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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Review

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Action 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

A hard habit to break.

It made international headlines. It made Joseph Lieberman have a cow. It made the world stand up and stare at the video game industry like it had just farted in class. But more than anything, it made me forget to shave, shower and show up for work. My couch is still trying to get rid of my ass imprint.

It was Grand Theft Auto 3, and it rocked our collective world thanks to its insane violence, incredible sense of freedom, enormous scope and simply fun gameplay. It was the easiest 'A' I've ever given.

But to be honest, none of us thought the follow-up would fare quite as well. We tend to be tough on sequels, particularly those that follow revolutionary 'A' games. Could Rockstar and DMA top one of the best console games ever released?

Yep. Say good-bye to your family and friends and say hello to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

You take on the role of Tommy Vercetti, a shady mobster type recently transplanted to the Miami-esque beachside town of Vice City. You were sent to make sure a certain transaction went smoothly. It went anything but, and the next thing you know you're stuck in the middle of a strange, seedy city trying to get your boss' money back. It turns out that Vice City is the perfect home to a criminal type like Tommy, and soon enough you find yourself embroiled in all sorts of mob behavior, eventually leading to dreams of taking over the town.

The game is set in the mid-1980's, and it captures the over-the-top, New Wave lifestyle beautifully. Fast cars, fast women, neon signs and a certain white powder rule Vice City, the perfect recipe for a thug just trying to survive.

The last GTA employed plenty of voice-acting and FMV to flesh out the story, but Vice City blows it away. The plot is much more interesting, due in part to the fact that Tommy has his own voice, or rather, has Ray Liotta's voice. Other notables include Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, Gary Busey, Tom Sizemore, Lee Majors, Lawrence Taylor and even Blondie singer Deborah Harry. The voice-acting is well done and gives the story credence.

If Al Pacino ever went bankrupt, I bet he could sue the pants off Rockstar and DMA considering how heavily Vice City borrows from movies like Scarface and Carlito's Way. The lawyer you meet early in the game is almost the spitting image of Sean Penn. Not that any of this is a bad thing; in fact, it's terrific fun romping around an 80's paradise filled with angry Cubans, pissed-off Haitians and more drugs than a Tijuana pharmacy.

That fun comes in the form of outstanding gameplay. Fans of GTA 3 will instantly find themselves in familiar territory. You spend most of your time running missions for local characters, gaining money along the way. You still steal cars like packs of gum from 7-11, you still drive like a maniac, and you still wind up killing more people than The Plague. Like the previous game, this is really, truly not suitable for kids and earns its 'M' rating easily.

But there's enough new stuff going on in Vice City to keep even those who finished GTA 3 glued to the set. Take the city itself. Vice City is easily as large as Liberty City, and it also takes less time to open the whole thing up, so you're not kept guessing for 30 hours what lies over yonder bridge. And like Liberty City, Vice City is simply awesome in its realism and detail. There are far more building interiors to explore than the last game, which ups the importance of out-of-car experiences and gives the city a much more mysterious air.

Which isn't to say that you won't be spending a lot of time behind the wheel. In addition to some favorites from GTA 3, you'll find plenty of new cars to jack. But the big winners this time around are the motorcycles. Four kinds of bikes can be swiped and all of them are fun to drive. Riding a hog allows you to fire guns forward as well as to the side, making them ideal for drive-bys.

The excellent car control makes a return and is extended to the bikes. The physics are still great, though you've got to be careful riding the motorcycles as a wipeout will actually hurt.

And this time around, you won't be stuck with a crummy dodo when it comes to getting a bird's-eye view of the town. Helicopters become available fairly early in the story, and while they're a little tough to control, they give you a whole new outlook on the city.

By the time you're flying choppers, you've probably gotten to the next big thing in GTA Vice City - property ownership. In addition to the hotel in which you start your journey, you can acquire new safehouses by actually buying them (or killing the previous tenant). Scattered throughout town are little house icons, and when you've gotten far enough in the primary plot, you can start taking over the city, literally, piece by piece. It really makes you feel like you're becoming a bigshot and is a welcome addition to the series.

Another nice move is the inclusion of different clothing styles, denoted by little shirt icons floating around. Pick one up and you'll change clothes, thereby getting rid of some of those pesky 'wanted' stars if you've pissed off the cops.

Which you WILL do, and they will try their best to avenge the nice people of Vice City by throwing tons of muscle your way. It's hard to say if the AI has improved, but it doesn't really matter. It's aggressive and it's realistic, particularly when your wanted meter starts getting cranked up and the feds get involved. They'll jump out of helicopters, roll across the hood of your car and, in all likelihood, put a quick end to your day.

You'll need weapons to deal with the (bad) good guys, and Vice City doesn't disappoint. You can pick up all kinds of pistols, shotguns and rifles at Ammu-Nation again, and this time you can visit hardware stores for melee items like hammers, machetes and everyone's favorite, the katana. Hassan chop!

An old problem does rear its head here, however, as the aiming is still tough. Though they improved the sights - the targeting reticule is more colorful - it can still be a pain trying to target the right guy. You might get into a big gang brawl and find yourself shooting at a guy twenty feet away while one of his buddies is standing right next to you whaling away with a shotgun. It can still get frustrating.

GTA 3 was a technical marvel, and Vice City is its equal in terms of incredible detail in such a vast world. The graphics are slightly improved, especially in the FMV segments and the facial details, though animations are not cream of the crop. Oddly, a 'trail' graphical effect is turned on by default and gives the game a slightly blurred look. Turning it off cleans up the graphics, though you'll notice more edges, obviously.

However, the game only loads once during initial start up, when switching between the two different city areas or when starting missions; the rest of the transitions are seamless and fluid. When you consider the size and complexity of the city, it's really pretty sweet programming.

So the game looks fine...and sounds stellar. Vice City features a spectacular collection of licensed 80's music, which sets the tone perfectly. There are 8 radio stations which can be switched at the touch of a button. In addition to the return of the chat station, you can tune in to Wave 103 for some Flock of Seagulls or Blondie, check out the Wild Style station for Afrika Bambaata and Run D.M.C. or dip into the Espantoso station for classic Cuban grooves.

Michael Jackson, Jan Hammer, Night Ranger, Toto, REO Speedwagon - the list of bitchen 80's artists is both awesome and tubular. I'm an ex-headbanger, so I like to tune into the Rock station and rampage through the city while blasting Judas Priest. (This is a maneuver I like to call the "PMRC Jackpot" - playing Priest while killing people in a video game. Take that, Tipper.)

I have one request that wasn't fulfilled in this iteration of GTA - a replay feature. A big part of the fun is creating these insane action sequences - stealing a car, running over some people, getting into a huge chase, pulling some crazy flips, blowing things up left and right - but once it happens, it's gone. The ability to relive even just a few saved moments of a scene would have been terrific.

Still, this is a small potato in a big, big pot. The depth of this game is unparalleled; there are hordes of side quests and missions and cool little easter eggs. You need to follow the main story in order to open up the whole city and gain access to property acquisition, but you can still spend hours just wandering around getting into trouble. This game is not suitable as a rental since you'll hardly scratch the surface in a weekend. Listing the subtleties would take a month.

The beauty is that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City will last you much longer than that. This is an excellent sequel to an excellent game and simply shouldn't be missed by any PS2 owner...with proper ID, that is.

A Revolution report card
  • It's a brand new
  • Enormous, realistic city
  • Great choice of cars, motorcyles
  • Better story than
  • Tons of stuff to do
  • Aiming is still frisky

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