Time was you knew where you stood with Battlefield. That was in 1942, fighting World War II in a game that pioneered online military-based multiplayer action. Since then we've had Vietnam, 2142, back to 1943, Modern Combat, Special Forces, something about Heroes, and of course Bad Company. Except we didn't get Battlefield: Bad Company, the series betraying its PC roots in favour of a console-only spin-off.
A lighter affair than the core franchise, Bad Company saw you playing one of four ne'er-do-wells thrown together in the name of war and inevitably overcoming the odds with explosive action and comedy one-liners. While it was easy for PC snobs to accuse it of dumbing down the franchise, the Frostbite engine provided supremely destructible scenery, the squad-based single-player campaign was tight - if artificially difficult - and the multiplayer was a frenetic 24-player scramble with a chaotic mode called Gold Rush.
This time us PC chimps are allowed to the party, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 promises more of the same, but naturally bigger, better, and, er, badder. And possibly slightly easier. As producer Gordon Van Dyke admits of the original game, "I think we made it too hard to kill people. In a shooter game people want to kill people. So we've upped damage and the pacing is a lot better, it's tuned more.
"I think Battlefield as a whole, we've been doing it so long we're like a chef who knows the exact amount of spice to put in if they want it a little bit spicier, or how to make it a little more savoury or a little more sweet."
More specifically, the game involves not a food fight but an entirely fictional conflict between the USA and Russia. Taking place on the western coast of the Americas, the action - both single-player and multiplayer - will play out all the way from Alaska down to Chile, which obviously offers something of a mixed bag in terms of environments, covering familiar arid areas as well as jungle, alpine, foothills, and barren snowscapes.
As for that multiplayer, it will feature a massive 32 players, as opposed the console version's paltry two dozen. "Frostbite is a leading technology," says Van Dyke "It's not for the faint of heart. For PC we're able to squeeze more juice out of it and get it up to 32. Also it's a version that's being developed specifically for the PC. The core guts of the game and the idea is there but everything is being re-tweaked and everything is being balanced specifically for the PC." Hurrah.
Included in the four multiplayer modes is the classic Conquest, a staple of the Battlefield series since its inception, and an objective-based affair called Rush, which has its roots in Battlefield 2. As Van Dyke says, "There's been a lot of trials and tribulations in making this right, and we nailed it with this, bringing multiplayer into an open environment sandbox." As for the other two modes, they're yet to be announced but will apparently feature "really cool squad-oriented gameplay."
Due to logistics (we're in the dairy again) we couldn't manage a full 32-player affair but did have the chance to dabble with a five-vs-five multiplayer match, finding it a moderately engaging experience. With a steadier pace than Modern Warfare 2, some definite strategy was required, even if that meant jumping in the nearest Humvee and driving at the enemy until they inevitably slaughtered you. And with the level set in a dusty decimated town, it looked almost exactly like a scene from HBO series Generation Kill.
With the emphasis on vehicular warfare, as well as the obligatory Humvee you'll be able to take the controls of helicopters, tanks and jeeps as you throw yourself into a massive virtual war. Furthermore, each player will be able to utilise some 15,000 character specialisations, ensuring that everybody on the battlefield is different.
The Battlefield series may have been usurped by the Modern Warfare behemoth in recent years, but those Swedes at DICE know how to throw together a decent multiplayer war. Battlefield's coming home.