Even on paper Hotwire sounds amazing: you steal cars, everyone gets in those cars and shoots at all the other cars. In action it's a sort of beautifully chaotic mess of bad crashes, high speed drive-bys and everyone screaming at the driver for wedging their ride in a corner. (Pro tip: don't be the driver.)
The new Battlefield Hardline beta goes live tomorrow but I've had a chance to play it early, spending time on the three maps and three modes available. From that, I've learned Hotwire is the stand-out new trick in Hardline's bag.
Here’s how it works. Imagine Battlefield’s traditional Conquest mode but replace the flags with cars, which you have to capture by driving really fast. At the same time, you can fit as many people in the car as there are spare seats and they can all hang out of the windows like shooty dogs. In a Speed-like twist you can only score points when the cars are going over a certain speed, promoting a chaotic 'bumper cars with guns' mentality as teams races to steal vehicles, drive too fast and try to chase/shoot/ram the opposition. At the same time, all those without marked cars are running, driving or flying around trying to steal or destroy them. And, just because that isn't chaotic enough already, some of the vehicles are articulated lorries, ploughing through everything like a bowling ball through skittles.
Here's what that's like:
It's the most fun I’ve had in an online mode for a while because the dynamics and rhythms are so different to the usual online shooter patterns. There’s a rush to find the marked cars, either running around on foot or snatching the nearest vehicle to get there. Cars, bikes, vans and choppers are all in, making for almost Watch Dogs-like moments as you fishtail around corners with a helicopter bearing down on you. It also changes how you play on foot now that cars are such an intergral part of the game - it took me a while to adjust to staying off the roads, or open areas in general, to avoid being run over.
If anything Hotwire is closer to something like Twisted Metal than a trad online shooter, but dodges the shooting/aiming/driving issues by splitting the responsibilities - the driver has only that job to worry about, while the passengers sit out the windows rotating like turrets, or engineers press their repair torches into the door and try and hold everything together. Every car effectively becomes a high speed fortress, a little community fighting to stay mobile and keep others from doing the same.
There are other modes in tomorrow's beta. Both the Downtown and Dust Bowl maps host Hotwire and the Battlefield standard Conquest, while a third map is the location of the bank robbery Heist mode. This charges the criminal team with the job of breaking into a vault and making off with the money, while the police try to stop them. It's been seen once already in the previous beta but has undergone a few changes based on the feedback from that, as has the rest of the game. For example, as the criminal team you now have to defend the extraction zone in Heist rather than make an instant getaway. Across the multiplayer in general the more high powered, less police-like weapons such as RPGs have also been taken out of general circulation. They're still there, but now only available as 'battle pick ups' within the maps, becoming strategic objectives if you can get them, rather than part of a standard loadout. The classes have also been tweaked, with gadgets and abilities moved around to better balance them, while some of the weapons have also had their damages and ranges adjusted to accommodate the closer urban engagements the game favours.
Until now I've not been sure about Battlefield Hardline. The single player’s odd mix of police-themed story and army explod-o-shooter still needs to prove to me it can work across a campaign. The cop mechanics are great but it all too soon dissolves in to 'Battlefield with a police hat on', making everything feel like a ludicrous Bad Boys mess of big guns, bigger explosions. That kind of action works in Battlefield's traditional gener-0-war land but is a bit harder to buy into in downtown LA. The multiplayer suffers from none of those problems, though, and is shaping up to be the traditional Battlefield experience. Hotwire might just give it the edge it needs to stand out.