How far will game PRs go to to ensure positive coverage of their client's latest product?
Drinks at the local bar? Dinner in some flash restaurant? If a game's really bad, maybe even a room in some flash hotel, a visit from a strangely lost 'madam' halfway through the night an apparent 'goodwill gesture'.
And so it was that I arrived at Stansted Airport on Thursday morning for the European Press Conference for NetDevil's new MMO Auto Assault already convinced it was so bad PR company Barrington Harvey were going to fly us out to the Riviera for an all expenses paid holiday in the sun.
What actually happened was very different, but probably more expensive.
I'm not going to talk about the game here, because the place for that is on a proper game website. I'm going to talk about the PR stunt BH threw to take Europe's finest game writers minds' off Auto Assault and onto . . . crazy mutant army chicks.
It was farely obvious something was going to kick off. Split into three groups (Humans, BioMechs and Mutants - we all had colour co-ordinated caps too!), we sat down in the hotel, a coach ride from the airport itself, and looked at our maps.
PRs are extremely excited by everything in the world ever. A few of them were cheering, slagging off opposing races and what not. I felt embarrased.
Then military guys burst in, shouting bloody murder and acting all in character. Their faces were painted, one of them was huge and bald, which helped I guess, and they had big black boots. I hid my face and died.
A small young woman, who was quite obviously considering a career change in front of our eyes, was wearing a green mutant mask that covered half her face. She put on a robot voice. First mistake people. The BioMechs are the cyborgs, not the mutants. How can I take any of this seriously now?
We put on combat gear, big black boots and strolled out of the hotel into the expansive and regal grounds the site afforded these kinds of events. Explosions either side of the path nearly made me crap myself, but I put on my 'I'm too cool for this stupidity' face and pretended nothing bothered me. Underneath, I was hurting.
We took turns on hovercrafts (I was first and worst), a quad bike (the guy in front of me crashed and went head first into a tree, which was nice), paint ball (had no idea if I was crap or not), drag cars (quite fun) and Quazar (we did OK I thought, although I headbutted on of my team mates in the darkness).
It was all good fun. The stinking humans won (we BioMechs hate them for ditching us before going underground and nuking the Earth apparently) and I didn't break my knee. But it had absolutely nothing to do with Auto Assault whatsoever, despite NetDevil head honcho Ryan insisting it 'tied in nicely'.
And it will have no bearing on my opnion of the game, which, at the moment, isn't much because we didn't get hands on with it. So why go to all the trouble to send 50 or so journalists out with an action events company in the middle of nowhere, pay for half of them to have a posh dinner in the hotel afterwards and even pay for a room for a select few?
I've no idea - but Barrington Harvey must have taken on a few more clients lately, because they obviously have money to burn. Although I suspect others love these sorts of things, I'd have been happy with a few hours hands on in a dingy London office. I'm told we need to be ready for extreme heights at the upcoming press event for City of Villians. Oh what fresh hell is this . . .