Before heading out for the demo mission, we headed down to XCOM's research department to collect a new toy. This area resembled a cross between Q's hideout in a James Bond film, and something you might expect to find in Half Life. The chief scientist shows off a new weapon that resembled a glass flask filled with black goo; when hurled at a test dummy, the container exploded into a shower of flames. Devices like these can only be discovered if you've made the effort to gather evidence and alien materials from alien encounters, and even then you'll have to be sparing in the use of these advanced gadgets, as ammo is limited. Carter can manually change his load-out by visiting the armoury, where weapons sit ready and waiting on wooden wracks. For the demo mission, the player chose a pump-action shotgun and a lightning-spewing prototype gun.
After heading back to the map in the main room, the player was presented with a choice of three assignments, each taking place in a different US State. The E3 demonstrator chose to undertake a rescue mission in California; someone handed over a typed briefing - a held, in-game object rather than a menu screen - while we listened to an accompanying recording of the initial distress call: a terrified young woman babbling down the line before screaming and being suddenly cut-off. The voice acting here was excellent, recalling the drama and overall quality of the audio logs in BioShock. There was clearly no time to waste, so the player headed back to their car at the entrance to the base, where two other agents were already waiting.
Oddly enough, the action that followed was initially quite reminiscent of that bit in Modern Warfare 2 where you fight the Russians in a leafy American suburb. The player showed up in a quaint looking street of low-rise houses, all decked out in a vibrant colour scheme that makes everything look a bit kitsch. There didn't appear to be anyone about at first, but the peace was suddenly disturbed by the sound of someone screaming for help. Carter and his two buddies headed into a yard, stumbling across a damaged kennel, covered in black slime, and the ravaged remains of a dog. A few seconds later, they discovered the smouldering corpse of a man, also covered in the gloop. At the prompting of one of the other agents, Carter takes a photo of the victim - evidence that will assist researchers back at the XCOM labs.
It didn't take long before we caught our first glimpse of the aliens themselves - large blobs of black pus, rolling around in the street. Despite the player's efforts to blast them with his shotgun, the goo-bags proved to be quite nimble, avoiding Carter's shots and causing him to damage several nearby vehicles. We gave chase down the road, towards the open door of another house… and at that point things started to get really grim.
As we approached the home, a man in a white shirt stumbled out, burbled a desperate plea for help, and then vomited his guts onto the driveway. It was at this point that I finally understood what 2K is going for with the bright colours and borderline-cute stylings: it's supposed to look a bit quaint and safe, because that way you get a much greater impact when the nastiness starts. The developers go to great lengths to recreate the cosy, idealistic stereotype of 50s America, and then they smash it to bits with a big Alien hammer. The combat that followed the death of Mr Whiteshirt was utterly chaotic, as Carter and his chums chased the blobs through the interior of the wrecked home. It felt a lot like the wanton carnage of the Ghostbusters films, only it wasn't remotely funny. In fact, it was really quite disturbing.