With Battlefield 4 and her associated scandals still warm in the ground, EA faces criticism ranging from being labelled cheeky through to being hailed as the final nail hammered into the post-digital delivery age of gaming. The latter might be a little far, but as it stands: communities of gamers across the world are balking at the idea of paying a full-fat price for Battlefield: Hardline, which is ostensibly a mod with a texture pack draped over the top. The challenge EA has is making Hardline, a cops-and-robbers shooter with more than a little owed to the Payday franchise, seem like a good deal.

Battlefield: Hardline is certainly a Battlefield game, with similar class archetypes and many well-trodden mechanics remaining despite the shift from military action to police. Major set-piece events can be deployed in-game, as well as smaller touches like zip-lining between buildings, and driving an array of vehicles.

The ground vehicles feel like they are perpetually tethered to Earth, with a sense of motion best described as ‘gammy’, while choppers handle beautifully amongst the skyscrapers of downtown LA. All this feels familiar, and immediately has the player questioning what they’ve gone and shelled out for. The answer is the game’s two modes – Heist and Blood Money.

Battlefield: Hardline beta hands-on
Battlefield: Hardline beta hands-on

Blood Money mode is a twist on capture the flag, with both teams striving to take cash from a central point (central, at least, in the singular beta map ‘High Tension’) and get it back to their respective bases. It's primarily a tug-o’-war over a stack of cash, which can be grabbed and deposited (and then re-grabbed) by the opposing teams. Entertainingly, criminals and cops alike can be seen dashing through the streets of an eerily under-populated Los Angeles with 100 dollar bills trailing from their swag bags.

Like most Battlefield matches in the public arena, teamwork and success are random – get a poorly performing squad alongside you and the feeling of fun simply evaporates. Pick a winner and Blood Money can be exhilarating as the climax of Heat. That said, it’s nothing particularly new, especially in the uninspired High Tension setting.

Heist will have people attempting a Michael Caine impression for months to come, as the premise is to have criminals blow the doors of a flipped armoured car while SWAT does their best to prevent that from happening. Similar to Battlefield 4’s Rush mode, Heist revolves around coordinated teamwork, and is by far the most exhilarating mode in the current beta. Cleverly-orchestrated criminal escape routines versus structured police defence makes for intense gameplay.

Currently, Hardline feels like it lacks balance in terms of weapons and vehicles, as well as in the team balance department. Of course, being in closed beta explains many issues, but poor frame-rates (especially in close combat) seem to continually dog the Battlefield experience.

Battlefield: Hardline beta hands-on

Additions to the mix of proficiency-based levelling up (i.e. master a weapon and unlock new gadgets) is superseded by a cash-based upgrade mechanic, like a grown-up Counter-Strike. Be the best cop or robber you can be, and be rewarded with a new scope, zappier taser, or gnarlier grenade. It’s a minor change, but it helps to put some power back into the player’s progression.

It’s early days for Hardline. Textures, some solid surfaces and a whole slew of guns, maps, and upgrades are still to come. While the two new modes offer something different to the standard Battlefield slog, there’s nothing to tie the game to “cops and robbers” – it could be set in virtually any adversarial context and still be the same. The game could use some car chases and detailed procedural work – that’s what gets criminals put back in their place. Ahem.

At this stage, Battlefield: Hardline feels like an also-ran mod that would burn hot and bright for around six months. At the rate EA are expected to push out Battlefield games to keep up with Call of Duty, that might not be too far from the truth, relegating this game to the risky domain of offering too little for too much.