us, so to speak, in terms of delivering something stable and also delivering a Battlefield multiplayer game from the ground up,” says Papoutsis. “So we wanted to put that out there, test it with the players and as it was a beta, not a demo, actually learn a lot of stuff from them in terms of what they thought.”

Battlefield 4 was great. Well, actually, Battlefield 4 was great when it worked. Plagued with server issues at launch, Visceral is actively working to ensure Hardline doesn't suffer from the same mistakes. “People want to make sure this launch is stable and they don’t want to go through what they may have experienced previously with Battlefield 4,” Papoutsis reasons. “I think there’s another story I pick up on, which is that some people because they’re really enjoying Battlefield 4 right now, because it is stable and the issues are behind it that they want a little bit more time to enjoy that before they jump into the next thing.”

Previous Battlefield games have often tried to provide an authentic representation of military warfare within its story, but Hardline takes a more grounded approach. Set in LA, Hardline pays closer attention to characterisation, creating more involving and realistic protagonists that players will be following throughout the duration of the single-player campaign. The limited amount of time we played introduced us to Nick Mendoza and his partner Khai Minh Dao, both of whom proved to be a refreshing counterpoint to Battlefield’s traditional grizzled vets.

Visceral Games’ Steve Papoutsis talks about the collaboration between the two studios: “At the very beginning when we first started working on the game we had a lot of meetings with them to understand certain components, whether it’s the multiplayer, the vehicles, to some high-level conceptual ideas to make sure we weren't invalidating the pillars of the franchise. This is our first time doing a game from start to finish using the Frostbite tech, so that’s been a learning experience for our studio, so we’ve had a lot of conversations on how does this work and things of that nature.”

“We’d made the assumption [before the beta] that people would want to have more symmetry between the sides,” says Papoutsis. “[If] you love a weapon, but if you only had it on one side, we thought people would be upset because they couldn't progress when they’re on the other side in a match, because we alternate. But coming out of E3 we heard feedback that people enjoyed the asymmetry. So when they were playing on the criminal side, they did have different weapons. We've leaned into that and we’ve incorporated that feedback so we do have some asymmetry there between their weapons. Some of them shared but there are specific ones that are not.”

“[With next-gen], you can do more with the visuals, you can do more with the physics, it’s really just about trying to maximise what you can do,” reveals Papoutsis. “For us, being that were trying to ship games on all the consoles, as well as PC, that’s been a challenge because we’re basically developing five games at once. Really making sure that the experience on PS3 and 360 is also exceptional that’s been a challenge. We’re pushing a lot into the current gen, but then going back into the last-gen and needing to make sure the right calls are made.”

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