- Platform: PlayStation 2
- Also on: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Xbox
- Release Date: October 27, 2002
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Genre: Action-adventure
- Modes: Single-player
- ESRB: Mature
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a fantastic follow-up to one of the greatest games of all time.
There’s no doubt about it, Grand Theft Auto III was one of the greatest games of all time. The title had pretty much everything: a mature story, great graphics, superb voice acting and a really good sense of humor. But arguably, the characteristic that stood out the most about the title was its sandbox style of gameplay that allowed you to roam around Liberty City, changing things as you pleased. GTA III allowed you to complete the same mission in various dissimilar ways and if at some point in the game you got bored with the story, you could simply steal a car and do pretty much whatever you wanted.
Soon after releasing GTA III, Rockstar North started working on a proper sequel, and a year later Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released. This follow-up adds a lot to the core formula like new cars, the possibility of changing clothes, buy many properties, ride motorcycles, fly planes, helicopters and more. Additionally and even though it still has some minor technical issues, Vice City feels like a more polished game when compared to its predecessor and sometimes it’s just surprising that such a huge title came out for the PlayStation 2 so many years ago.
GTA: Vice City follows the story of Tommy Vercetti, a criminal member of the mafia who’s just been released from prison and is trying to sell cocaine to another gang. Somebody betrays Vercetti and his men, taking both the drugs and the money. Consequently, Tommy, who barely escapes, promises to retrieve the money from the deal, so he starts taking jobs from some powerful people in order to become the head of the most important organization. Here, as in GTA III, you start the game as a “nobody” and you begin building your own empire from the ground up. The setting is a totally different one and the overall map is enormous as it features many diverse regions like islands, urban areas, beaches and so on. The game is set in fictional Vice City, which is obviously inspired by Miami, and as a consequence, you’ll see and hear many references to TV series, movies and events from the 1980s. It’s worth noting that the fact that the city is so big and detailed causes loading times to be much longer, but fortunately Vice City only loads once when you first start the game. Overall, the compelling story, the great cast of characters and the refreshingly unique setting suit the action quite well and add much more personality and distinction.
From a gameplay perspective the title is really good. While the same control scheme from GTA III is retained, controls feel slicker, much more refined and the shooting mechanics are more comfortable and appropriate. Precise controls seem to be directly related to the game’s difficulty, making Vice City a much easier experience. Fortunately, now you won’t have to replay the same mission over and over as finding out what you’re supposed to do is just a matter of time and practice. The same trial-and-error approach has been reused but it’s just more forgiving this time around.
In addition, missions are quite varied and involve doing much more than simply going from point A to point B. The core of the missions is pretty much the same, but the formula has been tweaked enough to add more variety to them. For example, you may now dive out from moving vehicles, by pressing L3 you can crouch for more precision when using a sniper rifle, and if at any point in the game you die a taxi will take you to the nearest respawn point in exchange for some money. All the secondary missions are also present and you’ll be able to accept vigilante, taxi, fire truck and ambulance missions. Also, a new mission type has been implemented, the self-explanatory “pizza delivery missions,” which require you to drive a scooter.
Vice City has lots of new content when compared to GTA III. The game features new cars and vehicles like motorcycles, dirt bikes, tanks, boats, etc. Each new car has its unique characteristics like speed, handling, and so on, but their inclusion was kind of expected as GTA III didn’t have that many vehicles. Motorcycles, on the other hand, are a great addition and some missions require you to drive one of these in order to successfully complete them. There are various kinds of motorcycles like choppers, dirt bikes and scooters and driving them is a blast as they control really different than other vehicles. It’s also really fun to hit bikers on the streets, especially when you’re a driving a fast or heavy vehicle.
Some new weapons have also been included, providing missions with more depth and diversity. The arsenal of weapons is pretty much what you would expect in a game of this kind, so it has pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles and also a chainsaw (which you can use to destroy cars), a katana and some other bizarre weapons. Planes and helicopters are also featured. As part of the main story you need to fly a Dodo (which fortunately is nothing like the one featured in GTA III) to hand out flyers to promote an upcoming movie, and you’ll also fly a Sparrow (a small helicopter) to go to a nearby hotel. These missions are excellent and it’s a shame that they don’t last longer or that there aren’t any more of them. At times, you’ll also use radio controlled planes and helicopters to plant bombs and interestingly enough, these mission are even more compelling.
Most people really complained about the impossibility of entering buildings in GTA III, so it’s amazing to see that now you are able to do so. You can go inside certain apartments and special places like hotels, strip clubs and some private residences. This provides the game with a new layer of reality and transmits the feeling that you’re not living in an empty, make-believe city anymore. Therefore, Vice City seems complete and extremely realistic. Furthermore, most of GTA III’s nice little touches are still present in this iteration: the wind moves newspapers on the streets, pedestrians chat realistically, the day-night cycle feels natural, and every characteristic blends seamlessly and gracefully. Moreover, at various points in the game your character will be able to change his clothes in order to go certain places like golfing or to infiltrate in Haitian territories. Although this fact is mostly cosmetic, it’s just nice to see Tommy wear different clothes at different points in the story.
The money you collect also has a more important role in the story. Besides using it to get new equipment and weapons, once you have saved enough money you can buy your own property. There are various properties and points of interest featured in the game and not only these serve as save points, but also provide unique missions that are key to move on with the main plot. Also, once you complete these, your property will start generating revenue and you are encouraged to visit that place every once in a while to collect it. The possibility of saving in these spots is just great as now you don’t have to travel long distances to do so.
Well, it wouldn’t be a GTA review if I didn’t make reference to some controversial issues associated with the title. Vice City is true to the saga and under no circumstances should children play this game. There is graphical violence, myriad references to sex and drugs, explicit language and many other mature topics are depicted with little to no censorship at all.
Graphically, Vice City hasn’t aged really well, but at this point, I don’t think anyone would play it for its graphics. Stylistically, Vice City uses lots of bright textures and pastel colors which are usually associated with the 80s, making it even more distinctive. In any way, Vice City looks good enough and having the opportunity of flying over the immense city is sublime, as it lets you see how much effort developers put into this game. Characters, on the other hand, don’t look as expressive as they should, but their movements are quite lifelike. Special attention was devoted to the city design and each neighborhood is pretty dissimilar to the rest so you’ll definitely be able to identify where you are just by looking at your surroundings.
Soundwise, the game is simply superb. Voice acting is great and it’s really good to know that each character has a suitable voice that provides him or her with a unique personality. But what’s probably best in the sound department is the inclusion of many radio stations. Each radio has an overall genre which includes pop, rock, hip-hop, ballads, heavy metal, rap and so forth. In these stations you’ll be able to hear popular artists like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Yes, Toto, Blondie, Michael Jackson and many more. Overall, the soundtrack is amazing as it offers many genres that are divided into different stations and chances are you’ll have a favorite station of your own. Apart from these, some other stations have guests and allow live calls just like in GTA III, these are quite humorous and their commercials are hilariously funny. The tongue-in-cheek and self-aware style of humor so proper of the series is constantly present and will undoubtedly amuse you while you drive, sail or fly throughout Vice City.
In the end, GTA: Vice City is an astounding game as it has everything you could ask for in a sequel of this kind. It has new weapons, vehicles, characters, uniforms, better controls, an improved difficulty and great music. This iteration definitely represents a step in the right direction for the series as it adds more content, depth and many memorable moments. If you still own a PlayStation 2 and you’ve never played this game before, do yourself a favor and at least try it. You won’t be disappointed.