Now, we've obviously got to be careful about discussing the controls of a game we've not actually played yet, but from what I can tell you have no say over the chopper's altitude. There doesn't appear to be any lock-on system either: the targeting reticule remains fixed in the centre of the screen, and as you pull the triggers you send a stream of bullets and rockets at whatever you're currently aiming at. It's not a flight sim, in other words, but then we'd have been a bit stupid to expect one. It seems that you can both turn and strafe your craft, so it's not just a glorified on-rails section either. The important thing is that from a show-off point of view, it looks pretty damn exciting.
It's not hard to see why Treyarch picked this stage for Microsoft's gig. Aside from the novelty of the 'copter itself, the destruction is pretty spectacular, even on second viewing. In response to the Hind's attacks, a bridge explodes into a shower of dust and wooden planks. A direct hit on an oil pipeline summons several columns of oily, black smoke. Vapour trails from our missiles criss-cross the air, and when a stray rocket hits the murky green river beneath us, the blast sends a jet of water dozens of feet into the air. It sounds glorious too – weighty booms, the agitated bleeping of the cockpit, and Woods ranting instructions and calling out praise for each successful hit.
It's all thoroughly over the top, of course. Like the anachronistic Steyr Aug that appeared in the stealthy snow-drenched mission, it's a little bit weird that we're flying a Hind in the first place - the vehicle was only used in active service from 1972, and today's mission is set in 1968. It's a slip-up that will only bug the most obsessive of military purists, but it's tempting to see this as being symptomatic of Treyarch's broader approach to Black Ops: this is a game that recreates the feel of what we want from a Vietnam War shooter, rather than the reality. The very idea behind Payback - that two men steal a Hind and then use it to single-handedly take down an entire Communist base – is utterly ludicrous. Like Woods himself, it's a little nuts, but in the best possible way.
At the climax of the demo two other Hinds appear, prompting a desperate bout of balletic aerial duelling. Mason and Woods win out, but the craft becomes heavily damaged, with the cockpit screen turning into a mess of cracks and bullet-holes. The presentation ends with a loud explosion, sending the helicopter spinning out of control and down towards the river. Is this the end for our all-American heroes? It's possible, given the CoD series' track record for killing off protagonists, but something tells me that they'll live to fight and kill another day.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not that sold on the idea that a controllable chopper is a massive leap of innovation. What I will say, however, is that Payback as a whole was the best-looking slice of Black Ops we've seen yet. There's a genuinely epic feel to the scale of Treyarch's Laotian scenery, with neat touches like a large clump area of blackened forest – the result of a previous napalm strike, perhaps. Aside from details of this year's bound-to-be-immensely-popular multiplayer, what I really want to know is how all these set pieces fit together, and in particular how the overall pace will feel in comparison to the breathless pandemonium of Modern Warfare 2. There's loads of scope in Black Ops' Cold War setting, and Treyarch seems to be pushing hard for a varied selection of international settings, but it would nice if the over-arching story were a bit more coherent than Infinity Ward's last effort.
Call of Duty: Black Ops will be released on PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii on November 9.