Some people think Vegas is a Mecca for pleasure. Me, I'm the archetypal misery guts. Honestly, this - home to Midway Gamers Day - is my worst nightmare. Being greeted by a giant video wall blaring out a montage of Cher classics. The sight of perma-tanned plastic surgery dreamboat Barry Manilow spread eagle across a 100-foot billboard. In a place where the prolonged absence of Siegfried and Roy is sincerely mourned, you already know that a game called This is Vegas is going to be the most random collection of ideas possible.
It is, Midway says, "Openworld evolved", as well as "glitzy, indulgent and outrageous...a believable simulated Vegas" with the "tone and style of a Will Ferrell movie" that's "all about materialism" where you "gamble, race, party and fight" in a place where squirting tits with a soda gun and punching guys ten feet up into the air with your Buzz Bomb special move is standard-issue. This, dear reader, is Vegas, and don't you forget it.
In development over at Surreal's Seattle studio for the past three years, the premise is that you've "gotten off the bus with fifty bucks in your back pocket" on a mission to make sure Vegas isn't turned into a "family-friendly tourist trap" by a fast-food entrepreneur Preston Boyer. Presumably by squirting soda over lovely breasts and dancing like a loon. Somewhere, at some point, this probably all made sense. Probably at 4.30am after 12 double-vodkas.
In what looks more akin to a hedonistic Sims than Swingers-inspired GTA, we're given a whistle-stop tour around some of the key elements of the game. Executive producer Alan Patmore beams that the game is built around the idea of creating "Vegas moments" with your adventures: "It's like when your buddy goes to a bachelor party and tells this wild story," he says. What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas: a game world with random over-the-top fun awaiting you around every turn.
With the greatest emphasis given over to the Party section of the game, our man enters a rather quiet-looking nightclub. Improbably dressed Jet Set Radio escapee DJ Lara handles the decks, and you can chat to her and activate a mission. Given the task of "keeping the drinks flowing and the losers out", you obligingly wander off to get the party started.
As soon as you head to the dance floor, you enter a dance-off mini-game, which mixes the combo element of Tony Hawk with the beat-matching Dance Dance Revolution. So you must pull off combos in time with the music to nail the coolest moves, and attempt more complex manoeuvres for a greater reward. Billed as "one of the most ambitious elements of the game", hitting button prompts in time with the music performs the requisite moves, such as the "Liquid Combo" Running Man, and seemingly dozens of others. The better you perform, the more strange neon effects squirt out of you, and the more curious ravers join the throng.
From there, you can choose to play bartender for a while, in a nod to Midway's 1983 arcade classic Tapper. The mechanics are pretty much identical, with the added layer of having to match the customers' requests with the appropriate face button on the pad. Moving left and right across the bar, an icon appears next to the customer with their request, be it a beer, a cocktail, a light for their cigarette, or perhaps the need to smash the head of a drunken lout on the counter. For a game based on maximum fun, violence is never far away.
In fact, one of the tasks during your nightclub fun is to sort out any drunken rabble going on, and when one lurching young chap hollers at his exasperated girlfriend "I say when the relationship is over!!", it's time to step in. But rather than try and cool him down, you're able to try out a range of melee moves on him, such as grabs, kicks, stomps and punches. Amusingly, the more you pummel the hapless goon in the face, the quicker you build up your Buzz Bomb meter, allowing you to unleash a massive uppercut that sends him, in slow motion, flying and bouncing off the nearest wall. A similar section outside involving two yobs and a wrecked car ended the same way. You're not exactly a peace-loving hedonist.
Sadly, despite being a bit of a hardnut dance champion with silky bartending skills, your capacity for alcohol would shame the average shandy-drinking 12-year-old. After just one beer, your vision blurs, you lurch around, and embarrassingly quickly you let rip a massive technicolour yawn in front of the very people you were impressing mere minutes before. In a curious twist of logic, going to the gents sobers you up, and you can carry on with your night of excess unimpaired. If only it were that simple. Fortunately, there's no annoying toilet attendant guilting you out of your loose change.
In one of the more curious additions to the nightclub fun, another completely daft bartender mini-game allows you to turn the drinks on a bevy of crop-top beauties in the name of a wet T-shirt 'competition'. All giggles and wiggles, these Benny Hill rejects writhe obligingly in front of the bar while you aim a soda gun at their norks until a little rising meter determines they're wet enough. Sadly, we didn't find out what the prize was for the winner.
Elsewhere in the game (although not shown off), you're given the freedom of the city, with the ability to engage in side-mission "gigs" within the four distinct communities. As with every openworld game ever, you'll be able to get in any vehicle at any time and presumably engage in the usual antics. Personalisation was also touched upon briefly, with the chance to tailor the look of your character to your requirements, including hairstyles and wardrobe.
As you'd expect from a game set in Vegas, gambling is very high on the agenda. In any of the game's many casino locations, you'll be able to try your luck at the slot machines, or stroll up to the tables and play all your favourites. Using blackjack to demonstrate, your odds of winning are somewhat enhanced by the game's Advantage Play feature, which basically amounts to being able to cheat slightly - at the risk of being rumbled.
Essentially, the game forewarns you what number range the next card will be by marking each one with a symbol; so an X lets you know it's an ace or higher, a circle tells you it's between seven and nine, and so on. But every time you use Advantage Play, you raise the suspicion of the dealer, and risk him sussing your cheating ways out - so it's something to only use when it really counts.
So that was Vegas: freaky dancing, thug-punching, tit-squirting madness. There's no doubting Surreal's intention of trying to create a feel-good game unlike anything ever attempted, but few people came away from the game with any real clue as to whether it'll all come together in the end. Any thoughts? We'll try and stitch more together as its 2008 release approaches.