A new Mecca for gaming enthusiasts opens today in Birmingham, with the arrival of Europe's first Gamestation Basement.

Microsoft Gamestation, on New Street, is the biggest video-game store in the UK and the first in Europe to come equipped with a designated floor for X-box aficionados to p lay and test out new products.

Thanks to a gallery of plasma screens, X-box 360s and PCs, gamers can sit down and link up with other players around the world for favourites such as Fifa Manager 06 and Tomb Raider.

The basement is also equipped with sofas and beanbags so customers can relax and recreate the experience of playing in their own homes.

The basement, which is home to 14 gaming 'pods' and one PC, will also host corporate events and private parties.

"You can play games with people in the US, in other shops or at home, anywhere in the world," said Gamestation area manager Colin Betteridge.

"We think it will be very popular."

Staff will be keeping an eye on customers who find it too attractive and find it difficult to pull themselves away.

"We can close off the base-ment for parties and invite competition winners and their friends to spend an evening there," Mr Betteridge added.

The arrival of the Microsoft Gamestation Basement comes after Apple opened a flagship store in the city in April 2005.