Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: May 12, 2003
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City embodies the very essence of the term “unprecedented destruction”, shock and awe in their full and upright position. PS2 owners have known this for quite some time now, as the game was originally released exclusively on Sony’s popular platform about six months ago. Those who haven’t had the opportunity to get their hands dirty with the PS2 game are obviously the crowd that Rockstar is targeting by releasing it on the PC, though even seasoned kingpins will find plenty of reason to revisit Vice City after seeing how much better the game can look on a high-res monitor. Now PC users are getting their time in the Florida sun with Vice City’s new and improved re-release which, aside from offering the expected enhancements such as dramatically increased resolution and faster loading, also boasts mod-friendly programming architecture that will help to keep the game feeling fresh well after you’ve sliced, diced, shot, committed vehicular manslaughter, and pimped your way to the top in the game’s many congress-irking missions.
A lot has changed since the humble free-form-game play days of GTAIII, and thankfully a lot has also stayed the same. You’ll still be able to freely roam about in an expansive vast environment, causing chaos and destruction at every turn while steering clear of the fuzz. But now you’ll be able to do it in style thanks to the game's over-the-top 1980s theme, brand-new Miami-esque setting, and assortment of new vehicles. The sheer variety of things to do in Vice City is mind-blowing, you could easily whittle away weeks just exploring the huge environments and messing around with the game’s realistic physics.
GTA: Vice City is far more story-driven than that of its predecessor, utilizing nearly one thousand pages of script to mold its crime-ridden plot. You play the part of Tommy Vercetti, a small-time wise guy recently released from jail who is thrown into a series of events after being double-crossed and nearly killed in a drug deal gone bad. Having escaped the ordeal intact, though empty-handed, Tommy soon realizes that if he doesn’t recover the drug money he’ll be taking a permanent nap in the dirt courtesy of Vice City’s friendly neighborhood crime lords. But that is only the beginning, Vercetti isn’t one to quit while he’s ahead, and his gung-ho mentality is made abundantly clear when he declares war on the city’s many established tough guys. In time you’ll be able to create an empire, buying up Vice City’s hottest hot spots, “inheriting” a new base of operations, and commandeering everything from scooters to Apache helicopters as you see fit. In Vice City the possibilities are truly endless, and the future is so bright you might want to think about wearing shades.
To help purport a sense of incredible immersion, Vice City boasts numerous character interactions and introduces you to lots of genuinely believable, appropriately-mature, and more often than not humorous personalities that are depicted in Hollywood caliber cinematic cut-scenes complete with flawless choreography and professional voice acting. Like GTAIII, Vice City makes no excuse for its ultra violent gameplay and incredibly mature content, even throwing in tons of subtle in-jokes and easily-missed sexual and cultural innuendos (see screenshot of building with cleverly-placed office lights for a good example). The amount of attention to detail that the folks at Rockstar North funneled into the creation of this game is astounding, and ultimately elevates it to a level that goes well beyond that of a quintessential mayhem-simulator.
While the intricate mechanics of the game’s many objects, vehicles, and people are in themselves more than enough to keep you busy for months, it’s the missions that you’ll attempt during the course of the experience that really keep you motivated to stay awake well into the wee hours of the morning. These missions help to advance the story, and upon completion usually open up entirely new things to do. You won’t be restricted to a single mission at any point in the game, instead you’ll have the option of taking on various missions as you see fit. Your objectives will range from doing things like commandeering a piece of “military hardware” (read: a fully functional-assed tank), to remotely controlling a mini-helicopter to place a series of bombs in strategic locations of a building. The great thing is that there is rarely a single “right” way to go about accomplishing missions, how you get the job done is up to you, creativity is not only allowed but encouraged.
Of course there are also a slew of mini-game challenges, as was the case in GTAIII. For example, you can hijack a taxi and rack up some extra spending-cash by delivering people to their respective destinations, or you can jack a moped and deliver pizzas – no one said you have to be a criminal; it just happens that breaking the law is far more lucrative. You can also drive injured people to the hospital in an ambulance, jack a cop car and chase criminals, or even fulfill your childhood desire of becoming a fire fighter. These side-missions are completely optional, though once you get good at them you’ll be able to rake in some serious dough.
But it wouldn’t be Grand Theft Auto without a huge hodgepodge of vehicles, and Vice City delivers in this regard with aplomb. Aside from the expected assortment of cars, vans, trucks, and other four-wheeled death contraptions, Vice City introduces a slew of new modes of transportation. Helicopters are available relatively early on in the game now, as well as seaplanes, boats, and motorcycles. Unlike GTAIII you don’t need 10 hours of flight training to navigate the skies; the seaplanes as well as the helicopters handle intuitively and take very little getting used to, the same can also be said for the rest of the vehicles in the game, with the exception of boats. Boats handle realistically, but that isn’t always a good thing when you require precision over realism.
And being behind the wheel has never been so much fun thanks to the six-point star system that dictates the level of chase law enforcement will give. Committing a ho-hum felony in front of the fuzz will net you one star, which means nearby cops will attempt to capture you but will give up after only a few minutes. If you commit multiple felonies or cap a copper your star rating will go up to two and you’ll be chased by local law enforcement in cars and on foot. Continue your reign of terror and you just might graduate to three stars and have to maneuver around tire-puncturing spike strips and enhanced VCPD in Cheetah cop cars. Hit the four star mark and swat teams, numerous police cars, helicopters, and trigger-happy cops will greet you with a hail of bullets and other assorted weapon fodder. Once you get into the five star range you’ll need to deal with all of the above plus machinegun-toting FBI agents. If you survive to earn six stars your seconds will be numbered as the ARMY will be called in and be ready to intercept you with all sorts of mammoth war machines.
Controlling Vercetti with a keyboard and mouse has its advantages and annoyances, though the former far outweighs the latter. The biggest gripe most people will have with the input control method is the fact that piloting vehicles using non-pressure-sensitive keys does not allow for nearly the precision of Dual Shock analog sticks. But where the PS2 version was more than a little rough around the edges in terms of aiming weapons, the PC port shines. Using the mouse you can aim with absolute precision, making the game far more playable when in the midst of a hectic shootout. Of course, you can also plug in a gamepad and emulate the control style used on the PS2, so it’s a win-win situation across the board.
Vice City PC also outdoes its console counterpart in the graphics department. Expect substantially improved texture quality on everything in the game and dramatically enhanced resolution, allowing you to spot all the attention to detail that the experience is laden with. Frame rates weren’t an issue running at 1024-768 with all the special effects cranked up on a AMD XP proc and GF4TI videocard, though non-T&L equipped videocard owners might want to stick with the default 640-480 resolution. The catchy kitschy environments in Vice City excellently exemplify a post-modern Miami ambiance, and draw-distance is completely customizable (a feature that wasn’t present on the PS2). The many between-mission cut-scenes that you’ll watch infuse the experience with an awesome sense of cinematic quality and feature spot-on lip syncing and choreography.
As fun as Vice City is to watch, it’s even more impressive to listen to. That fact can be attributed in large part to the seven albums worth of radio content it includes. You’ll be able to flip between a half-dozen+ radio stations while you are in a vehicle (dammit, no walkman!) and aside from dozens of 80’s music you’ll also be able to listen to radio talk shows that are chock full of atypical cultural references and tons of witty and humorous dialogue featuring lots of real-life cult-celebrity personalities such as Emmanuel Goldstein, Porkchop, and Mister Magic. Though it’s the big-name celebrities - like Ray Liotta, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, and Gary Busey, among others - that’ll catch most people’s ears. It’s safe to say that Vice City features the best audio production values of any videogame ever created.
There’s a reason that GTAIII and Vice City are the highest selling videogames of all time, and it’s not because of their inherent violent nature (though decapitation by chainsaw is always a plus). Oh, no. Vice City shines thanks to its exceptionally deep and satisfying game play, an aspect that is all too commonly overlooked. Of course, Rockstar North also piled on enormous amounts of top-notch production values, which only serves to sweeten the deal, but in the end it’s the game play that makes the game. Until I see senator Lieberman actually play a mission in Vice City, or complete an insane stunt challenge, his argument that the game should be rated “banned” will be met with an instinctively-produced and unflinching one-finger salute.