Battlefield Hardline: Taking no prisoners

The way I would want people to evaluate and think about the game is, this is a Battlefield game.It is a Battlefield game. It says Battlefield in the name, it is a Battlefield game. I’m hopeful people will look at it like a Battlefield game, so when they sit down and play the multiplayer they’re evaluating it through that lens and then when they play the single-player they're evaluating it through that lens.”

Such was the unequivocal stance of Battlefield Hardline executive producer Steve Papoutsis as we talked to him about Visceral’s biggest challenge to date, both bringing some of its own creative vision to this established franchise whilst simultaneously shaking off the shadow of Battlefield 4. That shadow largely revolves around the multiplayer experience, which is probably not the position Papoutsis was expecting to find himself when Visceral began working on this project.

Typically, Battlefield’s shortcomings have come from the single-player story modes and, from the outside looking in, it would appear that’s exactly why Visceral was tapped to come in on the franchise. Now the message from the team has to be more balanced and the online portions have to be given a little buttressing.

“Well, ultimately, the game is a multiplayer game,” Papoutsis concedes. “We're putting a tremendous amount of work and effort behind the multiplayer portion of this game and hopefully people are going to be interested and excited to play the game because of the multiplayer, because of the ability to have those ‘only in Battlefield moments’ with the great rock, paper, scissors gameplay.”

But there is much more to Hardline than that as Papoutsis was keen to state immediately: “I don’t want people to think about our game or evaluate it only on the single-player, or only on the multiplayer. I think 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.”
“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’ ”
And perhaps there’s been a little short sightedness on the whole already from those looking to give Battlefield Hardline a kicking. Negativity surrounding the series thanks to server issues on Battlefield 4 have spilled over into this title, with suggestions that it was nothing more than a reskinning of last year’s game being top of the list of common gripes. “Yeah, that’s definitely been a criticism we heard early: ‘Oh it’s just going to be a reskin or it’s just going to be a DLC at best’,” Papoutsis admits. “Obviously, as people working on it, that’s absolutely not what we want to hear and that’s absolutely not what we’re doing.”

Visceral has taken its cops-versus-robbers setting seriously and looked for innovative ways not only for it to create an interesting solo experience, but also to feed into new modes and styles of play online too. “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,” explains Papoutsis. “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 that we could improve to strengthen that tie to the fiction, so we’ve been incorporating that stuff.”

And there has been a lot of feedback already. Visceral made the decision going into E3 that it not only wanted to reveal Battlefield Hardline, but also give fans the chance to play it immediately. To kick off a beta right after revealing the game was a bold move one that may have even attracted more attention to the game than it was really ready for but this led to a lot of useful feedback and ultimately fed the decision that the game needed more time.

“What happened was we got a ton of great information,” Papoutsis tells us. “There are tons and tons of very passionate Battlefield veterans that have opinions, so we got a lot of good feedback and were encouraged to get that feedback. We got the feedback, 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?’. We talked about it and Andrew Wilson, our CEO, was behind the idea of ‘let’s listen to our players and give the development team an opportunity to incorporate the feedback that makes sense’.”

But Papoutsis didn't want us to think it was all about fixing the multiplayer. “By nature of that, a lot of that attention goes into multiplayer, but the benefit of that is we’re also getting more time with our single player campaign to improve that. On that side, what we do on a regular basis is we bring our games to a place in the company called the game lab where we have a lot of outside people come in and focus test the game. We can sit down and watch them play the campaign, find out if certain areas are frustrating, check the difficulty, see if they understand the objectives and so on. So we’re taking that information as well and incorporating that into the single player side.”

As an example of some of this feedback, it seems that Visceral was surprised to discover that it had perhaps been too conservative in its approach to giving Battlefield a new setting. The team had assumed that players would want multiplayer to be balanced in terms of the weapons available to both the cops and robbers in every game mode, but they fast discovered that wasn't the case.
“We’ve put a lot of attention across the campaign in making sure it’s a great through the gun experience for the shooter fan”
“That was a good thing that came out of our beta,” Papoutsis explains. “We'd made the assumption that people would want to have more symmetry between the sides, so have them basically be the same.” As a matter of fact, players didn't actually want to be able to use an AK-47 on both sides, but wanted to find a different and fresh experience on whichever team they found themselves playing. “Coming out of E3 we heard feedback that, no, people actually enjoyed the asymmetry. So that when they were playing on the criminal side, they did have different weapons. We’ve leaned into that and we've been incorporating that feedback, so we do have some asymmetry there between their weapons. Some of them are shared but there are specific ones that are not.”

Now with the game delayed, Visceral is polishing the single-player to a crisp shine, working with DICE to make sure the multiplayer experience is the best it can be, and all the while fans are keeping their fingers crossed that it doesn’t take months again to go from launch to a stable online experience. While Papoutsis seems confident that the game will be rock solid for launch, he appears to sympathise with the concern. “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 tells us. However, he also thinks there might be a more positive spin to the seemingly content reaction fans had to the delay announcement: “I think there’s another story I pick up on, which is 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.”

Certainly, moving into 2015 and avoiding the wave of new titles that traditionally arrive at this time of year is going to give fans more time to appreciate what Visceral has put together. Attempting to find space for a game that has had a difficult year in terms of online stability when you’ve got Call Of Duty and Halo to play was going to be a tough ask. Now with some time on its own and a nice window in March to build an audience (the Titanfall slot, more or less), players can really sit with it and digest all the changes, large and small, that Visceral is pushing. The frantic pace of some of the cops and robbers multiplayer gameplay we’ve seen has been breathtaking, while the single-player looks intriguingly open to personal style and expression. If Papoutsis and his team have really taken on the feedback and kept refining both the core pillars of this franchise and Visceral’s own spin on them, Hardline could be a very strong release in a few months time.

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