In the year 2142, the world is a very different place. A much colder one, for starters, since a new ice age is dawning. As the Earth's soil begins to freeze over, rendering vast portions of the land uninhabitable, the planet's population finds itself fighting for survival, battling for territory, and embroiled in a bitter struggle over who gets to wear the last remaining woolly jumpers.
Ok, maybe not the last one, but you get the general idea - the world of Battlefield 2142 is bleak, cold and divided. Two factions are fighting it out for supremacy; the Europeans have put aside their differences over farming subsidies and straight bananas to form the EU Coalition, while those on the other side of the world have teamed up as the Pan-Asian Coalition.
You get to choose which side to fight for - and more excitingly, to play with all manner of spanky new weapons never seen before in a Battlefield game. In fact, said weapons have never been seen before ever, what with it being The Future and everything.
But don't make the mistake of thinking 2142 will be all about using lightsabers and the like to fight off hordes of aliens. This may be a futuristic game, but it's not quite a sci-fi game, as senior producer Marcus Nilsson explains: "The world is not Starcraft. There are no lasers, there are no plasma guns; this is a dirty, gritty and brutal world where everything you fight for is to survive."
Whilst there may be a distinct absence of plasma guns, however, there is of course plenty of new stuff to muck about with. Nilsson starts by showing us the T39 battlewalker, which he describes as "the Godzilla of the battlefield."
Running and gunning
Bearing at least some resemblance to those AT-AT walkers which gave the rebel alliance so much trouble on Hoth, the T39 is a two-man vehicle that comes complete with anti-personnel and anti-air guns. It also has an active defence weapon which can immobilise any incoming rockets or grenades. According to Nilsson, "It's an absolute infantry eater; it kills everything in its way, basically... When you're in it, we want you to feel really powerful, because you are in a killing machine and you are the person who controls it."
But like previous Battlefield games, 2142 works on a rock-paper-scissors principle - which means there's always a way to take down even the most powerful of units. As we watch, a couple of soldiers team up to launch an electro-magnetic pulse grenade, which stalls the T39 for a few moments and gives them enough time to launch a secondary attack, blasting the whole thing into pieces. Not quite as elegant as tripping it up using only a tow cable and a slinky fly-by manoeuvre, but impressive to watch all the same.
Now Nilsson shows us the SD-18 sentry drone, which will hover above your head as you traverse the battlefield, covering your back as it scans for enemies. It's currently Nilsson's favourite unit in the game, and apparently the playtesters are also big fans ("Some people in the office call it their new best friend. I don't know what that tells us about them...").
The SD-18 is brilliant at warning you of incoming danger and taking out enemies at close range, but not so effective if they're further away. Its other weakness is that it's visible at all times and will follow you everywhere, so there's nowhere to hide when you're using it.
If you prefer to keep things on the down low, you might like to make us of 2142's active camouflage. It makes you almost invisible to everyone else on the battlefield; almost being the key word, since if you don't use it with care your presence will be picked up by enemies. The other problem is that whilst you're using active camouflage, you can't use weapons - "So use it wisely and it's a really good tool, but you also have quite big weaknesses with it," says Nilsson.
Now it's time to unveil the biggest of 2142's big guns - a giant airborne unit called the Titan, which Nilsson describes as "the very icon for the new game." According to the backstory, the Titan was first developed for civilian purposes, specifically to transfer people and cargo over long distances. But it wasn't long before the military got wind of the new technology and turned the Titan into a giant killing machine which has now become "the backbone of the whole military service."
The Titan can be used to transport and supply reinforcements, including troops, APCs and battlewalkers. It's operated by a single commander, who also controls the unit's offensive weapons, such as the underside cannons. We're promised there will be a whole range of new "commander toys" to play with, although these haven't been revealed just yet.
However, Nilsson does show us the new Pod System, which "was developed to cater for the fact that all of a sudden you have the aircraft carriers up in the air - we need to get there somehow." And the best way to get there, it seems, is to go into pod mode, which means you can soar high into the air and across the battlefield, all the while surveying the action below from a first-person perspective.
"You can shoot yourself long distances from APCs, and other vehicles, and there's just room for so much to happen when you do that... You've never seen the battlefield like this before. Just being up there, flying in first-person, is absolutely so cool," says Nilsson.
Be warned - you might be travelling fast, but you can still be shot down out of the air by a keen-eyed sharp shooter. But you can also control your direction, just about, which enables you to not only avoid attacks but determine where you land. If you're skilled enough, you can even land right on top of an enemy to take them out; "That happens more by random [chance] now than by anything else, but it still happens."
"I love this feature," Nilsson says. "Just imagine what the Battlefield community will do with something like this..."
Clash of the Titans
But for now, it's back to the Titan, and the all-new game mode that's been developed around it. Have no fear, Battlefield fans, the Conquest mode is still in here ("Conquest is a very good way of playing the game, without a doubt, and we're not going to strip that out") but Nilsson's confident you'll enjoy Titan mode just as much.
"For a very long time we shipped with conquest... Because we simply couldn't come up with something that we thought would be as compelling as conquest really is. But now we've done it, and we have the future setting to thank for that.
"In the future, countries' power is measured by how many Titans you have - pretty much like nowadays [where] your power is measured by how many aircraft carriers you have," says Nilsson. Put simply, Titan mode works like this: there are two teams, and each has their own Titan. The first team to destroy their opponents' Titan wins. "There are no more flags, no more tickets, no more capture points; it's as easy as taking out the other guy's Titan."
"Even though it might sound very easy, there's a great depth to the whole gameplay - because at the same time you need to defend your Titan, and you also need to make sure that you have control over some key points on the ground."
It's a bit like chess, Nilsson explains, where the main objective is to take out your opponent's king - but you're forced to open up yourself to attack and defend yourself whilst trying to complete that objective. "That's pretty much what you're seeing in Titan mode."
What we're seeing on the screen right now is that a plucky squad has managed to get itself up onto the body of the enemy Titan. But it's not over yet, by any means; now they'll have to fight their way through the maze of corridors inside, blowing up a series of key consoles along the way. Then it's a matter of finding the Titan's nuclear core and attaching a load of explosives to it - and even then, the war isn't quite won, since if the squad doesn't make it out and off the Titan fast enough, they'll go down in a blaze of glory too.
It's all part of DICE's plan to offer up a more epic ending compared to the type you'd expect at the end of a Conquest match, "Where win-loss comes up on the screen. We wanted to do something special with it."
And they succeeded, Nilsson reckons: "DICE would not offer a new game mode unless we thought it was absolutely fantastic, and I have no doubt that this is the game mode that people will play for months and months after this is released."
Creating a game that people will still want to play long after release day is a key concern for Nilsson. "We know that 780,000 people played BF2 last month. That's nine months after launch. There [are two things] in the game that makes people play - one, it's a very good game, and two, the persistence gives people something to aim for.
"We know the persistence is a driving force, and we want to key in on that and make the persistence system much, much bigger." So you can expect much more persistence with regard to weapons, abilities and equipment, and also rewards - you'll get plenty of medals, badges and the like, and you'll even be awarded with dog tags when you knife someone. Lovely.
DICE also observed the popularity of squads in Battlefield 2, and consequently decided to offer bigger incentives for playing in a squad in 2142. In short, you and your team mates will earn points collectively, which means you can get access to upgrades, weapons and equipment more quickly.
Squad leaders will also get some fancy new toys to play with such as the squad beacon. Team members will spawn wherever the squad beacon is situated, and since beacons can be taken out by the enemy the squad leader will have to use all their tactical skills to work out the best position.
There have also been a few changes to the class system, as Nilsson explains. "This game has four classes to start off with, and they don't have as many items as we've perhaps seen before in other Battlefield titles. But as you rank up, you gain new items; when you've reached the highest rank within this game, you will have more than 1500 different combinations of soldier." Which means that "any time you go into battle, you can tailor your soldiers to the experience that you want."
But the biggest changes, of course, revolve around the game's new setting. Isn't DICE concerned that Battlefield fans won't be so keen on this whole futuristic thing?
Back to the future
"I think there are concerns. You can read about that in the forums," Nilsson concedes.
"But I remember when we'd done 1942, and we said we were going to do modern day, people went, 'No, don't go to modern day, stay in World War II.' I'm kind of seeing that same thing happen right now - I'm sure that when people get their hands on 2142, they will forget all about not liking us going into the future.
"The future brings so much to us... We can make up stuff for the first time ever, we don't have to rely on things that actually do exist; and for a game like Battlefield, which is based on rock-paper-scissors, it adds very much to the gameplay."
The key, Nilsson reckons, is to get people to play the game. He says 1942 "didn't sell at all until people tried it, and then it exploded... I'm pretty confident that when people get to try Titan mode especially, but 2142 as a product, they will realise the brilliance of it. Because trust me when I say it's very much the most fun Battlefield product so far."
Oh go on then, we'll trust you - for now. And we'll find out if you're right when Battlefield 2142 arrives this autumn...