When Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg stood on stage at Call of Duty XP and said a design tenet of the series was "epic realism", there was an audible guffaw from the crowd. How could anybody ever claim realism from the series which is famed for detonating a nuclear missile in Earth's atmosphere?

Glen Schofield, Sledgehammer Games co-founder, paints it as "plausible reality" - the idea that these unthinkable things could almost happen. But is he right? Could these events ever really happen?

Me? I think the Modern Warfare series is what Michael Bay would work on if he was actually talented.

The Iron Lady is the name of the Modern Warfare 3 mission Activision has chosen to show as part of its latest publicity tour, which immediately conjures up an image of Price and Soap fighting an enraged Margaret Thatcher - and for the sake of drama, let's just say she's been mutated by radiation and is now 60 feet tall.

Actually, though, it's set in France and has Delta Force (we're still not allowed to see Soap and Price in action) schlepping it over central Paris as they try and extract a high-value target from the city. Their identity, we are told, is a bit of a massive spoiler. I'm 90 per cent certain it's not Maggie.

For a series that succeeds based on the strength of its set-pieces, this level opens with a goodie; a plane falling out of the sky towards the player, its rotor blades kicking up chunks of ground as they come to an abrupt halt and splinter away.

Frost and the rest of Delta Force leg it into a bit of cover, and then the camera pulls up to have you piloting an AC-130. This is familiar territory - I've seen a similar mission twice in the last week - but at least Modern Warfare 3 tries to jazz it up a bit; you get a picture-in-picture display of Delta Force at one point, as well as the sight of jets on a bombing run and an entire screen of enemy tanks amassing on the ground.

And you shoot them, obviously. After bashing a few dozen tanks, choppers, and infantry units, you're given the all-clear to fire on an occupied building near the US embassy - a few shells and the entire structure tumbles down by way of another lavish scripted sequence.

Then you've got to cover Delta Force, currently boxed in enemy forces. As you fire this missile, the camera tracks the bullet and you take control of Frost; you are literally blasting yourself into another character, which is a nice little cinematic trick.

Back on the ground, the game has you moving through the corridors of the US embassy and into a courtyard occupied by enemy forces. It's a moment of counter-sniping after a traditional corridor rush, before moving into a sequence where you throw purple smoke to highlight targets for the AC-130 in the sky. When the bombs come down, you can actually see the destructive potency of the flying war machine and, yeesh, that thing causes some serious damage.

Many people have pointed out that the ageing engine powering Modern Warfare 3 is starting to show its age, and it's hard to disagree when you stack the game against a PC running of Battlefield 3. At the same time, though, its strengths are clearly noticeable - the big-budget mix of booming audio, silky smooth 60fps, and heavily tailored level design certainly does have a certain, how shall we say it, je ne sais quoi.

The demo was a carefully plucked cross-section of the game, showing a few snippets of the campaign but purposefully withholding what's actually going on. I've seen the game a few times now and I couldn't actually tell you what's happening, other than that a lot of stuff explodes and it looks pretty exciting. We won't be able to see how well Modern Warfare 3 works as a whole for a few weeks, but at this stage I find myself very optimistic.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be released on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on November 8.