Ubisoft tells us to meet at Hammersmith tube station, but once we do we're taken around the corner to a car park and a waiting Land Rover. There a slightly embarrassed man dressed as a 'Future Soldier' ™ stands shiftily, plastic rifle in hand.
Soon we're rushing off to a 'secret location' outside London. It turns out to be a fully functioning airport somewhere past Slough.
Which is all very well, but it does mean that all of my recordings suffer from the echo and bounce of being taped in an aircraft hangar, and are occasionally obliterated completely by the tootling parp of a low-flying biplane.
Plus, I get told off for smoking.
We're here to see HAWX 2, the Tom Clancy in the sky sequel which makes the macho stylings of Top Gun look like Jimbo and the Jetset.
As usual in Clancy-land, things are kicking off. Three nuclear warheads have gone missing from a Russian airbase, presumably having fallen into the hands of the separatist factions which are staging increasingly frequent terrorist attacks across Russia and Europe. This time, the action is split across three separate airforces: the American HAWX, the British Navy, and a Russian special forces unit, encompassing 32 different flyable, licenced planes including support gunships and UAVs.
When the presentation begins, with journalists spread out in ranks of chairs in front of the screen in authentic briefing style, it's clear that visual quality is something Ubisoft Romania has been working pretty hard on. The ground detail has been upped considerably, with individual trees and beautifully textured and lit rock formations rolling smoothly by. There are still plenty of tweaks being made, we're told. Hopefully these will address the frame-tearing which spoils the otherwise lovely view.
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It's all spattered with typically Clancy pre-mission briefing graphics - all swooping reticules and dizzying satellite zooms, vector holographics and gruff military types using words like 'imperative'. The chaps dressed as Future Soldiers are stood at the hangar door, doing their level best to look more serious than ridiculous. They're doing fairly well.
Soon, we're unleashed on the game itself, sent off to pods to flight-test a build of the game running on 360. I start with the opening tutorial level, figuring that my ground/sky distinction skills could probably do with a bit of work before I take a $45 million fighter into combat.
It all starts peacefully enough, sat in the cockpit of a desert-camo F-16 on the deck at Prince Faisal airbase. One of the fan requests after the release of the original HAWX was the implementation of a full take off and landing system, and the development team have done just that. We're promised carrier and runway take-offs and landings, both under fire and unbothered, which will affect difficulty levels considerably.
I taxi gently along the runway of the base, between sun-baked Nissen huts and frolicking airmen, when a Tannoy announces an infringement of the base's exclusion zone. This triggers an alert which sees choppers warming up and my F-16 swinging onto the main take-off strip. We're off.
A quick and easy take-off later and I get my first taste of the flight model. It's definitely an arcade approach, forgiving and responsive - although it's still possible to stall and enter a flat spin. Interestingly, and unlike IL-2 Sturmovik, the flight model remains unchanged between levels of difficulty, although weapon loadouts will become increasingly stingy with difficulty and there's a significant difference in the way which different planes will behave in the air.
Creative director Edward Douglas makes it very clear to me that "It's not a simulation, we're not trying to be a simulation...We're not going to make the player learn how to fly a plane to play the game."
The HUD is clean and minimal, accentuating the arcade style instead of crowding the screen with information. To the left is an airspeed indicator, with a small tactical map below it. An ammo counter sits bottom right. Switching weapons or wingman support options pops up a box with choices on the right hand side. It's all very clean and efficient, letting me concentrate on whatever's heading for my face at Mach 2.0.
I swoop under a high bridge, echoes of Peppy Hare in my mind as I 'do a barrel roll'. It's almost ruined by me clipping the underside of the structure, but I manage to style it out and save the paint job on my fighter by diving wildly towards the desert floor. I'm no natural pilot. It doesn't take long to get the hang of, though, and soon I'm booming confidently around the valley, pausing only briefly to crater a settlement of truckers during an overenthusiastic fly-by.
A point of interest flicks up in front of me now, in convincing military green, indicating by direction and distance a group of buildings which need checking out. I open up the throttle and blaze across the dry desert surrounding the base, ogling the well mapped mesas and populated river valleys which gouge the landscape. They're still buildings, it turns out, so I move on to the next POI, a convoy of covered trucks. Friendlies, comes the conclusion. Another set of huts comes under my scrutiny. No trouble here.
Then the fourth waypoint pops up. "Suspicious convoy". Gives it away a bit, really.
Two choppers pop up to assist in my investigations, pulling up in front of the convoy to challenge them. Incredibly, they're not in the mood to discuss military protocol, downing one of the Apaches with and RPG. Weapons hot, cleared to engage says the serious man at the end of the radio. He calls me Gunslinger. I'm slightly overcome with gung-ho bravado.
My F-16 is armed with three different weapon types. Precision missiles, dumb rocket-pods and a last-ditch auto-cannon. Firing a precision missile puts the plane into autopilot, switching the camera to a targeting system. These aren't homing missiles, so I need to point before I shoot, but the detachment from the planes navigational systems means that I can aim without stacking myself into the lead vehicle or the nearest hillside.
Launching a missile superimposes a blue wireframe pyramid onto the field of view, dropping away towards the missile's target. Holding the fire button switches the camera to a missile-head view, following the missile's path to its target in a satisfactorily Schadenfreude-laden manner.
Audio-feedback leaves me in no doubt about the effectiveness of my fire, military metaphor abandoned in favour of a simple "target destroyed". Boom.
Swooping back for another pass, I decide to try out the rockets. They're a more basic affair, their rapid-fire nature compensating for their imprecision. They're still pretty useful, mind - another group of vehicles evaporates under an umbrella of flame.
As they do so, XP totals flash up on my HUD. These point totals add up toward various weapon and plane unlocks, broadening the experience. It's something the studio is keen to focus on, talking up the arcade challenge modes which will allow players to go back and complete missions in different ways, using different planes specialised for different roles.
The second mission we're handed deals with the Russian faction - closing in around a group of surrounded separatists to strike a final blow. A group of cargo planes have been spotted heading towards the combat area, and it's my squadron's job to head over and check them out. We're rolling pretty deep, in a wing of around 16 planes, and it's the first time I have some wingmen. They're AI controlled at the moment, but Douglas makes it clear this won't always be the case.
Every mission in the game, including the Arcade Challenges, can be played in local or online co-op, with up to four players. Finally, I can make my friends refer to me as 'squadron leader'.
I approach the enemy formation, a Ubisoft developer joining me at 20,000 feet. "Maybe it will all end peacefully," he says. "Maybe we'll all go home happy." I can't imagine Tom Clancy would be happy with that, even if he has sold his name to Ubisoft.
So we intercept the lumbering cargo planes, around 20 of them in a well-spaced pattern over some prettily snow-covered mountains. It's all quite serene, a bit like a documentary about snow geese. The convoy asked to turn back. We're ignored. We fly closer to inspect, buzzing the bigger aircraft as a final warning.
Fighters swoop up from cloud cover below, ripping into our formation's unprotected undercarriages. Ambush.
Weapons are free and the sky is littered with the yellow diamonds indicating hostile targets. The big fat cargo swans are easy targets, for guns or missiles, but concentrating on them too much means I'll get chewed up by the fighters. Picking those out among the other targets is tricky at first, but they soon start to stand out, flitting between the larger vehicles in swooping loops like wasps around a sticky child.
Engaging them amidst the cargo planes is initially confusing, but we're high enough to not risk crashing, so acrobatic dogfighting is the order of business. Switching targets with Y, I pick a Flanker to hunt, holding the button down to keep the camera focused on my current target as I manoeuvre.
The yellow square over the SU-27 is chased by the red diamond of my missile lock, eventually clicking in when I've kept my foe front and centre for a few seconds. If I get too close, my heat-seekers won't have room to find their target and will fail to lock. Even if they do, there's a chance that the enemy will dodge the impact with a sharp turn or by dropping some flares.
These are tools in my arsenal, too - and it's not long before I have to use them. When an enemy gets a lock on your aircraft, you'll get a warning, followed by another when a missile is launched. A final chance to escape comes from a screen-in-screen view of the approaching missile as it gets closer - but last minute evasive heroics are nowhere near as reliable as the option of flares.
At bingo fuel following the engagement, I request landing at base. Negative, comes the reply - base under attack. It's time for a mid-air refuelling session - a phenomenon which my girlfriend refused to acknowledge existed until I showed her a video on Youtube. It's tricky, fittingly but not frustratingly so. An assist mode guides me into the correct position behind the refuelling plane, before some precision manoeuvring guides the fuel line home.
The last mission is called Oil City, an assault on a collection of heavily defended rigs which I can't help but feel is some sort of warning to BP to pull its socks up. It starts with a short runway carrier take off, catapulting to flight-speed in two or three seconds. The mission itself involves reducing the facility's defences in time for a marine assault force to embark and take it over, but it offers me my first opportunity to try out a landing at the newly recovered airstrip when I run out of shooty-things to point at the insurgents.
Capturing points like this in order to provide a place to refuel and restock weaponry will add a strategic element to play, Douglas says, although it also serves as an excellent reminder to me that putting a fighter down safely is a lot easier if you remember to lower your landing gear. Second time round, I pull it off, just in time for us to be loaded back into the Clancy-branded Land Rover and ferried back to Hammersmith.
As we drive back, the 'soldier' in front finally removes his helmet, after enduring it bravely for 6 hours in the muggy heat of a July afternoon. "Oooh, that's better," he says in a fairly broad Northern accent. Somehow I don't think Tom Clancy would approve.