A battalion of troops charge past our prone left shoulder, an M1 Abraham rumbles ominously past our right. A Z-11 chopper (foolishly) engages the superior AH-1Z Viper above our heads. We're too busy cowering amongst the rubble to pay much heed; that lurking AC-130 Gunship has all-but levelled the building we were holed up in. Oh dear, what's that creeping over the horizon... a ruddy typhoon? War is hell. Battlefield 4, on the other hand, is almost everything we'd hoped it would be.
"Levolution" plays a significant role in all of this. It's the ultimate manifestation of the Frostbite 3 engine's flair for destruction; not only can you reduce most smaller buildings to their component wodges of mortar with enough sustained shelling, you can even topple the Godzilla-sized ones (like a skyscraper, hotel or dam) with a bit of old-fashioned ingenuity. This ability to all but 'kill' concrete ramps the theatre-of-war-immersion up to unprecedented levels: the particle-obsessed engine spits out huge quantities of dust and debris.
As regards customisation, we've never seen so many different loadouts, attachments, and vehicle options in any previous release. The scope is staggering and, frankly, a bit disconcerting - if this is your first BF experience, you'll perish lots before you begin to pick up the gist of things. Taking the time to revel in - and explore - the terrific, ginormous maps is paramount. Standouts abound, but if pressed we'd plump for the following foursome: soggy Chinese tenement Flood Zone; classically U-shaped map Lancang Dam; Rogue Transmission, with its enormous satellite dish; and Paracel Storm, in which it's possible to park a destroyer atop an island. It's hardly a stretch to suggest that BF4 boasts the greatest array of multiplayer arenas the series has seen. If you're as crack-addicted to Conquest as we are, they represent staggering value for your dosh.
Old faves aside, there are a handful of new incendiary devices-heavy game modes. Obliteration is a large-scale Capture the Flag-alike, in which teams battle to assume command of bombs and detonate them at specific locations. Defuse, conversely, is a lot more intimate, almost reminiscent of COD in its twitch-shooty, die-a-million-deaths style, waged on far more claustrophobic maps than is BF4's norm. It's a fairly obvious attempt by DICE to delve into Infinity Ward/Treyarch territory, but not a particularly convincing or enjoyable one. This aside, Battlefield 4's multiplayer feels reassuringly similar to that of its immediate predecessor - there are the same four classes, though they've been tweaked on the basis of Battlefield 3 fan feedback.
The campaign, meanwhile, is a disappointingly mixed bag. It's brief, explosive, muddled and faffs around with concepts of morality in war to no real avail. Set primarily in China, before taking off for a spot of COD-esque globe-trotting, the game eschews realism in favour of faux-Bond 'saving the world' schlock, and all but insults the player with its ham-fisted storytelling. Maybe it's just us, but we think Battlefield has the means to pull off a truly compelling, Blackhawk Down-esque story about conflict. This, although a fun romp, isn't it - we'd be queuing round the block to give irritating, whinging, faux-moralising supporting doinks like 'Irish' a slap.
There are, however, some impressive set pieces, like the fierce tropical storm that steals the show during a city shootout, an improbable slice of dam-busting and a creepy underwater excursion to a downed aircraft carrier. Some of the sound design that booms out during these showdowns is absolutely best-in-class: it's a phenomenal achievement when a war game conjures a genuine fear for your (albeit virtual) life simply by way of your ears. Overall, though a better swipe at single-player than BF3, Battlefield 4's single player won't be rocking anybody's 'best of forever' lists any time soon.