It's madness right from the start: we begin by trying to rappel down to the ground from a helicopter, but the chopper in question gets hit by a rocket and goes spiralling out of control. There's a nausea-inducing moment as the player whirls through the air on the end of a rope, before finally managing to swing through the window of a nearby building. This show-boating intro leads to a series of fierce gun battles through the interiors of several ruined buildings. There's an atmosphere that echoes the later parts of MW2's campaign, when it actually felt like you were fighting through the end of the world: everything is trashed, smashed or on fire. Vietnamese propaganda spews from some unseen tannoy, and when we catch a glimpse of the sky outside it is streaked with oily smoke, lit up with tracer fire. Helicopters are patrolling the airways, and they're not just there for atmospheric purposes either: at one point an entire room's worth of foes is utterly decimated by a sort of chopper drive-by.
Again, the action as a whole feels very typically Call of Duty, but the execution is pretty much flawless. It's a dark level, both visually and tonally, and everywhere you look the world appears to be in ruins: snapped cables, crumbled chunks of wall and the exposed innards of mortally-wounded buildings. There are some particularly nice particle effects on display too, and given the fact that the fighting is almost constant, with something blowing up or collapsing every ten seconds, you'll see a lot of them. But perhaps the most pleasing aspect of all is the fact that it feels like a warzone. A dirty tank rolls around a corner, and as you walk alongside you notice someone has daubed graffiti on the side. An innocent civilian dashes out of a room with a dazed expression, his palm extended in supplication. War is hell, and Black Ops knows it.
So, business as usual then? Perhaps. Even among the more hardcore fans, there's often a sense that Treyarch is viewed as simply the "other" Call of Duty developer, but this time around there's a sense that the studio may try to steal the spotlight. With Infinity Ward half dead there's a real opening for Treyarch to step up, though it'll be a gargantuan achievement if Black Ops manages to equal the impact that Modern Warfare 2 had last November. For the time being, there's plenty to be positive about. The game already has that lush, big-budget feel, and the action looks as wild and gritty as ever. There's a lot of potential in the setting, too: Treyarch hasn't revealed the full scope of the game yet, but it's strongly hinted that it'll stretch far beyond the 1968 setting of these demoed missions.
Alongside the single-player campaign there'll be a standalone co-op mode for up to four players online, and two players in local split-screen. It's safe to assume that the competitive multiplayer mode will be huge, and as for a repeat of World at War's Zombie mode… well, nothing's been confirmed or denied, but there's bound to be something; the developers would be fools to ignore public demand. Black Ops represents a big opportunity for Treyarch: the company knows it, and we know it too. And however you feel about the Call of Duty franchise, I suspect you want to see how this one will turn out.
Call of Duty: Black Ops will be released on PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii on November 9.