Thank you, Rockstar Games.
Thank you for creating the masterpiece of video gaming known as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In doing so, you guys gave the finger to every special interest group and soccer mom clan in this country that likes to blame shoddy parenting on mature video games. Thanking Rockstar is a good thing in the aspect that we are lucky that there are still studios–like Rockstar–out there that will create mature games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for us to play. With…that being said, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is not really a game to be played, but an experience to be lived.
Unless somebody has been living in a cave for the past year, not too many people haven’t heard of Grand Theft Auto III, the smash hit on the Playstation 2 last year, or its recently released follow up Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The title Vice City is a totally new game about a gangster named Tommy Vercetti and his arrival in the tropical metropolis known as Vice City. Tommy was sent to Vice City to complete a drug deal for his boss, yet the deal goes bad and now it is up to Tommy to recover the drug money for his mob boss, Sonny Forelli. Along the way, Tommy meets some real scum and makes some major deals on the side for himself.
The designers over at Rockstar should be commended for creating such a wide open atmosphere and map in which the game takes place. It is literally a city with moving traffic and bustling crowds with the ‘level’ being miles long and wide. Tommy can go to the top of a building and look at out the entire city stretched out before him–all drawn out sufficiently well on the PS2.
There are of course instances where pop-in is prevalent, but the game designers did a great job balancing the speed of draw-in with the pace of the fastest vehicle you may be driving at the time. Most of the textures and fill are streamed right from the DVD as you move about Vice City and this helps in cutting down the annoying draw-in overall.
The environment is alive with color, just as any bustling city surrounded by water may be. Bright neon colors, aqua blue water, and threatening dark rain clouds punctuate the massive level Tommy runs free in. Mixed in the tropical location of the city, are the people, cars, airplanes, and boats all moving about and going in their own directions. The PS2 does a remarkable job at maintaining so many objects on-screen at once and with little to no slowdown.
Probably the strongest draw and attraction to this new version of Grand Theft Auto is the associated Radio Stations songs that have been licensed to Rockstar for inclusion in Vice City. Seven separate music stations and two talk radio stations are available for a player to peruse as they prowl the streets in a jacked sports car. All of the music is of the classic 80’s flavor–Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, Romeo Void, Michael Jackson, Twisted Sister, Iron Maiden and a host of others all make up the incredible and catchy play list.
The voice acting included in Vice City is that of top caliber talent. Ray Liotta, Tom Sizemore, Fairuza Balk, Dennis Hopper, Gary Busey, Lee Majors, Deborah Harry, Phillip Michael Thomas, Jenna Jameson, Burt Reynolds, and Luis Guzman all lend their talents to what must be the biggest collection of star actors ever in a video game.
By far though, the biggest benefit to be found in the sound department of Vice City is the inclusion of DTS sound in the game. Yes, that is correct–if you have your PS2 hooked up to your Home Theater receiver and it decodes a DTS signal, then you will be hearing a growling engine alongside some great music in true DTS glory. The effect is way cooler than what can be described and it truly makes for an realistic experience.
What made Grand Theft Auto III such a hit is expanded here in Vice City and throttled to max. Players can now enter up to 50 different buildings and drive, navigate, and fly a huge assortment of vehicles and boats. All of this is made possible by the incredibly huge map that makes up Vice City–a city remarkably identical to Miami in everything from buildings on down to the ethnic population.
However, the activities that you can do with your character Tommy Vercetti probably wouldn’t be tolerated for very long on any street in a real life city. This is the draw of the gameplay in Vice City: players can do outrageous acts of theft and violence without fear of repercussions or lawsuits–and all from the safety of the couch. Additionally, the varied missions are completely open-ended–players can choose to continue with the next mission, or take up one of the many side missions available throughout the game while earning money as they go.
If that wasn’t enough, the whole story takes place during the mid 1980’s. Therefore, everything from music, clothes, cars and slang is taken right from a period around 1986. The game is an interesting mix of the movies Scarface, The Godfather, Goodfellas, and the tv show Miami Vice. There are broad references to the influences these movies have played in creating the characters and content that is Vice City and players will laugh out loud when they recognize an homage to one of these films.
Since the general missions are open-ended and Tommy can pick up odd jobs outside of pursuing the main story line, there is much to see and do in Vice City. Tommy can drive a cab for extra money or participate in motorcycle races. When those are completed, Tommy can deliver pizzas or run errands for several peripheral characters introduced during the main story missions.
All of this leads to extremely long play time and replay value. In many ways, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City plays more like an action RPG–Tommy interacts with many characters and acquires items that lead to a branching story lines. Outside of pursuing the main story missions, there are plenty of other activities to keep one busy.
This is a game that does not really need a review–the gameplay and associated hype around it tends to sell it on its own. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a hands down winner which should not be passed up.