Battlefield Hardline's premise is nonsense. A team of criminals is engaging in all-out war with a SWAT team in the middle of Los Angeles without the National Guard intervening. The crooks sacrifice millions of dollars' worth of equipment (helicopters, cars, motorcycles) to steal a far smaller sum of money. Still, once you learn to accept the absurdity of Hardline's story, you're probably going to have fun. The story's just an excuse for the series to explore some interesting new ideas.
There were two modes included with Hardline's beta weekend. The first, Heist, seems like the flagship mode for the game. Criminals steal two bags of cash and then bring them to designated extraction points. The cops must whittle down the criminals' spawn count to zero before they can escape.
If you're hoping to devise clever heists and engage in high-speed car chases, this game probably isn't for you. There's no planning to speak of; the loot spawns at the same two central points at the start of every match. The relatively small size of the map in the beta also means that chases aren't very prolonged. A criminal with a vehicle can make it to the extraction point in a minute, provided no police manage to intercept him.
Still, a map that allowed for a ten-minute car chase wouldn't have worked. Hardline, like other Battlefield games, is a shooter at heart. Heist matches usually play out as urban gunfights, with the criminals advancing their package to its destination one block at a time. The bags' locations are displayed to everyone on the map so there's no sneaking around. The winning side is going to be the team that works together toward objectives while outgunning their opponents.
When a criminal drops a loot bag, the cops must stand near the bag for a prolonged period to return it to the base. This abruptly puts cops on the defensive. They have to protect this bag, often in an inopportune location, from an onslaught of criminals. In one case, me and two other cops were crouched behind a van near the loot bag while taking fire from three directions.
You could write off Heist as being just a Capture the Flag variant. That's a fair assessment of the mode. Still, it's a good Capture the Flag variant. The biggest pitfall of CTF is "turtling," with each side doing enough to defend their flags but not being able to capture their opponent's. Heist prevents this situation by not giving criminals the option of defending. The two possible extraction points split the cops' attention. Also, the fact that cops return dropped bags by standing near them means that they can't simply sit on these bags for the whole match. Heist is a faster-paced, less predictable version of Capture the Flag.
The other mode on display in the Battlefield Hardline beta, Blood Money, is Capture the Flag mixed with Domination. Players must gather cash from a safe in the middle of the map, and then bring it to their team's vault on one end of the map. The team that gets $5 million first wins.
The general description doesn't do Blood Money justice. The finer mechanics are what makes it so fun. For starters, you collect more and more money by standing at the safe and holding your Interact button. The downside of grabbing all that cash is that you're vulnerable to enemy fire. Each team needs to keep pressure on the central point to ensure that the other team isn't freely collecting cash.
Stealing is also a huge part of the game. You can kill another player's cash, pick up their score and bring it back to your own base. That's another incentive not to grab too much money from the center; you're giving the enemy team the potential for a big score without them having to risk going to the safe.
Even better: you can steal money from your enemy's vault. If you don't defend your base, you could end up losing all of your hard-earned cash. In several matches I played, my team cleaned out the opponent's vault.
What I love about Blood Money is how unpredictable it is. I've played a lot of Battlefield 4 matches where I can tell who's going to win after just a few minutes. In Blood Money, however, the losing team always has a chance. A team on the verge of winning can go back to $0 or vice versa.
While the modes of Battlefield Hardline's beta are admirable, other aspects of the game weren't so impressive. The visuals, for example, seem like a cut below BF4's. Both games use Frostbite 3 so you'd think Hardline would at least be on par with its predecessor. I'm hoping that the visuals were simply downscaled to make the beta download size smaller.
The Hardline customization makes the game feel like a mod of BF4 rather than a separate game. The traditional four character classes (assault, support, engineer, recon) return with different names but mostly the same equipment. The new crime-themed equipment like grappling hooks and ziplines don't get enough use to change the action. Maybe other maps make these items more helpful. I also hope that Visceral Games has other gadgets planned that will give Hardline a unique identity.
Battlefield: Hardline is a spin-off that doesn't feel all that far from the main series. It brings some great new ideas but it's first and foremost a Battlefield game. If you're a Battlefield fan just looking for new modes and maps to play, Hardline will probably satisfy you. I'm not expecting much more than that right now.