On new tropical island map Paracel Storm, for instance, you can contrive to blow away the moorings of a stationary cruiser, with the result that the game's souped-up water physics will batter it against the shore. Alas, I wasn't able to experience this crescendo for myself during a hands-on earlier this month - DICE hadn't nailed down the implementation to satisfaction, and EA wanted to keep something back for its Gamescom presser, which you've probably just finished watching. Lucky you.
There's an upside to this: I was able to focus on the new shooter's bare bones, divested of any sensational map-altering distractions, and came away with somewhat dampened expectations. Turn a blind eye to the tumbledown skyscrapers, and Battlefield 4 is fundamentally a cleaned-up, tricked-out Battlefield 3 - a smarter, smarter-looking take on the same four combat classes, the same team- and objective-driven style, and the same cunning interplay 'twixt infantry and vehicles. As with this year's Call of Duty, the devil is very much in the detail.
The water physics are a good place to start. Paracel Storm has a wind system, which means that it also has waves, and those waves have a subtle but noticeable impact on vehicle handling. Distant craft may be harder to hit if you head into the wind, as they're carried under your crosshairs by the plunging tide. Mindful of the perfectionism its core fanbase aspires to, DICE has been careful not to take this too far - waves have a maximum height, and the wind always comes from one direction. It's now possible to dive under the surface, in order to escape fire (in the absence of less suicidal alternatives, anyway) or perhaps to endow a passing vehicle's undercarriage with a phat chunk of C4.
There's a new mode, Obliteration, which is basically Conquest with a demolition element. Teams rush to transport a explosive device to one another's bases - as with Capture the Flag, it will eventually respawn elsewhere if you drop it. Once the bomb's armed, you'll naturally have to defend the thing till it goes off. Given disorganised or simply less intelligent teams (I'll hold up my hand and confess to being a bit of a numpty), this often leads to a hectic convergence of vehicles, infantry and artillery fire as players struggle to extricate the prize from an inconvenient hotzone, such as in the water directly between two islands. Sorry about that, marines.
Obliteration's joined by Domination, which pans out much as it does in Battlefield 3. I tried out the latter on a sealed-off section of the Paracel map, which gave me ample opportunity to appreciate the game's overhauled environment deformation. The Holy Grail of an entirely destructible map has yet to be claimed, you may be disappointed to hear - there are areas where DICE has quite sensibly put good map balance ahead of gratuitous environmental abuse, such as bridges that can't be exploded. But the architectural carnage appears finer-grained - you'll shoot out smaller bits of terrain, in other words, for a more nuanced tactical advantage.
Assessing the full extent of DICE's work with the multiplayer classes is beyond the scope of this piece, but there's plenty to be pleased about at first blush. For one thing, the Support class is a real heavy-hitter nowadays, equipped with a nasty set of anti-infantry launchers and a scoped fletchette weapon that rips through light cover. Assault players get smaller first aid kits, with which to swiftly patch up individual troopers, making this class still more suited to the frontline. Engineers are equipped with a fancy device that automatically shoots down in-coming explosives. Might want to drop one of those in the vicinity of a friendly sniper, for maximum bromance.
The handling is sharper, too. There's a new context sensitive cover system that automatically pops your sights over objects when you ADS, and you can reverse a melee kill - something I actually (shock) managed to do - by hitting a button before the enemy's knife touches your skin. Suppression (where the visuals blur and desaturate to mimic the disorientation of being under fire) now applies to the Support class only, so if that mechanic rubbed you the wrong way in Battlefield 3, be of good cheer.
None of it alters how you play dramatically, but everything's clearly the work of a developer that's paid rapt attention to the fanbase for a solid couple of years, looking to echo and reward their habits at the sub-millimetre level. Still, it all feels a bit, dare I say, threadbare in the absence of the aforesaid shipwrecking sequence. Those looking for a clean break from current generation manslaughter may be a little underwhelmed by Battlefield 4's underlying mechanical tune-ups, as surgical as they are. Let's hope the bigger booms are big enough to compensate.