Vegas: Make It Big
What's the easiest way to win a million quid? Play the football pools? Enter the lottery? Cheat on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Nah. The odds of hitting the jackpot on any of those are about the same as pulling a supermodel at bingo. The only true way to get seriously wedged is to head into the Nevada desert. We're talking showgirls. We're talking Elvis. We're talking gangsters. We're talking heavyweight boxing championships and heavyweight wads. We are of course talking Vegas.
But there's a twist. If you think the millionaires are the ones gambling - you're wrong. The only way to earn a cool million (and much, much more) here is to physically own the town. The only winners in Las Vegas are the people who run the place. And that means you.
A Human Zoo
Vega$: Make It Big is the tycoon game to end all tycoon games. By actually giving players the opportunity to rebuild the planet's most gaudy goldmine, developer Deep Red Games (Monopoly Tycoon) and publisher Empire Interactive feel they have something that's a little bit more than your average casino simulator.
"I think we offer the whole Vegas experience," muses producer Ben Wilkins, "I don't think there's another casino game that's gone outside the casino and onto The Strip the way we have. There are rollercoasters, dolphin shows, swimming pools, hugely detailed shopping malls - and all of these things are side by side, competing with each other."
Fact is, VegaS is clearly more than just chips, slots and neon lights.
"There certainly isn't another tycoon game that has everything so close together," continues Wilkins, "in Zoo Tycoon for example you wouldn't get three zoos lined up next to each other shouting 'we've got more penguins! Come over here!' You might see some kind of message saying that New York Zoo has a new tiger - but you'll never physically see it. In Vega$ you can see the competition right there and you can see exactly how many people are going through the door."
There can be no doubt that Vega$ looks like being an incredibly audacious attempt at empire building. With more than 100 different upgradeable buildings including hotels, casinos, strip clubs, restaurants and the aforementioned shopping malls - where you can even specify the type of boutique and the prices on offer - the game allows you to mess round with virtually everything that you'll find in the real vegas.
Equally you'll find the same type of people. There are 22 different kinds of punters in all, ranging from the absolute down-and-out pond life who do nothing but feed the slots with their buckets of quarters, to the Texan whales marking their territory at the poker table.
Each guest has needs of course. If you are familiar with games like RollerCoaster Tycoon, Theme Park and the rest, it will come as no surprise to discover that what Cledus from West Virginia wants is not necessarily the same as what Madame Richebiche from Paris wants. Whether your delightful guests feel the urge to eat, drink (large amounts of alcohol), gamble, sleep or piss in a pot, you have to provide them with the means to do so. And from what we've seen it looks like part of the strategy is ensuring that certain types of people circulate and remain in specific areas so that they and the entertainment they seek doesn't offend guests of a different class.
A family of four for example will not appreciate staying in a hotel boasting strippers on tap. A dinosaur-themed locale with wave pools and burger bars will suit them much better - apart from dad of course who's likely to sneak off into 'Massage Mahal' the moment the kids and the missus are in bed. Meanwhile, an excitable gaggle of Japanese businessmen would have no qualms in diving straight into the local jazz bars and jizz parlours. What's petty cash for after all?
To keep players on their toes and to add a touch of glamour to the seedy proceedings, there's also a host of Vegas-type celebrities. Famous boy bands, crooners with more than a passing resemblance to Tom Jones, heavy-weight boxing champions and suave British secret agents can all be found pounding The Strip.
The nightmare/fantasy world (depending on your point of view) of the real Vegas is a fairly difficult atmosphere to mimic -but it hasn't stopped the developer having a bloody good try. And with the capacity to accommodate up to 5,000 people and 200 cars, it's no wonder there's a certain energetic buzz about the game. As you scan around the full 3D landscape, zooming down to watch weddings conducted by Elvis and pan through spectacular fountains, you really cannot help but be impressed at the effort that's been put in.
All this and we haven't even stepped into a casino yet. In fairness this is the one area of the game that didn't impress as much as we'd hoped. But that's not because there's anything particularly wrong with it as far as we can tell. It's just that with Casino Inc and Casino Empire both offering an internal gameplay perspective; the impact is not particularly new or exciting. From a gameplay point of view it's a complete contrast to the exterior part of the game, which is wholly unique.
Nonetheless there are elements here that aim to improve upon what we've already seen in both Empire and Inc. For a start, the level of micromanagement is nowhere near as intense. All the blackjack tables, bars, security guards and everything associated with the day-to-day operations of the casino will manage themselves if you leave them alone.
"We give the player a choice," says Wilkins, "if you want to go into intricate depths of micromanagement and adjust payout ratios, decide who you want to eject and all the other stuff then you can. But if you don't want to, the place won't grind to a halt without you. We want the player to have fun. For some people that means paying a croupier a certain wage, for others it means building stuff."
Creating the perfect gambling environment will be an integral part of the game. You will have to choose where to put the poker tables, the roulette wheels and everything else that you find in a casino. You can even decide which kind of car you want to have as a star prize on the slot machines. Again, it all depends what type of punter you want in your casino.
A Bit Whiffy
One interesting tool used in the design process is the 'aura' - a kind of visual depiction of invisible elements that will affect your punters. So, if you want to create a pleasant place for a bit of poker then you'll need to check your noise aura chart and build a nice quiet comer to give your players a chance to think. If you want to get people to stick around the roulette table then it might be an idea to move it away from the toilets: checking your smell aura can quickly replace the aroma of sewage with the reek of cash.
Ambience is also important if you want to attract high-rollers into your casino. By installing expensive marble floors and ostentatious walls and ceilings you can make the place fit for a king.
The ability to save your casino should also prove highly popular. If you've spent the best part of a day creating what you believe is the best gambling den in Vegas, you can save it and use it later in the game. It's a bit like saving your rollercoaster designs on Rollercoaster Tycoon, and you don't need us to tell you what a godsend that is. You can also trade your casinos on the Internet if you so desire - admittedly, not everyone takes it so seriously, but you just know some smart arse will actually construct an identical replica of Caesar's Palace.
Disasters are another feature that are part and parcel of tycoon games, and VfegaS is no different. Droughts, torrential rain, lightning, earthquakes and more form just some of the difficulties you will encounter.
Ultimately though, the question is, will this type of game prove to be a disaster in Britain? If the success of Casino Empire and Casino Inc are anything to go by, the odds are VegaS's neon lights may struggle to shine. The truth is us Brits are a bit less inclined to embrace the whole gambling thing in the same way the Americans do. Sticking a couple of quid on the dogs and the nags is more our style.
From what we've seen so far, VegaS deserves more respect. It is more than just a casino simulator - that much is obvious. If you mixed up SimCity, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Monopoly Tycoon and Casino Empire in a big pot you'll be much closer to what VegaS is all about. Needless to say, we were extremely suprised by the scope of the game. Clearly, the ante is about to be seriously raised on the tycoon management genre.
Gambling Is Not A Turn Off...
One of the weirdest things about Las Vegas is the lack of clocks. Casino managers don't want you to know what the time is in the hope that you'll forget about the world around you and just keep throwing away your cash. So, when you think it's just gone midnight and you walk out of the casino to find the sun rising over the red mountains of the Nevada desert it can sometimes be a bit of a shock.
VegaS manages to relay this shock effect to the player by including a full day/night cycle. This also means that when the sun sets and the lights of Vegas are switched on you also get the full-on dazzling neon effect. Very impressive.
Download Vegas: Make It Big
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP