Sometimes all you can say is "I was there". And possibly, "I did my bit". Earlier this summer, I flew to Stockholm in Sweden to participate in my very first 64-player match of Battlefield 4, a game that is to glistening Chinese skyscrapers what a drunk driver is to a curbside snowman. The journey itself was a breathtaking tale of everyday heroism, in which I got lost in airports and courageously attempted to list some Swedish celebrities over dinner. And the hands-on? Well, the waters are murkier.
It's a problem DICE and EA have arguably created for themselves, by releasing trailers and gameplay demos of such extraordinary scale and intensity. The sight of that skyscraper spilling its glassy guts, toppling forward to faceplant the Shanghai waterfront in real time, remains one of the most next genny things that I, a humble Xbox 360 owner, have ever laid eyes on. But then you pick up a pad, and it turns out Battlefield 4 is just Battlefield 3 with different maps, an expanded (on console) headcount and some new or revised secondary systems. There's nothing wrong with that, in itself. But the video coverage left me dreaming of More.
Look out for a full-fat preview in the current issue of the magazine. Here are a few additional, off-the-cuff thoughts on particular features or escapades to wash it down. As I said - I was there. Did I do my bit?
1. Getting blown up by a swimmer
A little tip: when you're driving a gunboat in Battlefield 4, and you see somebody swimming, and the effete, white-gloved Englishman in your head suggests that you "run that little bird down for sport", don't. Because swimmers in Battlefield 4 are the deadliest things of all. It's now possible to dive under the surface to escape fire (by no means a bulletproof tactic, but worth trying out in a pinch) or to sneak up on a boat. It's also now possible to use one-handed weapons and gadgets while swimming. Combine those two techniques, and what do you get? Battletroll C4 Youtube Montage #461348: Jaws Edition.
2. Holding the centre in Domination
The Paracel Storm map isn't quite as dazzling as the Siege of Shanghai map, a scruffy tropical island chain presided over by a US cruiser and some wind turbines. It's extremely well-designed, however, lending itself to a multitude of game types. Playing a round of Domination - infantry-only Conquest, in short - you're limited to just one of those islands, which promptly reveals itself to be a tactical equation of fearful density.
Having largely failed to make any headway in Obliteration, with the whole map available, I became miraculously good at this point. Sure, discovering that DICE had unlocked all the game's guns and class gadgets for the occasion might have had something to do with that, but I also like to think I thrive in cramped spaces. Cramped spaces like the low-walled monument that houses the map's central flag, just up from the beach and squarely between two multiple storey warehouses. That's an awfully entertaining place to find yourself when you're holding a tricked-out light machinegun, and various flavours of propelled explosive.
It's a classic Battlefield pot-boiler - the flag that's most readily accessible from either spawn, and thus the flag that's likely to be contested within tens of seconds of kick-off. I died a hell of a lot, but took a fair few people with me, using airburst grenades and fletchette guns to pulverise snipers on second floor walkways. Fortunately, a friendly on the roof directly behind the flag was happy to perform reconnaissance; with his aid, I routinely caught Engineers with their trousers down, swinging the LMG up onto cover the second I noticed a hurrying orange triangle. Those triangles, eh? Incorrigible.