John Riccitiello may be firmly in the rearview mirror of the EA monolith but his stated philosophy concerning its flagship shooter is still in place, it seems.
From the evidence on display at Battlefield 4's first reveal of its FPS in the Skandia Teatern in Stockholm last night, EA seems to be after two things. First, it wants to lay an unshakable claim to having one of this year's biggest releases. Second, and admittedly, this is extrapolating, to an extent; it wants to eclipse its competition.
Make no mistake, Battlefield is still chasing Call Of Duty's brass ring; a feat that its developer DICE almost achieved back in 2011 with the last iteration in the series. Battlefield 3 earned universal acclaim from its layered and gargantuan online multiplayer, but its Achilles' Heel - and what many considered held it back from the lofty heights of its competitor - was its tepid and forgettable single-player campaign.
"With Battlefield 3 I felt like we did so many things right," says DICE's Creative Director Lars Gustavsson. "It hurt to hear people saying things like 'it wasn't really all there - you forgot some of the pieces of the Battlefield formula'."
What Gustavsson is addressing here is Battlefield 3's strongly linear progression in the single-player campaign. Battlefield, he says, is and always has been about giving players options. The brief for single-player in DICE's new game is to implement the open-ended approach of the online mode to set-pieces in the main campaign. That, and add a whole load of heart to Battlefield 4's impressively tech-heavy spectacle.
"If we can deliver on that, while telling you great story where you don't care about anything except finding out what comes next - I'd want that," Gustavsson says. "And since you steering the direction of what's happening with the new set of tools you're using - hopefully you'll be so connected to it, you'll come out of it and say 'I want more'.
"That's my hope and dream," he says.
The game carrying Gustavsson's - and DICE's - hopes and dreams certainly looks the part. Unveiled on a cinema screen flanked by two golden statues, Battlefield 4 garnered audible 'ooh's' and 'aah's' from a games media who likely felt before the reveal got rolling that they'd seen everything a modern-themed shooter could possibly have to offer. More fool them.
The opening part of the footage bordered on surreal. We saw the interior of a car, plummeting steadily through darkening seawater. The only sounds in the cabin were the steel ribs of the car buckling and the windshield cracking as the water tried to push its way into the car and drown the four soldiers inside it. Oh, Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart", which just happened to be playing on the radio. "I don't wanna die to this song," wailed one of the jarheads, prompting a laugh from the audience.
This weird instance aside, it's clear that DICE is looking to cake its new game in a ton of grit; as Recker (the player's character), Irish and Pac scrabbled about inside the car, their commanding officer, Sgt Dunn, calmly told them to leave him there and save themselves. He handed Recker his pistol and told him to shoot out the passenger window. As his mates screamed at him not to do it, Dunn intoned something about how wolves have to be prepared to chew off their own paws to escape from traps. Recker blasted the window and the screen went black.
What follows in the form of a plot flashback leading up to the scene in the car looks like a Hollywood action blockbuster shot from the point of view from the protagonist. That's not to say there's anything revelatory or groundbreaking in plonking the player in the boots of an action hero wielding a gun, mind. That's just to say that shown in HD - running on a PC - on a full-size movie screen, Battlefield 4 is an incredibly immersive piece of work. The newly tweaked Frostbite Engine conveys a real sense of place presented through the lens of a high-octane movie.
The superb visuals and sound work hard to envelope the player, obliterating any trace of the outside world. DICE isn't blurring the mediums of film and game here - Battlefield 4 is still obviously a piece of interactive entertainment, even if the pared down HUD seems to drift to the margins somewhat. But the Sweden based studio is pushing beyond the usual sky-high production values that players expect from a game like this - although they're still on display; muzzle-cracks are still apparently weapon-specific and the game is filled with hugely detailed environments, such as the graffiti-covered dilapidated school Recker and his band traipse through at the top of the reveal.