So, how does it play? Extremely well is the answer, especially considering the amount of people playing. I've hopped online at all hours, and there's always been a full complement of matches to join straight away. Despite the crowds, the game has been silky smooth with almost no lag. Players dropping in and out causes nary a flicker, as there's always someone else to take their place. The maps are well designed, offering something for every style of play, and the overall impression is of a technically accomplished game that's been intelligently streamlined for console play. Vehicles, in particular, are a definite highlight. One button to accelerate, another to reverse, and you can hop into a tank, jeep or boat with no worries about how it will handle. There are no jets, but helicopters are a feature of the Oasis map. Control of these is considerably trickier, as you'd expect. They're deadly when mastered, but it's hilariously common to find some giddy newcomer rushing to take off in a chopper, only to spiral backwards and smash into the ground.
Visually, it's a treat. There's some v-sync tearing, but the frame-rate remains high even when the scenery is being blown to smithereens around you. Mostly, these maps just feel like real places - especially when you shred a tree trunk with a machine-gun and watch it topple over. The game's destructible environments mean that a well-placed rocket or grenade can blow out the walls of a building. Structures can't be completely flattened, so damage tends to occur in rather obvious square tiles, but there's still something immensely satisfying about avenging yourself by demolishing your enemies' hiding places.
That's not to say there aren't some irritating elements though. For one, this still seems to be very much a game for the hardened online soldier. Those weaned on Halo 3's less frantic team play may find themselves lost amid the savage fury of Battlefield's, er, battlefield. Noisy, terrifying and with death around every corner, you'll need to be a pretty accomplished shooter to really get the most out of the experience. While such atmospherics can be absolutely thrilling, they can also frustrate and the chaotic carnage can certainly feel overwhelming at first. "Hurray" shout some of you. "Er...no thanks" mutter others.
This isn't helped by a stripped-down respawn system that gives you only two choices - spawn back at the current base, or spawn with your squad. The former gives you breathing space, and the chance to grab a vehicle, but means you then have to trek all the way back to where the action is. The latter drops you alongside a team-mate, sometimes even in a tank, but often means you can die within seconds of respawning since there's no guarantee you haven't just appeared in the path of a bullet or an artillery strike. If you're an Attacker, losing respawns in this way becomes a real problem. You can see the logic in the system, but its binary all-or-nothing approach means that it can be hard to find the flow of a game, with all hope of coherent strategy blown sky high in a series of unavoidable deaths. Newcomers, especially, will probably find this makes or breaks the online play.