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Battlefield 4 first gameplay details: squad commands, amphibious combat and leg-chopping

DICE and EA formally unveil their next generation shooter

DICE has formally unveiled Battlefield 4, the latest incarnation of its first-person shooter series, which is down for release on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and future consoles in fall 2013. The game runs on the new Frostbite 3 engine, an "evolution" rather than a wholesale rewrite of DICE's famed graphics tech, and is set once again in the present day, with the world on the brink of war between China, Russia and the US.

Players take charge of a US soldier nicknamed "Recker", part of a four-man squad who are swept up in cataclysmic events during an intelligence-gathering mission in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. Where Battlefield 3 moved between multiple characters, the new game will occur through the eyes of just the one, as part of an attempt to tell a more believable and compelling story. Characters include Dunn, your squad leader, an Asian woman known only as Hanna, and "Irish", an African-American squadmate voiced by Michael K. Williams, the actor who plays Omar Little in HBO TV series The Wire.

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New gameplay features include a squad command mechanic, which allows you to order allied infantry and vehicles to attack or suppress foes, plus amphibious assaults on naval forces (glimpsed in footage but, alas, yet to be explored in full). There will also be "elements of social persistence" which have yet to be properly divulged, but are described as a means of keeping tabs on how other players are doing in the campaign (and are presumably linked to the existing Battlelog service). Battlefield 4 does not support campaign co-op at this time, and the competitive multiplayer is being kept under wraps for the moment - but you will get to chop somebody's leg off during a particularly trying cutscene.

The game's environments are considerably more open than those of Battlefield 3, and DICE aims to give players much more choice about how they approach scenarios, allowing them to experiment with different weapons, vehicles and the destructible terrain. The arsenal has yet to be revealed in full, but includes a dual-sight rifle, shotgun with foregrip and a drum-fed grenade launcher. There are at least two breeds of helicopter and a jeep with an MG turret. Civilian vehicles are also drivable in the campaign.

The new Frostbite engine is described as far easier to work with than its predecessor, thanks to a streamlined front-end and the capacity to make changes to playable code with immediate effect. Benefits include a new level of AI sophistication, by way of which NPCs react to minutiae in the world, more dynamic, detailed levels, superior particle and lighting effects, and object physics that simulate the effects of environmental "forces" such as the wind and the passage of vehicles. Designers using the engine can work simultaneously on PC and console versions of the game.

Watch out for a full preview plus interviews with DICE in the very next issue of OXM, out next month. I'll probably write a little more on the subject before then. Anything in particular you'd like to know about?

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