Sin is in.
Every evening, kiddies nationwide are exposed to cocaine use, military corruption, murder, prostitution, and light animal porn, all within an hour. Then after tuning out the evening news, they go searching in their parents’ closets, pot stashes and gun cases for the vices they just saw on TV. Here’s hoping they find Rockstar’s new Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories first. While it doesn’t feature anything they haven’t seen a hundred times, Rockstar’s latest is still one of the best vices around.
For starters, Vice City, the pinnacle of Rockstar city planning, has been ported over in all of its fuzzy pink goodness. The warm, squishy feelings I get from being back in this neon land of beach and sunset is tempered by a sense of déjà vu; I’ve been siren-sung by eighties Miami before. I’ve shot this place up so much, I’m beginning to feel like an addict.
[image1]But we collect addictions, and Vice City Stories is our favorite since Pop Rocks. The GTA gameplay you love is faithfully delivered and you’ll be happily jacking cars, offing thugs, swimming around, and accepting dubious missions from questionable people, just like before, but on a smaller screen. It’s beginning to feel more like a habit than a taboo, but there’s no denying the quality. This is puro.
Vice City Stories
tries to distinguish its plot by setting it before Vice City
, having you don the hoodie of Vic Vance, blood brother to Tommy Vercetti’s future brother-in-arms, Lance Vance. Unlike previous Grand Theft avatars, Vic is a stand-up kind of a guy, working in the Army to pay Lance’s medical bills. After he’s caught doing a job for his corrupt military superior, Vic gets drummed out of the Army and sucked into drug trafficking, pimping, and gang warfare despite his surprising morality.
Vic’s reluctant anti-heroism will definitely annoy your inner-Sith. The way he constantly reminds you he doesn’t want to be a criminal gets redundant the fifth time you butcher an entire gang and run over a dozen pedestrians escaping. The story itself is well written, though, and full of cool characters.
In spite of Vic’s goody-two-shoes complex, the most devious actions are the most profitable. Rather than cruising around to buy property or taking over turf through gang wars, your flow comes mainly from stealing businesses from other gangs and adding them to your growing empire. Once you start an assault, you have to kill every gang member who storms out to protect it, which is easier done than said. All you have to do for is run away a few paces and pick off anyone with a red arrow. Once they’ve all quickly met the reaper, you go into the building, quickly take out a couple extra gangsters, then bust up some crates.
[image2]The target range in front of you is very wide, making it a little hard to target gang members and not random shlubs. You’ll end up wheeling around a lot and inching your way forward until you’re in range for the target icon to lock onto something worth shooting. Luckily, you can go with the manual aim, which is riskier, but listen: Be a man.
Once a business is sacked, you can turn it into a brothel, a loan sharking establishment, a robbery hideout, a drug spot, or a smuggling racket. You can build these ventures in one of the three sizes – the more you invest, the more money you make. Each one of these business models come with their own quick mini-missions too, where finishing them all will max out your reputation in that venture, earning you bonus cash on pay day.
Thankfully, the establishments in Vice City Stories use direct deposit, so all that money just goes straight into your bank, a.k.a. your pocket. All this saved time can then be wasted in a taxi, ambulance, fire truck, on vigilante missions, or the occasional rampage. These grinds are more like distractions than money makers this time around, since even with a wimpy empire, you’ll make more money than you can stuff in a g-string. But you wouldn’t know it from hanging out in Vice City, since you won’t find a single, confounded stripper to blow all this green on. Vic, your morals and I got beef. Either way, it feels good to know that everything you do earns cash, so there’s always a sense of passive productivity.
There’s also a ton of juiced-up, ad-hoc multiplayer content. In addition to six-man solo or team Deathmatches and Races, some of the ten modes include "The Hit List", where a player is randomly marked, while the others try to off him. After all six players have been marked, the winner is the one that survived the longest. You also get "Taken for a Ride", where you have to steal a number of your opponent’s cars and bring them back to the depot while defending your own, as well as "Empire Takedown", where you have to wire a bomb at an enemy base and defend it until it blows.
[image3]The lack of infrastructure play probably has something to do with the graphical demands of Grand Theft Auto on the PSP, which are intense. Once you snag a speedy sports car and scream over what few pedestrians the PSP can render while you’re on the road, it’ll be plain to see and hear how much the PSP / UMD combo are straining to deliver a game of this scope. It gets to the point where buildings pop up when you’re right next to them, and loading times pop up just as frequently.
When it is smooth, it’s beautiful. Vice City is as bright, exciting, and vibrant as you remember. It’ll get bright enough to give your retinas a tan, especially coming out of that radiation gun of a screen. The tunes are awesome, including "Rock You Like a Hurricane", "Sexual Healing", "Relax", and even Run D.M.C.’s "It’s Like That", though the addition of Eric Clapton’s "Cocaine" could have fit right in, 70’s or not. Every talk radio station is full of dark humor, and the voice acting, as always, is outstanding.
Despite Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories’ technical hiccups, it holds up like a rockstar on a bender. As you cruise around the city lights, it’s hard not to look forward to a San Andreas Stories, but in the meantime running drugs and running over pedestrians in Miami is one more crime spree you won’t want to miss.