Soon, we will realise we've been had. Bonnie Tyler keeps on singing, and we see a trio of soldiers trapped in a car that's somehow found its way to the ocean floor, the track blaring out the radio. One of the soldiers is stuck in his seat, and the cracks on the windscreen are getting bigger. "I can't believe this is the song I'll die to", the soldier jokes and then hands the player a gun. In order to save as many as possible we have to shoot the screen and sacrifice our buddy.
This is the first part of roughly fifteen minutes worth of gameplay from Battlefield 4 that Dice and EA are showing off in the beautiful Skandia movie theatre in Stockholm.
As the playable demonstration, all done in real-time on a PC, continues we travel back in time to see what happened before this automobile mishap. The mission is called Fishing in Baku, and there we have the setting: Azerbaijan. The fingers of the Dice guy onstage spring in to action, and his audience of six hundred journalists get their first look of the gameplay.
We find ourselves in an abandoned school, gun in hand, scuffling by some happy but faded child's drawings on the wall. No teammates are anywhere to be seen. In the corner of the screen I notice that the mission is called "Reach the Factory Roof".
After a careful opening of a door, we get jumped but luckily it turns out to be our teammate. Cue a team up and soon we get to see the first lethal bullet being fired, when we peak out of the windows in the run-down building. Our teammate shouts at us, demanding surpressive fire on attackers on the other side of the street. The chaos on the roads is beautifully done, and a couple of stray dogs getting shot (and punched in the face!) adds a lot to the atmosphere.
"This is the most dynamic battlefield yet," game director Stefan Strandberg tells us after the demo. "You saw one way of playing today, but there are always many others." Some will use flanking, some will use weapons picked up on the way. Battlefield 4 is full of these self-authored stories.
Soon after this, our squad gets closer to the factory and the enviroments open up more. As the team shares some banter on a industrial lift, an enemy helicopter swoops into view and starts firing. Once again, chaos dominates the scene. Apart from the railgun bullets, we also have to worry about the building that's started to collapse. Here we see the Frostbite 3 engine, created in order to make this game, doing its thing.
Frostbite 3 is something Carl Almgren, senior development director, tells us more about. He mentions that he saw a journalist typing "great graphics, too bad it's pre-rendered" on his iPad during the presentation but - as Almgren says with a grin - it wasn't. So how will Frostbite aid Battlefield 4?
Dice promises more realistic humans, more details on skin and cloth. There will be dynamic enviromental lighting, fancy shadows, bouncing particles and everything in the game world will be affected by wind and other forces. The trademarked destruction returns, but Dice stresses that it will only be used "where it makes sense". As we saw in the demo, it will also be possible to keep playing on a level that gets partially destroyed.
The demo concludes with the mention of Russia and China, where we most certainly will get to play in the final game. So what's the verdict on this short presentation? Well, it throws us from one action-packed moment to the other, and while it's impressive to look at the visuals and the set pieces, the whole thing smells of the scripted moments in Call of Duty and makes me think of the over-the-top chicken fights in Family Guy.
I lost count of the helicopters chasing the main character and there was also a graphic scene where we have to cut the leg off a soldier. Also, the heart of Battlefield has always been in multiplayer not single player, but that's unfortunately a no-show this night. Dice's Karl-Magnus Troedsson promises me that more info on that will be coming soon.
It looks great, though. Everything from torn-up curtains blowing in the wind and the facial details on our squad members (for instance "Omar" from The Wire, who is the base for one of the characters) signals the quality within and although this is familiar Battlefield country, there is something new about the overall look. The design isn't all done in depresssing greys and browns luckily, and that's something art director Gustav Tilleby confirms to me after the presentation. The key words are "inviting, belivable and dramatic". As for "inviting", Dice have drawn inspiration from a somewhat unexpected source.
"We actually got a lot of inspiration from car ads. The game world should be inviting and desirable and not just all grey," Tilleby tells me as he shows a new powerpoint page, full of glossy cars from various ads.
A lot of effort has gone into contrast in the art direction, and Dice tells me about how they try to mix light with dark, urban enviroments with rural ones and guide us from claustrophobic levels (like the submerged car in the beginning of the demo), via indoor levels to open parts like a forest and then - naturally - huge battlefields. Tilleby also mentions the importance of epic and memorable enviroments, and symbolic visuals like the fiery, hell-like moment when we are forced to cut off the leg of our squad mate who's trapped under a car. Flames are all around him and it sets the mood in the same way the storms in another part of the demo do.
To sum up, a fifteen minute gameplay session is not long, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered regarding Battlefield 4. Dice have left us thirsty for more information on multiplayer, vehicles, maps and everything else for the virtual war at the end of the year. But if this turns out to be of the same calibre as Battlefield 3, or even better, a lot of desktop soldiers will enlist in the virtual war this fall.