This is Vegas is Midway’s foray into Grand Theft Auto territory. It’s also a little bit The Sims… and virtually any casino game and party game. Surreal, really seems to be carving out its own niche with this melding of genres, but it remains to be seen just how many gamers enjoy all of those mixed together. Las Vegas plus wet t-shirt contests, fighting, and gambling just screams “male demographic”. But will that male demographic also go heavily enough for the dancing mini-games? Fortunately, they’ve really mixed in a healthy dose of parody – thanks to the writing of former Cracked magazine editor Jay Pinkerton - and that goes a long way towards marrying the many games that make up this title.

Partially mirroring real life, the premise of This is Vegas is that the city is in danger of being overrun by family friendly enterprise. It is your charge to start an empire of your own that can help ensure that the wild nightlife and “anything goes” attitude remains firmly in place. Your empire is going to be built upon your reputation and on your bankroll, and it is through these many games that you will make your run to the top.

One of the coolest things about This is Vegas is how Surreal has created its own alternate reality Vegas. The landmark casinos still bear a passing resemblance to their real life counterparts - Caesar’s Palace is now Olympus, the Luxor is now Mayan, Excalibur is Avalon, etc. It’s fair to say they have a more than passing resemblance and Unreal Engine 3 is put to good use rendering the whole affair. The crowds are a big part of the Vegas experience as well and, in the demo we played, there was a nice variety of NPC models. You never get the feeling that Las Vegas is populated by clones of four or five different people. The animation was generally good as well. You’ll see your character do everything from busting a move on the dance floor to taking a leak to shake off the effects of one too many cocktails.

The game is generally made up of four parts: gambling, fighting, racing, and partying. Each one of those parts has a core faction and raising your reputation with each will earn you unlockable rewards. The Aces are the high stake gamblers and what would a game about Vegas be without any gambling? At your disposal are popular card games like Blackjack and Texas-Hold’em. Not being a guy of high morality, you’re perfectly able to do a little cheating… just don’t get caught! Your inside guy seems to have marked the cards in the decks and you just happen to have a pair of sunglasses that will help you pick them out. With shades in place, you’ll be able to see markings that give you a general idea of what a card might be (high, mid, or low), so cheating doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got a free ride. Leave them on too long and the pit bosses that roam the floor are likely to give you the boot. Slot machines have a lower payoff, but you can make them a little “looser” through a hacking mini-game.

The Clubs faction, quite simply, are the partygoers that inhabit the many swanky clubs that litter the city. Your job is to get the party started. In the demo, we approached the hipster ponytail adorned DJ chick that was commanding the turntables in one of the lower-level clubs, Club Aqua. Our task, she says, is to do whatever we can to bring in the crowds and get the place hopping. What that means in game-terms is that you have to earn a set amount of points in the club in a specified amount of time. As it turns out, there are a few ways to make that happen, and getting out there on the dance floor and showing off your rad moves is probably the most important. Simple timed button combinations will have you cutting the rug with the best of them. Fill up your buzz meter and you can enthrall the throngs of dancers by leading them in your very own synchronized dancing show. As with any club, “undesirables” sometimes need to be shown the door - and you wear many hats – so introducing the offending party to your two fists will also raise your buzz meter and gain you party points. The interesting thing is that as you become more and more successful in your maneuvers you can actually see the club filling up with more people, including a few who seem to cheer on your every move. And what’s a happening nightclub without drinks? You can also tend the bar in yet another mini-game, offering up drinks, a light, and introduce the face of drunken patrons to the top of the bar. Build your points to a high enough level and you can even drum up a wet t-shirt contest mini-game. Three well-endowed females approach the bar and you get a few moments to hose down their cut-off shirts with the bar’s soda-gun. An interesting use of the physics engine, to be sure. Incidentally, it’s entirely possible for you to reach a state of drunkenness yourself and you’ll be treated to an appropriately fuzzy viewpoint. Your character will begin to stumble around comically on the dance floor and your sole relief is a visit to the nearest men’s room. Yep, that’s in there too. Cut it too close and you’ll be soaking your shoes in your own vomit… and I rather doubt that’s going to gain you many points.

Fighting is a part of Vegas that I’m sure city officials haven’t included in their tourist guides, but in a game… what could be more entertaining? The Hearts are the old-school crowd that evokes images of the famed Rat Pack: Sammy, Frank, Dean, and gang and you’ll meet one or two characters along those lines as you put your fists to the test. The fighting portion of the demo we played dropped us off in front of the Olympus Casino and pitted our character against angry bachelors and various thugs. By far, the funniest wave of baddies was the big-headed casino mascots. The action is pretty simple to handle, with buttons assigned to attack, block, and grapple. You can also pull off charge attacks and, once you fill up your buzz meter, a super attack that’ll knock your opponent up into the air and on his back in glorious slow motion. Like the club portion of the game, your success is mirrored in the world by increasingly larger crowds cheering on your antics.

Sadly, we weren’t able to preview the racing portion of the game, but I assume that the Spades play a role there. That group consists of various rockers, punks, and low-lifes. All in all, each portion of the game clearly doesn’t take itself seriously, so I’d expect a similar element of irreverence and cheating to take place in the driving games. Nor were we able to really sample the open world feel that the final game promises. Putting together a demo for an open world type game is no easy feat.

This is Vegas is a literal smorgasbord of action; just about any gamer could find entertainment in any segment of the game. The challenge will be in seeing if the many pieces come together in such a way that those same people can enjoy all aspects equally. If not equally, at least skip through or tolerate them. The storyline will go a long way towards obtaining the “buy-in” from many and it’s good to see a professional comedic writer taking charge of that task. If the gameplay really comes together in the open-world style that Surreal is shooting for, This is Vegas could make some serious waves. We look forward to seeing the final game this winter.

Dev Walkthrough 1

Dev Walkthrough 2

Dev Interview