The grass is a brilliant green, the sky a perfect blue, and down towards the sandy beaches, with their artfully ragged lines of gently swaying palms, I can just make out a hint of bleached white rock. Looking around, this could be the Greenhill Zone, were it not for a few important distinctions, the first of which is the thick plume of black smoke rising ominously from the distant jungle. And the second? The second is the fact that I'm currently under fairly heavy gunfire. Who knows? Maybe Shadow's knocking about nearby.
And so I return to Wake Island, a balmy South Pacific hell-hole where visitors can spend the day relaxing inside scarred concrete bunkers, dine at dusk on the scrubbed decks of an ever-circling battleship, and then, when night falls, wander out for a gentle stroll along the golden sands, taking in the view and shrugging off the odd headshot. As long as there have been Battlefield games, there's been this particular battlefield - it debuted with the demo for 1942, and has been cropping up ever since, even making a surprise appearance in the hit-and-miss 2142 instalment. It's familiar territory, but not unpleasantly so, and spawning there in the forthcoming Battlefield 1943 feels like coming home. The years have apparently been kind, too: DICE's latest sees Wake Island tweaked, rebalanced, and raring to soak up even more of your blood.
A spiritual reworking of the first Battlefield, 1943 is a title that's been heavily shaped by its new platforms: alongside the PC version, the game will be appearing on XBLA and PSN this summer. Launching an exclusively multiplayer title on these services is a risk few developers have chosen to take so far, but if any franchise could pull it off, it's probably this one, particularly since its attempts at single-player campaigns have almost always underwhelmed.
The most obvious change with the new game is just how much weight it has shed in the transition to digital distribution. When you load up 1943 this summer, you'll find yourself with just three maps, three classes, and one game mode - multiplayer Conquest, the classic Battlefield standard-bearer in which teams compete for capture points in order to cripple their enemy's ability to respawn.
Playing as the Japanese, hitting the Wake Island shore, and then fighting up the beach and into a nearby airfield, it quickly becomes clear that, if 1943 is less than a full port, it's also often more. The game has been rebuilt from the ground up, using Bad Company's Frostbite engine, and that means that, as well as looking significantly prettier than it used to, its buildings and trees are now destructible. Within seconds I'm racing through the underbrush, putting huge holes in corrugated iron huts and bringing slatted wooden walls down with a reassuring splintering sound, before DICE's own QA department logs in to spoil such innocent fun with their insane headshot skills.
In fact, 1943's environments actually go one better than Bad Company's, with the developer using the opportunity to respond to criticism by allowing you to now take out the frame of a building as well as the walls and ceilings. This time, if you see a shack and you have the right tools with you, you can utterly level it - a move which adds a new tactical concern to classic Battlefield encounters, while also leading DICE to subtly rebalance 1942's maps, giving Wake Island a fair share of rocky, non-destructible outcrops to serve as cover options once the buildings are all gone.
The 360 controller is more than up to the task at hand, allowing for smooth strafing and pin-point targeting, and, elsewhere, while the traditional range of classes has been pared down, the trio that remains seem tailored to the game's scenarios. Alongside the close-combat Infantryman, you can also choose from a mid-range Rifleman, and the sniper-like Scout class. All three come with a load-out of familiar weapons, ranging from the M1, to the Thompson SMG, and the guns are typically vicious, firing with a weighty kick, before chewing through wood, plaster, and bone.
But it's further inland that I get a reminder of what truly makes the series so special: in this case, it takes the form of an opportunity to be comically mown down by an American tank. Battlefield's vehicles are entirely present and correct in 1943, with jeeps, transport boats and airplanes all adding to your tactical options. Taking to the skies, lining up a gun turret, or racing over the ocean in a six-seater, are all flawlessly handled, and the game hops between different scales of combat with the same easy skill it's always possessed, crouching behind a rock one minute, and then, a mere respawn later, soaring out of the horizon to strafe the beach from above. This time, there's also a new air-raid option, accessed via capturing an airfield, which allows you to briefly hop out of the action and pilot a formation of bombers on a fly-past, gently steering them towards their target before loosing the cargo. Played at just the right time, it's a trump card, capable of confidently turning the tide of a battle, so there's a significant cool-off period after each attack to balance it out.
The risk for DICE is that, in paring Battlefield 1943 down so tightly, an audience might look at the numbers alone and feel slightly cheated. And yet even a half hour of play is enough to suggest that this is a strategy borne of focus rather than cheapness. It remains to be seen whether three maps and one mode are enough to keep an audience satisfied over any real length of time, but it suggests that DICE at least is entirely confident in its abilities to create explosive, replayable sandboxes from the barest of bones.
And there's a real sense of equality to 1943, too: although there will be a levelling system of some sort, it will be largely used for bragging rights, since every weapon and vehicle is available from the start, with no ponderous chain of unlocks, and we've already been told that future DLC, if there is any, will take the form of new maps rather than ruin the careful balance by allowing you to purchase better guns. As for the maps available on day one, Wake Island, along with Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, may ground the game firmly in one combat theatre, but DICE is promising strong visual distinctions between all three.
So 1943 may end up being too slight, but it's already got that classic Battlefield feeling nailed. This is a sport as much as a game, and long term success may eventually lie with the players rather than the choice of courts. Whatever you decide, the fact remains that, on XBLA or PSN, there's simply nothing else quite like Battlefield.