It may not be the most memorable entry in the series, but Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories definitely lives up to its prestigious heritage.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories was a terrific game, but to a certain extent, it seemed smaller in scope when compared to its console counterparts. Like Liberty City Stories before it, Vice City Stories also feels smaller in scope, but once again, developer Rockstar did a great job of making the GTA experience portable.
The overall structure remains the same (the game constantly encourages you to go from point A to point B,) but that’s mitigated by Vice City Stories’ unique sense of immersion. Luckily, Vice City is the same as you remember it: girls stroll in bikinis, there are palms everywhere, everything is pastel-colored and the soundtrack is terrific.
But while the setting is a familiar one, the story is completely different. In Vice City Stories, you assume the role of Victor Vance, a corporal in the U.S. Army who’s trying to make some money to help his dysfunctional family. So he starts accepting the dirty work of one of his superiors in the army. This involves retrieving important packages that contain illegal substances, killing members of the opposition, buying weapons from questionable individuals and so on. Eventually though, Victor gets caught and he’s expelled from the army for his disrespectful behavior. With no job and no money, Victor decides to use the contacts he met while working for his corrupt officer to become a delinquent.
As soon as the story starts progressing, some of the game’s innovations become apparent. Interestingly, most of these changes were brought from San Andreas: you can swim for a limited time, enter buildings, buy real state to build a business empire and recruit gang members for certain missions. Furthermore, there are new vehicles and when you die and go to the hospital, you can pay a bribe to get all your weapons back. Shooting has always been a finicky mechanic in GTA and even though auto-aiming doesn’t always work as it should, this feature makes sure that you’re always aiming at the most immediate threat. Overall, most of these additions are more than welcome, since they remove some of the most frustrating aspects of the series.
Some mechanics might have changed, but other aspects have remained the same. One of those aspects is the game’s irreverent sense of humor that permeates every aspect of the experience, from the manual to the radio commercials. And when you’re not listening to the main characters interact with each other or pedestrians ranting about a random topic, you’ll spend most of your time listening to the myriad radio stations. It’s worth pointing out that the soundtrack from Vice City was superb and Vice City Stories doesn’t reach that level of refinement. Still, there are pop, heavy metal, hard rock and hip hop stations, among many others. The DJs are hilarious as well and veterans of the series will be glad to know that Laslow is still a prominent part of the audio portion of the game.
Apart from the main campaign (which should take you between 20 to 30 hours to complete,) you have access to a variety of side missions. The classic missions, such as the taxi, firemen and vigilante, are still here, but there are some new secondary activities as well. The best ones are Empire missions which let you occupy enemy territory. The way in which these missions work is fairly simple. When you’re on an enemy facility, you can destroy a vehicle parked on the front to trigger the mission. Once activated, you need to kill waves of enemies, get inside the facility, eliminate everyone inside, destroy all remaining assets and then you can reclaim that territory as your own.
Once you’re done, you can purchase the building and set up a protection racket, brothel or smuggling compound, among others. Each day, you receive a payment according to the number of businesses you own. From time to time, enemy gangs will attack your businesses, at which point you can defend those buildings or repair them soon after the attack. But the secondary activities don’t end there. You can collect specific cars and return them to the police impound, you can pop 99 balloons (a reference to Nena’s 1984 hit “99 Luftballoons”) that are scattered around the sun-soaked environments, you can accept missions inside your empires and the list of side activities goes on and on.
Once you finish the single-player campaign, you have access to numerous multiplayer modes. These include Vice City Survivor (reach the kill limit to win the game,) Protection Racket (destroy as many gang’s vehicles as fast as you can,) Taken for a Ride (steal gang’s vehicles and return them to your base,) Tanks for the Memories (get inside the tank and survive as long as you can) and The Hit List (kill the marked player as soon as possible.) If you have a couple of friends to play with, these modes offer hours and hours of entertainment, but it’s worth mentioning that the multiplayer modes are local only.
Despite all the small changes and incredible amount of content, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories isn’t without its flaws. There are still noticeable slowdowns when a lot of things are happening on screen at the same time. As a consequence, causing mayhem to raise the wanted level doesn’t have the same impact on the PSP as its does on its console counterparts. Additionally, while some of the elements from San Andreas made their way to to Vice City Stories, others are nowhere to be found, such as the RPG and character development aspects, car modification or minigames, to name a few.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories doesn’t fix some fundamental problems with the portable series and the game has some technical inconsistencies here and there. But a handful of new features make up for most of those problems. GTA: Vice City Stories has everything you’d expect from a portable GTA game. In the end, Vice City Stories may fit in a little disk, but this game proves that big things come in small packages.