The man we call Woods is looking a bit scary. He's unshaven, there's a green bandanna tied around his thick black hair, and there's a disturbed glint in his eye. He clutches his gun and glares behind him, to where a heavily-armed helicopter rests in the middle of a clearing. "You see that Hind?" he hisses. "We're gonna take it!"
I have no idea exactly why we're here, deep in the jungles of Laos. This is Black Ops, after all, and even at an event as huge as E3, Treyarch is keeping tight-lipped. But I do know this: I'm glad that Woods is on our side.
As the soundtrack swells with a dream-like ambient drone, peppered with the whoops and calls of tropical wildlife, our demonstrator strafes his way around the treeline. Woods launches his attack, we swoop in to flank the chopper's guards. The crew go down easily, and within seconds we're climbing into the rear seat of the stolen Mi24 Hind. "Okay, what's our loadout?" growls Woods. "UV-32 Rockets, 12mm Nose Cannon... these bastards were ready for World War III!"
I'm getting a distinct sense of deja-vu here, and it's not due to some LSD-fuelled flashback to my time in Vietnam. This is Payback – the mission that Treyarch showed as its contribution to Microsoft's E3 conference. In other words, it's something we've seen before, but hey, we're going to cover it anyway. Regardless of whether you're stoked or numbed by the prospect of another CoD, there's no doubt that Black Ops will be one of the biggest releases of 2010. Besides, Payback is supposed to be a demonstration of something new for Activision's series – fully controllable air combat – so it's certainly worth a second gander.
As before, the meat of the action kicks off with a bit of predatory chatter between Woods and Mason, the playable character in this particular mission. As with the previous levels we've seen, Mason gets a voice of his own. It's hard to get much sense of his character, but it's clear that Treyarch is trying to make its latest effort even more cinematic than Modern Warfare 2; from what we've seen so far, there certainly seems to be even more in the way of first-person cutscenes. Here the banter is simply a prelude to the main event, to the moment when Woods passes control of the Hind over to us, the player (or in this particular case, the Treyarch representative).