Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Review

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Publisher: Rockstar Games (Take-Two Interactive)
Developer: Rockstar North

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Grand Theft Auto III had the silent carjacker. Vice City, an ersatz Miami of the 1980s has Tommy Vercetti, a mafia hoodlum who sat out the Vietnam War in a maximum security prison. Finally freed to return to work for his old master, Sonny Forelli, Tommy is sent to Vice City to assist in a major drug transaction that goes horribly wrong, losing Forelli's money and the goods. After barely escaping with his life, Tommy is given a hotel room for shelter and a barely competent lawyer as his only contact. Sonny wants his cash back. Now. And he's holding Tommy responsible.

That kind of money is hard to track down, so Tommy starts doing minor chores for local crime moguls until he finds himself a central power broker in Vice City. Together with his sidekick, Lance Vance, snappily dressed in a white suit, powerful friends and equally powerful enemies, Tommy gets ready to take over the party capital of America. And to steal a lot of cars.

Kyle Ackerman

Everything that Grand Theft Auto III (GTA3) was, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Vice City) achieves, and more. With 80s music, roller-skates and legwarmers. GTA3 established itself as the best-selling whipping-boy for the national media, popular with gamers and the subject of unending scorn from aging legislators. As much as we would like to say GTA3 and Vice City have opened an intelligent debate about adults who play games, and the maturing of an industry with established adult demographics, that's not the case. Mostly we are divided in two camps – those who love the game, and those who choose to examine neither the game nor the audience and proclaim Vice City yet another vehicle to introduce children to a life of violence.

It has been shouted from the hilltops that Vice City is not a game for children. That we know. It combines a sophisticated set of power struggles between figures in the Vice City underworld with the charm and kitsch of the old Miami Vice television show, were it to be filmed with the brutal sensibilities of a cable network show such as Oz. By appealing to the nostalgia value of Miami Vice and an early 1980s setting, Vice City immediately pegs itself as made for an audience in its 20s and 30s. The sometimes sadistic violence is integral to the violent world the plot explores, and is no more inappropriate to the medium than violence in a film such as Reservoir Dogs. Occasionally, Vice City undermines itself as entertainment for a mature audience. Some of the humor is overly puerile (a certain donut commercial, or sequence with a searchlight both come to mind), and seems targeted at a young audience with a middle-school sense of humor. These less sophisticated jokes can be found in plenty of movies, and may well broaden the commercial potential, but also provide hooks for the critics and pundits to rip the game apart without examining its merits.

Proselytizing aside, Vice City is a stronger version of GTA3. The plot is a lot more coherent, and more closely integrated into the story-related missions. Should you choose to follow the plot, Tommy and Lance Vance are a Tubbs and Crockett (of Miami Vice) styled pair (with Philip Michael Thomas as part of both teams), turned to crime and with their suits reversed. Voice acting is supplied by strong talents such as Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Luis Guzman and Lee Majors. (Lee Majors is himself an 80s throwback.) The story follows Tommy as he slowly realizes and fulfills his potential. Tommy is given a voice and a character, unlike the silent thug of GTA3. This is better for the story-related missions, as it helps drive the action forward, but may be less popular with folks who prefer free-form exploration with a neutral avatar. Characters such as Donald Love among others from GTA3 are also worked in, giving the extra satisfaction of creating more backstory for the events of GTA3 without interrupting the flow of Vice City's saga. This new story also pushes the limits further than in GTA3. Violence is a mainstay, but sex comes to the fore in missions involving the film studio, as well as the character Mercedes and the band Love Fist.

The missions, both those related to the plot and the optional missions are well balanced for most of the early game. As you might expect in another game centered around auto theft, you do a lot of driving from point to point, often with hostile pursuit, be it the police or the French government. Still, with the story built around each mission and the creativity of the developers, most of the missions seem unique and are certainly entertaining enough to keep you playing for hours on end. There are several missions that are just too difficult, mostly near the end, and cause frustration, but these are the exception. Vice City offers so many hours of play that it's easy to overlook a few irritating tasks (many are optional or very late in the game). It is still annoying, however, that (like in GTA3) failure to complete a mission will require you to start entirely over, often without your weapons, going through a potentially long process of reacquiring the mission and working all the way through the difficult segment. Because of the PS2 control scheme, some will also find missions requiring marksmanship difficult.

Many missions offer alternate solutions. Should you fly or drive? A mission in which you have to steal a tank is a good example. You can try to take on an entire army convoy, or (if you wait) more subtle alternatives become available. You also usually have your choice of missions. The notable exception is a bottleneck that occurs before Tommy can really start to take control of Vice City – a mission called "Death Row" in which you must rescue Lance Vance took an awful lot of repetition. You also must control nearly all the city before the final mission becomes available. All of this is made worthwhile by the many solid missions, and a few spectacular missions, such as the one in which you have to keep Love Fist (the bisexual Scottish rockers) going at high speed while they defuse a stalker's bomb.

Life in Vice City is more than missions. It's not just that Vice City allows you to explore a large city freely, and seemingly act as you want. Vice City is especially satisfying because the designers have done their best to foresee what players might want to do in the city (practice wild stunts, juggle a beach ball, compete in the town's stadium) and they reward you by acknowledging the thing you did with a statistic, with slow-motion footage or better items, creating a secret thrill of achievement. Most of this is on the statistics screen, which keeps track of everything, including the best time for every race or trial, up to the number of seagulls you shoot. Plenty of extra missions are hidden around the city, too. These elements were present in GTA3, but in Vice City there are more. Vice City has nearly twice as many unique stunts and rampages (in which you wreak havoc, competing against a timer). The addition of motorcycles and helicopters just opens more crazy stunts and many more locations for exploration.

What would Vice City be without music from the 1980s? There is solid selection of music from the decade, a lot of which makes excellent accompaniment for scenes of hot pursuit, along with assorted commercials and talk radio segments that tie into the main personalities of the city. The radio is easily good enough to make you stop for a moment to listen to the end of a song or commercial (except that donut spot), and for those of you with a taste for the era, the radio stations have even been released as a compact disc collection.

Nearly always entertaining, Vice City allows players to choose between exploring a massive metropolis as whim dictates, and following a solid, if brutal, plot that runs the full gamut of sex, violence, drugs, rock and death. The plot-related missions offer entertainment worth the price of admission, and the city itself is a playground with countless additional discoveries awaiting you. Hop on a dirt bike and cruise the beach. The water may be shark-infested, but the game is grand.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 17, 2003 12:54 PM.

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