It's a MAG press event just off Baker Street. PS3s and huge HD screens are lined up in a subterranean hall, waitresses move through the crowds with bullet-studded belts, nobody during a presentation ever misses an opportunity to refer to the assembled gaming press as 'operatives' or exclaim 'Let's DO IT!' and a nice Sony PR lady has just taken to the stage to set things rolling.
"I'm going to call people to the demo pods in waves," she says. "So if you've been assigned a number lower than 39 - that's lower than 39 - please make your way over to the play area immediately. I'm going to--"
Actually, we never find out what she's going to do, as everyone in the room has just started heading over to the demo pods, quickly resulting in the kind of charming pile-up Sony probably hoped to avoid. This isn't necessarily because people are unusually excited to get their hands on Zipper's massively-multiplayer FPS - although there is a quiet buzz about the room, actually - but because crowds don't generally listen to orders. They hear "demo pods" and "make your way over" and then they make their way over to the demo pods. It's astonishing that we ever got to the moon, really.
Here, then, is MAG's biggest potential pitfall writ large: when you've got 256 players - actually, there's only half that here, the rest will be joining us online - how do you get them to all play nicely?
You've probably read quite a bit about MAG by now - Dan Whitehead's recent beta hands-on is pretty thorough, and even finds the room to include the terms "boom-bang-a-bang" and "bongwater", so should have pretty much everything you need - and you might also have had a chance to play the beta as well.
If you haven't, though, or if you've just dipped in and out for a few rounds, you may still be wondering how such a gigantic online crowd will behave when it all gets together on the first day of release. Will it obey the rules, form clans, and use headsets mainly for organising pincer movements or will it - y'know - just make its way over to the demo pods?
Stampede to one side, Sony's recent London event gave a real taster of what to expect. In many ways, it was almost an idealised version of how MAG will feel online: everyone had a headset, nobody could ditch out if things didn't go their way, and if you couldn't find the jump button there was probably someone from Zipper nearby to point it out to you and provide you with a potted history of the control mappings. It was slightly artificial, in other words, but there was still plenty of opportunity to get a real feel for the game lurking behind the big numbers.
We've described the structure of MAG before - the PMCs you can join, the ranks you can earn, the experience points, the skill trees, the unfolding hierarchies and emerging weapon combinations - but it's worth remembering that, even if you aren't going into it for the love of the stats and the long-term picture, Zipper's game is still a pretty good online shooter. The basic untweaked weapon loadouts are simple and effective, the audio conveys the zing of bullets and the rumble of distant explosions with brutal clarity, and the DualShock's dead zone seems to be largely missing in action.
On top of that, regardless of the population of any map, most of the time people will play along. Not only has Zipper been smart with its detailing - you get bonus experience for following orders and perks for staying near your commander and not breaking up the squad - but the objectives are suitably basic most of the time to allow for a core group of daredevils to do all the tricky stuff, while a gaggle of more casual players can either hang back and snipe, or dash about and go nuts with assault rifles.
(The only casualty, in fact, may be the casualties, because for an awful lot of the six-hour event people were ignoring the game's bleed-out mechanic and failing to revive wounded team-mates. This may be because people who write about games for a living are all are bastards, but it may also be down to the fact that MAG's maps, although large, are suitably busy that stopping to help a colleague generally ends up with you both getting shot. Who wants that, eh?)
If anything, however, for the most part the game's focus actually sharpens as the player-cap increases. Of the four modes available, ranging from limited-headcount tutorial missions all the way through to Domination, the 256-man beast in all its glory, it was invariably the smaller games which gave way to aimlessness and stalemates, largely because, the more fixed the objectives, the more likely it is that bottlenecks will be created around capture points.
Once the numbers start to get bigger, and you're moving between small squad objectives to larger battles requiring input from the whole fighting force, your mission orders are moving from one target to the next with a pleasant speed, keeping the whole of the map in play without ever leaving you dizzy or confused.
And when MAG really gets going, it's like nothing else on a console. To see a battle raging all around you and to feel a part of it is quite an achievement, especially when the interface is kept so simple that you have a pretty good chance of actually understanding the role you're playing as well.
But that's the thing: if the cliché is that an overwhelming majority of games like to give you the role of a god or a monster - when they drop you into the shoes of a soldier, it's either one of the super- variety, or a plucky grunt given a deadly secret mission - MAG takes the bold move of making you a nobody.
For your first few levels at least, you're a cog in a machine, shooting and dying for some rather ordinary objectives, and any moments of glory stand a good chance of being lost in the crowd. That's hopefully where the metagame will kick in, allowing the hardier, cannier players to rise through the ranks until they lead the armies rather than simply belonging to them.
The feeling I was left with after the final bullet had been fired was that MAG's name might be quietly inappropriate. There's a massive scope, certainly, but this action game feels far more interesting than a generic crowd-pleaser tailored to prove suitably inoffensive to as large an audience as possible. It seems like a bold move rather than an easy blockbuster, and will perhaps latch onto a smaller following but then grip them very hard indeed. Consoles may well be all the richer for it.
MAG is due out next Friday, 29th January. We'll be reviewing from retail code on retail servers in time for release.