"Seen anything cool?" asks the Spec Ops producer as we file into his comfortable little gamescom prison. Nobody says anything.
"BioShock," I cheerily volunteer.
The Spec Ops man tries to look happy about this news, but you can tell it's not his favourite answer. "Yeah," he says. "A lot of people are saying that."
The stunning BioShock Infinite demo is a tough act to follow, but Spec Ops: The Line has a go anyway. We begin with Captain Nolan North (sorry, Martin Walker) and two of his Delta pals inching through the crushed and fractured interior of a Dubai skyscraper. Walker's in Dubai to find Colonel Konrad, the former leader of a local training camp. Konrad has taken over the city in the aftermath of a faintly apocalyptic sandstorm which has otherwise consumed it.
Walker and colleagues give us a brief sit-rep. The city's a warzone, with looters and Konrad's men in violent competition for loot and territory. The Delta chaps need to find Konrad but they also have to contend with Gould, the man who was sent in to find him first. Off they trot.
First they need to get out of this building - a collapsed hotel - so they make their way down a staircase into the lobby, pausing on the way to admire a pair of gigantic jewel-encrusted giraffes, which tower over a cramped but lush little garden imprisoned beneath a circle of shiny glass.
As they cross the floor there's a rumbling above and a bit of sand breaks through the ceiling, along with the tumbling, flailing body of a soldier. He lands with a crunch, leaving an impressive snowflake of cracks and a pool of blood on the glass.
One minute later and we're outside on a highway, still not shooting anybody, but somebody's getting some action in - there's a big firefight going on in a nearby street that we're overlooking, and one of Walker's men identifies Gould issuing orders to other soldiers as they engage a rival force. As we watch, a helicopter reinforces them but then takes a hit and rakes the face of a nearby office building before exploding.
Things then get grisly as we march down the highway and see a soldier hanged from a street light. As Walker turns a corner and stares down the road, we see there are dozens of them as far as the eye can see. Someone's been busy.
It's time to get into the action though, because there are looters at work beneath the highway, scavenging from an armoured personnel carrier. Walker issues instructions to his men and they carefully circle the bad guys, moving slickly from cover to cover without being spotted. Then we engage.
The combat looks simple and sharp - less intense than Killzone 2, less muscular than Gears of War, but a bit more clear-headed and tactical, with contextual team orders available to make the most of the other Delta operators.
Walker leans out or blindfires from behind abandoned Bentleys and sports cars, and enemies crumple as they take the hits. One man receives a shot somewhere near his jaw and clutches his face as he falls.
The skirmish is soon over but there's a larger one waiting ahead. The team becomes locked in combat with a larger force and Walker busts out some moves - kicking a guy in the face pretty slickly as he vaults over a low barrier.
The bad guys ahead are standing close to a series of huge concrete plates against which a huge tide of sand is leaning. They're also perilously close, it turns out and when Walker throws a sticky bomb at a nearby soldier he flees in their direction, explodes and brings the wave of sand washing down over them. By the time it settles the music has stopped too. Silence.
Enemies will be able to pull sand tricks on you too, the developers warn. With much of Dubai submerged beneath the stuff, you're often walking on glass or something breakable, so undermining's a potential hazard as well.
Spec Ops isn't finished setting the scene though. As Walker proceeds down a gully formed out of some of those precarious concrete slabs from earlier, the guys end up ankle deep in dead bodies. They emerge onto marble floors beneath huge vaulted ceilings, but also into a scene of horrible destruction as white phosphorus rains down on refugees fleeing Konrad's soldiers.
More on Specs Ops: The Line
As the former citizens of Dubai writhe and burn, Walker and company advance and sneakily manoeuvre behind a trio of slow-moving enemies who are checking for survivors. They don't last long, and then it's up a recently formed hill of sand to a window overlooking a square.
Down below Gould has been captured and is being interrogated. He won't give up the information his captors want, so they bring forward a young woman and throw her to the ground. One soldier then holds her down while another fires his assault rifle into the ground right next to her face until she suffocates.
It's not clear if Spec Ops is gunning for BioShock levels of choice and consequence, but the developers claim there are key decisions to make that have repercussions later on, and in this case you can choose to headshot the man leading the interrogation. You can probably also save Gould.
For now though we're at the end of the demo, and Konrad's voice booms over the fade, taunting Captain Walker. The developer's voice then booms over Konrad's, informing us that the game will also include competitive and co-operative multiplayer (there's an ongoing beta on Xbox Live at the moment, in fact).
Spec Ops is still early in development, apparently, despite having been announced last year, but the signs are promising. It may face a lot of competition in the shooter genre (BioShock Infinite's looking quite good, don't you know) but the combat looks interesting, the story partly based on Heart of Darkness, and it's nothing if not provocative.
Spec Ops: The Line is due out for PC and Xbox 360 next year.