Crispy Gamer

This Is Vegas

It would be easy to look at Midway's upcoming open-world action game This Is Vegas and roll your eyes. Where Grand Theft Auto sends you on heists and hits, Vegas runs a little more puerile, allowing you to tend bar, rough up rowdy frat boys, and hose down eager young t-shirt-clad coeds. But this is not just Girls Gone Wild: The Game. This Is Vegas will offer a fictionalized Sin City strip where you can pick up missions that fall into four categories: driving, fighting, gambling, and ... partying? As silly as that might sound, we're hoping the tongue-in-cheek humor on display during a recent limited demo of the game is consistent with the overall tone of the final product. If indeed Vegas doesn't take itself too seriously, it might actually be able to get away with the occasional wet t-shirt contest.

The premise is a simple rags-to-riches story: Your character is fresh off the bus in Las Vegas with $50 in his pocket and a yen to hit the big time. Unlike Grand Theft Auto there's no seedy criminal underworld for you to delve into. Aside from the occasional cheating when you're playing one of the casinos' many table and card games, your rise to the top in Vegas will happen above board. The game won't allow you to customize your character at the outset, but since acquisition of wealth is a primary focus here, it's not surprising that plenty of snazzy duds will be available for you to enhance your appearance.

Midway wasn't ready to show off any of the driving or open-world roaming during the demo we saw. Instead, we were restricted to the partying and gambling mission types for now, both of which will fatten your wallet if you approach them the right way. Gambling will largely be an optional side-activity, though some missions will also require you to hit the tables and test your odds against the house. The blackjack mini-game we played was functional, and like all the gambling mini-games in This Is Vegas, cheating was as easy as hitting a button. In this case, holding the cheat button showed us marks on the backs of the cards in play indicating their value, making the decision to hit or stand a no-brainer. However, every time you cheat at a game, you'll add to a suspicion meter at the bottom of the screen, and the fuller that meter gets, the greater the chance that a surly pit boss will catch you and toss you out on your keister.

Partying was the biggest focus of our demo of This Is Vegas, though it doesn't sound like that sort of gameplay will dominate the final game. In this instance, our character sauntered into a nightclub where his friend was working the DJ booth, to find that the place was completely dead. As a man of style and class, it'll be your job to get the place jumping. You?ll work the bar, hit the dance floor, and toss any ruffians who are ruining the experience for the legitimate patrons. The combat so far is quite simplistic -- you find someone causing a ruckus, then grapple and trade simple punches with your opponent. When you've sufficiently beaten them down, a silly over-the-top uppercut will send them flying several feet into the air. The more you clean up the club, the more partygoers you'll pack in there.

The bartending mini-game consisted of simply moving between three positions at the bar and hitting the button that appears over each patron's head. Not very deep, but it tested our reflexes when new customers started appearing as fast as we could keep up with them. The dancing mini-game had a little more depth to it, since each button corresponds to different dance moves and you can string these moves into specific preset dance routines. The game seems to have a good amount of referential humor here and there. We pulled off one dance combo per a Midway representative's instructions and realized at the end that the routine was taken straight from Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video. All of these club-based mini-games contribute to the number of people you're drawing into the club, and if you hit the goal within the time limit, you'll get to spray water on a few young women in tight white t-shirts, which we're sure will be titillating if polygonal breasts are your thing.

The game's designers seem intent on letting players sample every aspect of the true Vegas party lifestyle in gameplay terms. So of course, you'll be able to approach the bar yourself and grab a drink when you feel like it. Drinking in moderation will increase your swagger by filling the "buzz" meter, which will let you pull off some slick moves when you fill it. But drinking too much will make you stumble around like an idiot, blowing your chance to be the life of the party and maybe even making you vomit on a few unlucky patrons' shoes. Talk about realism. Of course you can always go to the restroom and urinate to alleviate that problem, and the Midway rep told us not to rule out the possibility of some kind of manual mini-game control being added to the urination in the final game. We're not sure there's anything else we can even say about that.

Midway says the final game will offer more variety than our limited demo, with numerous casino games (slots and a story-related poker tournament being two more that will be available in the final), the driving missions that we didn't get to see yet, and a colorful cast of characters that will populate the numerous fictional casinos. We only got to hear a few snippets of dialogue during the demo, but they were surprisingly funny and reasonably intelligent, without resorting to the level of lazy, crass toilet jokes. Like most of Midway's upcoming lineup, This Is Vegas is being built on Unreal Engine 3, so it's no slouch in the looks department, either. The gameplay looks fairly entertaining and certainly varied enough here, but we'll reserve judgment until we get a better idea about how the game?s writing, specifically the humor, comes through in the final version.

This preview was based on publisher-driven and hands-on demos of the game. This Is Vegas is due out later this year.