This is Vegas is the upcoming action game from Midway that drops you into a stylized version of Las Vegas and lets you live a virtual life. The game is being developed by Surreal Software, of The Suffering fame, and takes an open-world approach. While this may sound like a setup that's been done to death (albeit not set exclusively in Vegas), Surreal's going in a unique, ballsy direction with the game. Rather than try to outdo the cinematic take of the gold standard for the genre, Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto games, This is Vegas is taking a humorous, tongue-in-cheek approach. Surreal has tapped writer Jay Pinkerton, a former Cracked magazine editor, to help craft the game's story. Surreal representatives say the result falls somewhere between Ocean's Eleven and a Will Ferrell movie. As far as gameplay goes, we got a general overview and the chance to try out three short sequences from the game that gave us an idea of where it's headed.
The game's story follows you, an unnamed nobody, as you arrive in Vegas with 50 dollars in your pocket and hazy goals. As luck would have it, you'll cross paths with Joey Nissan, a local "entrepreneur" who winds up working to get you in with the Vegas crowd. From the sound of it, this bit in the game will be your license to be decadent as you play. Of course, all good things don't last forever, and soon you meet your nemesis: Preston Boyer, a fast food tycoon bent on cleaning up Vegas to be a family-friendly tourist trap. This doesn't exactly fly far with you and your new crowd, so your goal will be to stop Boyer and preserve the town's special atmosphere.
The game's story and the action surrounding it will revolve around four pillars Surreal is focusing on for development: fight, race, gamble, and party. The playable demo we tried showcased three of these, fighting, partying, and gambling. Before we tried it out, Surreal Software studio head Alan Patmore filled us in on what we were seeing, the open-world element, and what to expect. Based on the map screen we saw, virtual Vegas is a stylized place that comprises the whole strip. You'll be able to visit a variety of casinos, which feature different activities and missions to undertake to earn money and improve your standing in the world. You'll find four "crowds" to roll with in the game: the diamonds, or high rollers; the hearts, old-school Vegas types; the clubs, hip clubbers; and the spades, edgy rocker types. The missions you undertake will improve your reputation with them, which will afford you certain benefits in the form of unlockable rewards. At the moment it doesn't sound like there's much bad blood between the four groups, so getting in good with one won't alienate another. Besides the missions you take on, some of which will progress the story, you'll be able to engage in side quests called "gigs" that have five difficulty levels--they'll get progressively tougher. Clearing them earns you various bonuses on your quest, chief among them being cold, hard cash.
We doubt anyone will be surprised to hear that money is a huge deal in Vegas, as you'll be able to use it to buy clothing, accessories, and hairstyles to customize your virtual self. In addition to allowing you to personalize your character, the cosmetic tweaks are key for accessing certain casinos--what would a Vegas game be without dress codes, right? Besides the small stuff, you'll eventually be able to pick up a home base to work out of. You'll need a base of operations, because not all your activities are entirely lawful. The game will feature a "wanted" system, as we've seen in many other games, and you'll have to contend with the law enforcement that will show up. The system doesn't sound like it's going to be too hardcore, as cops won't have terribly long memories; but you'll still have to be careful.
As far as what we could play goes, the demo offered the three samples of gambling, fighting, and partying. The gambling sequence had us guiding our guy over to a table and hitting the B button to get started. You'll sit down at the table and play blackjack, with a slight twist. The game plays as it would in real life; you have a dealer and cards in front of you, and you choose to hit, stand, or get insurance--all the usual stuff. However, if you're feeling like you want a leg up, you can put on some "special" sunglasses and check the cards in play, as apparently one of your associates has marked them with special dye. The catch is that you'll have to manage your level of suspicion, which you'll gauge via an onscreen meter. If you spend too much time using your glasses, folks will get wise and you'll get booted. To keep things interesting, the marked cards don't make for a total cheat. Three types of marks denote their range. So a minus sign lets you know the card is between a two and a six, a circle is between a seven and a nine, and a plus is a 10 or higher. So you'll still have to do some guessing, but the glasses help a little. To move things along you can hit the X button and "fast forward" to your decision. The only other trouble spot is suspicion. You'll have to keep an eye on your surroundings to catch any roaming pit bosses, who will kick up your suspicion gauge much faster than normal if they're around you while you're using your specs. Besides blackjack, you'll find Texas Hold 'em poker and slots to let you gamble the night away. You'll also be able to get some "help" while playing the slots via a hacking minigame, although we weren't able to check slots or the minigame out.
The fighting demo was pretty straightforward and had us busting heads in front of the Olympus Casino, the TIV equivalent of Caesar's Palace. The simple system uses the X button to attack, the Y button to grab and break holds, and the trigger to block. Holding down X lets you perform charged-up attacks. The short sequence had us busting heads with obnoxious bachelors, some of Boyer's mascots, and Boyer's questionably attired goon squad. The combat worked well, with combos coming off easily. An extra factor in combat is the "buzz" meter, which fills as you fight. When it's full you can tap the right bumper and perform a powerful one-hit finishing "buzz" attack. The sequence also teased a bit of the open world, which you could see just beyond the fight sequence, and the way crowds will gather and cheer you on when the action heats up.
The party demo was the most complex of the three demos. The demo is taken from an actual mission in the game and finds you heading over to Club Aqua, a local hot spot, to meet with a lady friend. Upon arriving sporting your party attire, you'll meet your friend, who'll kick off a series of tasks you'll have to perform that function as a tutorial for the party mechanic. Your first task is to tend bar, which is a button-matching minigame. You'll serve drinks, light cigarettes, and smack drunks as they approach the bar. The next task is to bust a move on the dance floor, which kicks in a simple rhythm minigame that has you hitting the face buttons on the controller in time to an onscreen rhythm meter to build up a combo; you finish it up by hitting the two shoulder triggers. Once you have that sorted, you're tasked with earning 1,000 party points in 10 minutes. You earn points by dancing, tending bar, and beating up unsavory jerks harassing the patrons. The trick to earning points is to deal with the jerks ASAP, as they leech party points from your total. It was interesting to see the club become more animated with people and activities as we earned points. We were also able to use the buzz meter boost on the dance floor, which has you leading a mob of patrons in synchronized dance moves that earn you big points if you pull them off. We got a taste of the interactivity Surreal is going for when we interacted with waitresses to get drinks. Drinking alcoholic beverages also boosts your buzz meter. However, as in real life, too much liquor can lead to some trouble. If you drink too much you'll get drunk, which will cause your vision to blur and your walk to be pretty embarrassing. (It also leads to some chuckleworthy animations when you stumble on the dance floor.) Thankfully, if you've had a bit too much to drink, you can sober up by hitting the men's room to pee that drunken stupor away. The last bit of the demo, which came up as a bonus task after we earned the requested party points, was to get a wet T-shirt contest going, complete with interactive chest spraying. Yep, it was about what you'd expect--somewhere between funny and cringe-inducing. But we can at least say it's not something you see in a game every day.
The visuals in the game are coming along well, courtesy of the heavily modified Unreal 3 engine Surreal is using to develop the game. There's a respectable level of detail in the character models already, and the environments have a nice layer of polish with the glitzy flash you'd expect from a virtual Las Vegas. The game is also using a variety of filters for the various vision effects, and they work well. The game's art style is a mix of straightforward designs that re-create a real-world feel and goofier elements as evidenced by some of the more eccentric characters. The animation is looking good thanks to a lot of contextual bits that kick in as you go about your business. For example, your walk changes to bop you to the beat when you're walking across the dance floor in Aqua, and it gets good and sloppy when you're drunk.
Audio in the game is still coming together, but the demo had its bases covered with ambient sounds that fit the street, casino, and club locales we were in. You'll hear the expected non-player character chatter, which includes goofy one-liners, and the ever-present clang of the slots. We're also liking some of the little touches Surreal is dropping in, like the way the music sounds when you're moving around Aqua.
Based on what we played, This is Vegas is aiming to carve out a unique identity. The tongue-in-cheek tone is a smart way to differentiate itself from GTA. The gameplay should be a good mix of covering the bases players expect from a third-person, open-world game and original elements that haven't been tried before. Surreal's also looking to try some different things with downloadable content for the game postrelease, like adding new casinos and missions that come to life within the game as you download them. We're very curious to see how the elements we've seen and heard about all come together as development progresses. At this point, we see promise that could go either way--the game could wind up being either a goofy, fun adventure or a hot mess. We're hoping This is Vegas could be the former, since the bits we played were already fun, but time will tell. Look for more on This is Vegas in the months leading up to its release this winter on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.