Never mind Bad Company - welcome to Dimwit Company. Nobody's talking to one another - hardly surprising, since the guys to either side of me are Italian, French and Spanish - and once the landing craft hit the beach, we've all regressed by about seven years. Italy's landed a biplane upside down on an anti-aircraft gun, and I'm stuck fast in a trench. In a tank.
Battlefield 1943 may be simplified - three maps, three classes, one objective - but the key word is accessibility, not casual. There's a tutorial this time - the first in the series, rather unbelievably - that introduces you to the concepts offline and then lets you practice in planes and tanks unmolested by hostiles. There are facilities for private matches, clans and squads, and there are levelling and reward systems (Achievements/Trophies and a broader range of honours beyond that, although no unlocks), but for the majority of people approaching the game from scratch, it's a one-click process to start playing, and it's not difficult to understand what's going on. You pick an infantryman, rifleman or scout class and then choose where to spawn. But it's still Battlefield, and it still punishes you for pratting around.
There are five control points on each map, like the one we're seeing today - Iwo Jima, after last month's reintroduction to Wake Island - and the European press gathered at DICE's wind-battered Stockholm headquarters have more difficulty negotiating the keycard door to the balcony than they do contesting the territory on the second map's thin, turbulent sliver of Ogasawara. Fighting seesaws between an airstrip at one end through trenches and over grassy hills past a lighthouse to higher ground at the other, and while all the vehicles are present and correct, it's an infantry war; automatic weapons, bazookas, sniper rifles, pistols and - gloriously - katanas doing the best of the killing.
Yet there really is a lot to it, just as there should be, and it's been tweaked smartly. Snipers blink - a well-judged stab of disorientation - into their telescopic sights and trace anyone daft enough to wander around out of cover; bazookas eviscerate the arrogant tanks; and the new bomber wings are repelled by anti-aircraft fire (another clever bit of balancing - rather than an unavoidable artillery strike, when a bombing run is called in from a special shack the team in the crosshairs now has a slim chance of repelling the onslaught).
DICE has played around with these maps, despite their heritage, and the results appeal to old and new. Senior producer Patrick Liu tells me that the small team deliberately reorganised them symmetrically. "Wake Island used to be one team defending the island and the other team attacking it. Now we've made it so there are two carriers and both teams are attacking the island, just to make things fair. Otherwise, for a total newb, it's extremely hard to get into asymmetric gameplay."
There's also a squad command system, similar to Battlefield: Bad Company. Commands are context-sensitive, so if you're staring at an enemy flag and issue an instruction, your comrades are told to attack; if you're staring at your own flag, they're told to defend. You can also spawn next to anyone else in the squad, rather than just the squad leader, so if he's a sniper hiding out in the distance, you can pick someone closer to the action and materialise there.
One big tweak came only very recently, in response to feedback on the Wake Island trailer. Apparently you all thought it looked too much like Battlefield Heroes, DICE's toonified third-person PC spin-off. Iwo Jima is considerably darker. Presumably if you pipe up again, Guadalcanal - the third of the maps, which no one has seen in its 1943 form yet - will be set at night under clouds inside Tim Burton's head, wearing a blindfold made of dried blood and mucus. "Guadalcanal is also a good blend of vehicles and infantry, but it's such a huge map and also has a lot of hills. There's a lot of sniping in that level," Liu says of it.
Another distinctive facet is the technology itself. 1943 may be a download-only multiplayer shooter built for an impulse purchase, but as we noted last time it's also built on Bad Company's proprietary Frostbite engine, which means fully destructible environments - more so even than last year's physics-heavy console shooter. Propane blows holes in buildings, towers fall, and fences buckle under tank-tread - Christian was much more poetic. Despite this, and the 24 players running around the Xbox 360 version we're playing on devkits, the frame-rate ping-pongs between 30 and 60fps.
It's enormous fun, but it still has me worried. There are sceptics among the Battlefield hardcore, but they should be converted when the demo versions hit around the time of the game's summer release on PC, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. The bigger problem is going to be finding a look-in audience, because whatever price DICE ends up going with - and after discussing it with Liu, and the series' executive producer Karl-Magnus Troedsson, I'd be surprised if it wasn't 1200 Microsoft Points, although they won't commit just yet - people are going to say it's 'only got three maps', even though they represent hours of potential gameplay.
"We are considering how we can communicate that," Liu says. "For fans that are familiar with Battlefield, they know how deep it is and how many hours you can get out of just one level. For new players, it is difficult to communicate how much playtime you get out of these few levels. We know from experience that the Wake Island demo for 1942 was played a lot. Some people never stopped playing it. So I don't have any answer to how we can solve that, but yes, it is an issue."
For Liu though, the most important thing about Battlefield 1943 - a project that span off from his own experiments with Frostbite after Bad Company was locked down at the start of 2008 - is that it captures "the spirit of Battlefield 1942". When I speak to him after his presentation, he tries to sum it up.
"I don't want to downplay the seriousness of war, but at the same time it's a lot of fun - just pure fun of being able to do basically everything in the game. One classic is to arm your jeep with C4 or dynamite and drive into the enemy base and just blow up everything. And it's not a mechanic that we built in just for that thing - it's just a result of the sandbox experience, and that together with more down-to-earth vehicles and weapons, because they're older, that makes the experience of Battlefield."
Even though it's undoubtedly more accessible, it's hard to argue that Battlefield 1943 is anything but an extension of that, and the things it's doing differently sit very comfortably alongside the equally classic, headlong rush for the nearest helicopter. It's just a shame none of us appears to know what to do with one.
Battlefield 1943 is due out for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this summer.