This week's EA Winter Showcase saw Battlefield looking to the past and the future – the former by way of a Vietnam-themed DLC expansion for Bad Company 2, and the latter with an extremely ambitious free online title, Battlefield: Play4Free.
Putting aside DICE's apparent newfound love of text-speak (at least it's not called Battlefield LOL), it's good to see the series fighting on multiple fronts. Battlefield 3 might still be incubating somewhere warm – and probably fairly noisy – in the developer's studio, but there's a lot of war to be had in the meantime while we wait for it to come together.
As with budget student travel, Vietnam's the best place to start. A download add-on for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (it will require the disk), your 1200 MP or equivalent will buy you four maps, 15 new weapons and six new vehicles with which to play the standard Bad Company 2 multiplayer modes.
The maps on display were goodies. Both Rush offerings with a lot of variety, Hill 137 kicks off in luscious jungle before sending you up a steep bank and into the scorched environment of a freshly napalmed encampment, riddled with survivor tunnels.
Vantage Point, meanwhile, is a spin on Battlefield: Vietnam's Cambodian Incursion, with a tightly hemmed-in river giving way to open sniper territory, topped and tailed with a fishing village and an American base.
Both are lookers - a stylish mixture of deep greens, bleached yellows and washed-out browns perfectly capturing the ambience of the conflict, while the Frostbite engine works its peculiar weighty magic on rocks and rivers alike.
The new vehicles include Hueys, the classic Apocalypse Now patrol boat and the T-54 Russian tank. The weapons range from banged-up AK47s for the Vietcong to M16s and M21 sniper rifles for the US. Motion sensors and red dot sites are out, naturally, but iron sights are in.
Crucially the expansion's packing a flamethrower, too. Slow to kill in a game in which an enemy with the right gun can take you down in seconds, it's balanced by the fact that it's enormous visceral fun to use up-close, and it allows you to set fire to everything except mud, stones, and water.
As Richard Nixon once said, Vietnam isn't Vietnam until you've set some innocent person's home on fire, and it will be interesting to see what the new gadget brings to multiplayer tactics in this hectic game.
With an international war crime flickering into smoky life behind us, it's probably a good time to turn to Play4Free. Battlefield's already marked out territory in the microtransactions-powered online shooter space with Heroes, but the developer's latest foray is a clear attempt to play to the desires of a slightly different audience.
You won't be rushing into cartoony battles with a sombrero on your head in Play4Free, in other words. Rather, this is a far more po-faced blend of Battlefield and Bad Company ideas, letting you loose in a series of more realistic maps with four familiar classes to choose from – Assault, Recon, Medic, and Engineer – and a levelling curve that attempts to mimic the progression of a real soldier's career.
(That said, it's lacking the bit right at the end where they retire and settle down to write large-print military potboilers with titles like Killnuts: A Jazz Rickshaw Adventure.)
With senior producer James Salt showing me around, Play4Free appears to be an fairly pretty proposition for a free online game. Draw distances are good, assets are detailed, and there's still room on the download for the developer to pay attention to the atmosphere of the contemporary videogame warzone.
"Colour grading, film grain, and depth of field effects: we've got all that stuff," says Salt. "We think people will be quite surprised at the quality, actually."
Karkand's a launch-day map, and it's based on Battlefield 2's Strike at Karkand. "We've made the play area quite a bit smaller, and we've got a very different kind of layout," says Salt.
"It looks like Battlefield 2 at first, but buildings and tactical spots have been moved around. There's still a lot of room, though. A lot of modern FPS games go for the really tight spaces, so it's been refreshing to open things out again."
Play4Free will ship with a new mode that revolves around capturing a series of flags and then holding them long enough to start earning points. The more flags you have, the quicker you earn, and the first team to reach the target level wins.
It's a game type so newly minted that DICE hasn't even named it yet ("What do you think about Assault?" asks Salt. I'll see how I feel after I've eaten, eh James) and despite the tightened confines of Karkand, there's still plenty of room for Play4Free's 16 vehicles to intrude. The game will support up to 32 players, too, so Karkand's going to get crowded.
Despite the relatively fancy visuals, DICE is aiming to keep the download footprint as close to the 500MB of Battlefield Heroes as possible. It seems that the other free-to-play concern – the economy – shouldn't be intruding into the warfare too much. The developers are more than aware that most players aren't going to want to pay a single penny, according to Salt.
"As with Battlefield Heroes, the stuff we're selling are weapons and clothing customisation items for the most part," he says.
"There are two currencies - one you get by playing and one you can buy – and the majority of items are available for both currencies. It's only the really exclusive stuff that you're going to have to buy.
"With clothes, it's only if you want to look really, really badass. With weapons, it's much more about balancing: this gun is really fast, but it's got no grip, this one just looks really cool. It's always a personal choice and it's never going to unbalance the match."
Levelling up sees you earning training points to put into a tech tree that allows you to flesh out the two elements of your soldier: his equipment and his physical abilities. The former will see you gaining access to new weapons and gadgets and eventually tricking them out, while the latter lets you buff attributes that will enable you to do things like take more damage or run faster.
Best of all, as a download title with a lengthy roadmap in place, Battlefield Play4Free will be levelling up alongside you as the developers listen to feedback and implement new tweaks or content accordingly.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that you'll be able to see the game for yourself in a matter of weeks. You can register interest for the beta as of today in readiness for a launch on 30th November. The wait may continue for Battlefield 3, then, but there's more than enough to be getting on with in the meantime.