SgtLewis247, we've never properly met. But I think I love you.
If I ever see you in real-life, I'll run towards you to take you in both arms and give you the firm embrace normally reserved for long lost friends - we'll hold each other like two people who have been through so much together, who have both triumphed in the face of madness and witnessed so many incredible, impossible and brilliant things.
We'll talk about how we stormed the school that sits west of the rickety village in Golmud, how it all came tumbling down around me while I lay on my belly, taking potshots at intruders through the rubble as you made a miraculous, heroic escape. How, later that same day, you pulled up next to me in a VDV Buggy and gave a knowing toot, pausing while I clambered on the back before we raced across the grassy plains towards the farm on the outskirts, darting through the smoking missiles that exploded across the sky like so many brilliant fireworks, thudding to a halt then taking down an entire squad that had set up base in mortar-wrecked outhouse. It was just the two of us against the world that day. You and me, we took them on and we won.
Excuse me if I get a bit carried away, but good lord Battlefield 4 can be an incredible game. Even now, almost three years after its release. Well, especially now, all this time after the notoriously troubled launch of DICE's shooter, now all those quirks have been ironed out, and now all those maps that came as part of the generous post-launch support have been folded in. Not that you'd know they were there.
I logged into Battlefield 4 on PlayStation 4 this week after some 18 months away, not quite knowing what to expect. To my delight, within seconds I was sucked into a server with a full complement of 64 players, hosted by a team of Belgian enthusiasts who just want to play Conquest on Golmud Railway. All day, every day.
And why wouldn't you? There might be better Battlefield 4 arenas - I've always loved the urban mess that comes after a skirmish on Siege of Shanghai, especially after that huge skyscraper has come tumbling down - but none of them are quite so good at relaying what it is that makes this game so very special.
It's about the expanse - about looking out to the horizon to see the arc of anti-air missiles in the distance, the jumpscare when you're sprinting through a field and a jet punches the air above your head that slows your run and makes you just go wow. Battlefield 4 was around for the launch of the PlayStation 4, and it most definitely wasn't the prettiest of that initial batch of games. Still, though, all this time later, no amount of texture pop-in and frame-rate stuttering can detract from the spectacle. Battlefield 4 still has a capacity to stun like no other game this generation.
Such has always been the way with Battlefield, a series with a template that's always felt a little ahead of its time. No matter what the era any particular game is set, from World War 2 to Vietnam, seeing all that player-orchestrated chaos and noise swirl around you has a little touch of something from the future, the virtual war game at its most spectacular. Coming back to Battlefield 4 after some time away, whether that's spent on the thinner skirmishes of Battlefront or the enclosed firefights of Destiny, is nothing short of a revelation.
Its class-based, squad focused gunplay might be as old as the hills, but it still feels great. Heading back to Battlefield now is to be reacquainted with all that was absent in DICE's deliberately streamlined (and admittedly enjoyable) transposition of its formula into the Star Wars universe with Battlefront - it's amazing how deep its combat runs, and how its skirmishes are full of possibility. Take that next conquest point on foot, tenderly stepping behind enemy lines, or get a squad in a helicopter and start humming Ride of the Valkyries to each other before parachuting in only to see your best laid plans come messily, hilariously unstuck.
The discordance around Battlefield 4's launch obscured its underlying brilliance somewhat, but rightly so. There's no excuse for what amounted to a full-priced, much-touted and deeply-flawed early access game with countless issues, and in its own way DICE's game became a poster child for all that was wrong at the start of this generation. It took time for Battlefield 4 to come good, but by the time it had the damage was done. Still, some bugs were more welcome than others, and I guess I owe DICE a favour for Battlefield 4's insistence on deleting my single-player save file, ensuring I've never had to see beyond the third mission of its awful campaign.
All of which has got me excited for Battlefield One, albeit with some reservations. I don't think DICE has a half-decent campaign in them, sadly, and having headed into the single-player of 3 and 4 with some optimism only to be bitterly disappointed I'm not holding out any hope this time around (I'll save that, I think, for when, if ever, DICE returns to the lighter tone of Bad Company). But a return to Battlefield's class-based, big canvas and open-ended warfare? It's one of the best prospects we've got this year, and I'm itching to get back into the fray. Maybe I'll even chance across SgtLewis247 again, and we'll become brothers in arms once more.