When deciding where to show off Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas to a band of journalists, Ubisoft opted against the obvious step of choosing a casino. They were probably mindful of the likely effects of exposing impressionable videogame journalists to too much temptation. Or maybe of the fact that any British casino is likely to feel very dowdy compared to the kaleidoscopic array of one-armed bandits and exotic architecture in the game (feel free to add your own political joke about Tony B. Liar, Tessa Jowell and supercasinos here).
Either way, the game was instead showcased at The Energy Clinic, where they offer 'Energetic Swedish Massage'; just a few doors down from omnivorous chef Fergus Henderson's St. John restaurant, where they eat pig's spleen and bacon. Obviously it's difficult to turn Energetic Swedish Massage into a witty and clever analogy to introduce Rainbow Six - there's no massage or masseuses in the game. But, at a push, pig's spleen is potentially useful.
See, you don't eat any pig's spleen in Rainbow Six: Vegas, but you do shoot people till they bleed, and although the game doesn't really focus on the entrails, it is very much aiming for the same sense of realism that has become a hallmark of the Tom Clancy games. Which is why your correspondent spent most of the day respawning: as with previous Rainbow Six games, just one or two shots and it's curtains for your counter-terrorist (or terrorist) op.
The day began with a presentation highlighting all of the multiplayer features that will feature in the finished game when Rainbow Six: Vegas is released later this month before continuing with a hands-on session to check them all out first hand.
One of the most intriguing elements that was on display was the Persistent Elite Creation 2.0 - Ubisoft's fancy name for its character customisation suite, which now comes complete with Xbox 360 Live Vision Camera compatibility. Thanks to Digimask's new plug-in for the Unreal engine, players can now map their own faces on to their multiplayer avatars with scarily realistic results (at least in my case). It's simply a question of taking two pictures using the Live Vision Camera - one portrait, one profile - and then waiting two or three minutes for them to be applied to your character's head.
That's not all there is to customisation though. The game allows players to create a persistent online character with a huge range of possible permutations and combinations. Facial hair, scars and face paint can be added, and various items of clothing (including the slightly dubious sounding Assault Pants) can be given even more various camouflage schemes (including co-ordinated team colours, if you're so inclined). Players can also choose from a modular body-armour system that has consequences in game, trading off mobility against defence.
And because your character is persistent, you can unlock new equipment by advancing in rank (which you do by playing the game). The game's lead designer Jean Pascal Cambiotti was, however, keen to stress that while you can unlock a greater range of tactical possibilities at higher ranks, you can't acquire an unfair advantage. "Regardless of your rank, your character always remains as good as it was before," he says. "So if you have someone of the highest rank playing someone of the lowest rank, the playing field will always remain equal. You don't unlock a gun that does more damage or grenades that are more powerful. You're unlocking different weapons, different styles of weapons which have different rates of fire, different clip capacities, but everything balances itself out."
But everyone knows that customisation isn't as interesting as actual honest-to-goodness combat, right? So the real substance of the presentation was getting thrown in to some of the many multiplayer modes: Attack and Defend, Retrieval (capture the flag), Survival and Team Survival (deathmatch with no respawns), Sharpshooter and Team Sharpshooter (deathmatch with respawns), Co-operative Story, and Co-operative Terrorist Hunt.
"What's really cool about Attack and Defend is that your mission objective changes depending on the map you're playing," explained Cambiotti before we started. "So we have three different types of extraction objectives - we have hostage rescue, we have bomb defusal, and we have item extraction." And then it was over to checking them all out, with the first couple of games spent trying to prevent other journalists from stealing a briefcase from the basement of the Calypso Casino; the next game trying to stop them from defusing a bomb in Dante's Hotel; and then just trying to kill as many of them as possible in the Nevada Dam Research Labs and the Casino Vault.
Cambiotti also said this before we started: "Just like in single-player there's a strong emphasis on team play. Most of the game modes that you see in adversarial multiplayer are team-based game modes, modes where you have to communicate, you have to play as a team in order to win."
I probably should have paid more attention to him. Rainbow Six: Vegas is not a game, as I can personally testify, that's well-suited to mavericks who don't play by the rules. So no matter how much I tried camping in one spot, or running away from my team-mates, it consistently proved less effective than the opposing team's tactics of talking to each other and devising group strategies and assaults.
Still, it was good practice for the co-op modes, which, like all the other Tom Clancy games, proved to be the proper highlight. While the Story mode offers a wide mix of objectives, the real fun is in Terrorist Hunt, where you and your team-mates have to fight your way across the map, clearing out unfeasibly large numbers of well-positioned terrorists from lavishly depicted, luxuriantly neon-lit, convincingly authentic Vegas nitespots.
With highly customisable avatars and co-operative and adversarial multiplayer modes over split-screen, system link or Xbox Live, with up to 16 players across ten maps that are inspired by, but not the same as, areas in the single-player game, Rainbow Six: Vegas has a lot to get your teeth into. And it's probably tastier than pig's spleen and bacon.
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas is due out on Xbox 360 on 24th November, PC on 1st December, PSP on 8th December, and PS3 whenever the hell that actually happens.