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This Is 99-Cent Steak & Egg Breakfast

Ryan spends some time in "Hyper Vegas."

As hard as Las Vegas tries to sell itself as some kind of exotic, chic, adult wonderland, the truth is that–perhaps now more than ever–Vegas is a corny and absurd assault of the senses, like an episode of Entourage with the volume and contrast turned all the way up. Maybe that’s just my own residual sins talking, having recently returned from a Midway press event held in Las Vegas, where the publisher showed off what it referred to as a “full house of great games.” One of the games included in that cringe-inducing play on words was This Is Vegas, an open-world lifestyle game that plunges you into the glitzy, neon-soaked world of what developer Surreal Software refers to as Hyper Vegas. While I might not buy into the whole Vegas mythos, I think This Is Vegas just might be ridiculous enough to make a fun time out of it.

You’ll enter the world of This Is Vegas fresh off the bus as a small-town nobody with $50 in his pocket, looking to get a piece of the Vegas lifestyle. You’ll hook up with a sketchy dude named Joey Nissan (Note to self: avoid involvement with dudes with automotive last names. They will always be sketchy.) and take on an ambitious real estate mogul named Preston Boyer as you also try to make a name for yourself in this glittery, deep-fried desert pearl. The game promises lots of “Vegas moments”, such as rounding up strippers for a bachelor party, or trying to reunite The Chairmen, a marginally fictionalized Rat-Pack-type group of entertainers. While you can expect the usual open-world structure of cruising around in cars and on foot, taking on missions, and dealing with various factions, This Is Vegas seems more hedonistic than criminal, though the game will give you plenty of opportunities for trouble.

There are four basic activities in This Is Vegas–racing, fighting, gambling, and partying. Not much was shown of the racing aspect of This Is Vegas, though it sounds like the main focus will be illegal street racing. Fighting also seems pretty straight-forward, allowing you a few different punch combos, grapples, and the ability to charge up an attack by holding the button. The most interesting part of the fighting that I saw was a super-move you could trigger that would send your opponent comically flying through the air. Though most of what I saw was down-and-dirty street-fighting, it appears that you’ll be able to compete in some kind of mixed martial arts cage match, and there promises to be some gunplay as well.

Gambling will take place in the many marginally fictionalized casinos in This Is Vegas, such as Mayan, Olympus, and Big Top, though to spice things up, you’ll be able to use what they like to call “advantage play”, or in other words, cheat your swindlin’ black guts out. I got to play a few hands of blackjack where I could tap a button to activate my special sunglasses that revealed marks on the cards that gave me a ballpark idea of what card was coming next. Every time I used the glasses, though, it raised my suspicion meter. Of course, there are consequences for cheating, and if that meter gets too high, you’ll get tossed out, beat up, or worse, depending on the casino that catches you. One of the fundamental problems with all casino video games is that there aren’t any stakes, which I think This Is Vegas addresses pretty smartly–there’s few higher stakes than getting your ass kicked.

The bulk of Midway’s presentation of This Is Vegas was spent focusing on the party aspect, with a sequence where your character promises to “get it started” at a club called Aqua for a friendly female DJ. Apparently simply slapping on some Black-Eyed Peas isn’t enough, and instead you’ll have to perform a few different activities to liven things up and get more people in the club. You can hit the dance floor using a Tony-Hawk-inspired dance-move combo system, where you can bust some hilarious moves. Right up until they started showing the dancing, I couldn’t tell if This Is Vegas was in on the joke or not, but once I saw that there was a button dedicated to doing the Running Man, all my doubts evaporated. There doesn’t seem to be much to the gameplay from what I played, but it’s fun just to watch the stupid cocky strut your character switches into every time he touches the dance floor.

Tending bar can help liven things up, which takes the form of a minigame that reminded me quite a bit of a remixed version of Tapper. When people approach the bar, they’ll want one of four things–a cocktail, a beer, a light for their cigarette, or trouble–and there’s an appropriate response for each mapped to one of the controller’s face buttons. You’ll see an icon over their head that will immediately start draining, giving you a limited amount of time to respond. I played through it a few times, and it’s a decent little minigame, though my favorite part is when you mismatch responses, slamming the head of a girl who just wanted a cosmo into the bar, or lighting some rabble-rouser on fire. You’ll have to bounce corny bachelors, like the dude in the football jersey with the crooked visor referred to in the presentation as Gun Show, when you aren’t behind the bar as well.

At a certain point in the party, you get to use your bar gun to administer a wet t-shirt contest, at which point I started to seriously doubt this game’s chances of receiving a T (for Teen!) rating. You can have some drinks yourself, too, though if you don’t pace yourself, you’ll end up stumbling around, making a fool of yourself on the dance floor, and eventually puking up all that overpriced club booze. If you’re feeling a little too close to the edge, you can sober up some by hitting the can…just like in real life.

Like Las Vegas itself, This Is Vegas looks like fun, in theory. Having played through a party sequence in the game, I found an odd appreciation for the commitment to really amplifying all of the stuff that makes Las Vegas so trashy and unrelenting, though some repetition made it feel like the party sequences either need to be tightened up or feature more stuff to do. With the game not scheduled for release until this holiday season, it’s still got a ways to go, but there’s certainly the potential that This Is Vegas will be a royal flush of excitement.