A single console rarely gets five different releases in its library. The Playstation 2 has been fortunate (or not so fortunate according to Jack Thompson) to get five Grand Theft Autos. III, Vice City, San Andreas, Liberty City Stories and now Vice City Stories have provided essentially the same game engine with new features and missions along the way. The Stories line was games that started on the PSP and then ported over. Liberty City Stories was a good port and a fun game to play. However,…it came with its faults; mainly in the graphics and gameplay that can plague a game that is coming from a slightly inferior system. Would Vice City Stories come with those faults or some how work itself out?
Grand Theft Auto has never been strong in the graphics department. From its meager beginnings on the PS One where it was small pixilated toy cars and people to a 3d world on the PS2 where it suffered from collision detection and jagged looking structures all around. I am sad to mention that Vice City Stories suffers deeply in this respect. Perhaps it is the fault of a PSP port, or perhaps it was the short time between the PSP and PS2 version. This is improved by the Widescreen option though I do wish they would have spent a tiny fraction of time to develop a 480p option for those who are now reviewing PS2 games on a HDTV. Regardless, once you get past the initial graphics, there is still collision detection and there are still points where the people are horrid looking (especially the women). I might actually want to invite these women into my vehicle and have my way with them but it looks like somebody hit them with an ugly stick and kept whacking. This isn’t PS One territory but it does feel like early days of PS2.
The original Vice City sported DTS sound, a true breakthrough for video games and set the standard for things to come (DTS is still the rarity). With San Andreas for some reason it was downgraded to Dolby Pro Logic but still serviceable and very entertaining. Vice City Stories is now just Stereo. No DTS, not even Pro Logic, just Stereo. Sure the 80’s music sounds good but I fear the only reason for this is that I know the tunes or at least most of them. There is a good selection of tunes; however it feels vapid when compared to other GTA titles. Especially once you get off of V-Rock; most of the other stations blend together into something you probably don’t want to listen to while driving your car down the road. I feel I must also mention that the language is not clean in this game, and while no Grand Theft Auto title deserves a good Samaritan award, there is a difference between tasteful indiscretion of language and just plain filthy. Thumbs down in what should be an easy category for the GTA series.
Vice City Stories pits you in Vice City 1984 as Vic Vance (for those who played Vice City, yes he is related to that other Vance) who enters the army for a little bit of cash and a solid future. Once he is in the army, he realizes that the army is full of corruption (see this is why I never joined), greed and prostitution. However, before he can do anything about it; he gets framed for drug possession and thrown out on his keyster. From there, he becomes part of an underworld and doing what he can for work and cash. The characters that make up VCS start out as some of the most despicable and stomach turning people one could think of. Martinez is awful as your one time drug addicted, sexually depraved military commander. Further along into the tale you’ll meet up with a redneck called Marty who will just make your skin crawl with his abusive attitude and awful demeanor. I know these characters need to exist in these games but when a drunken gun peddler and moonshiner (Phil) is the best out of the first three characters you do missions for; you got some problems.
Control hasn’t changed much at all with VCS. You still carjack, you still drive like a crazed lunatic. Driving is never perfect in Grand Theft Auto but you still should be able to whip around corners with the best of them as long as you aren’t driving a Trashmaster. The most significant improvement is that the bikes are much improved in handling. For many situations they are the preferred method of transport just as long as there isn’t too much gunfire to worry about. Moving out of the car, you can actually swim in a Grand Theft Auto game for once but don’t put on that swimsuit and rubber duckie inner tube on yet; it isn’t that good. If you accidentally fall off shore while at ground level; you’ll be able to make it back. However, anywhere else and you’ll be living with the fishes. Gunplay is a lot more frequent in this game, more so to the point that if you aren’t packing even when walking around; you will have trouble. In past GTA games you could beat up somebody by simply punching them, no targeting necessary. Now you have to target and often shoot random pedestrians if you really need some cash. What the fun is that? *partial sarcasm*.
Vice City Stories ups the ante in the difficulty department. LCS could arguably be called easy but VCS is much harder. I would still classify it as average; but not a walk in the park by any imagination. As mentioned previously, gunplay is a lot more frequent in this game so if you are used to just having a shotgun with maybe 10-15 shells to help you out, you will be surprised. Guns are a lot more frequently found in alleys and such but it will take some getting used too. Missions are the same fare ranging from super easy to very hard and frustrating. Side missions, something that was thought to be just to be something to mess with are much harder now. The Vigilante, Taxi & Hospital missions have been bumped up to 15 levels with different variations. Very difficult to get used to if you aren’t ready for it. However, they do feel balanced and not distracting from the overall game experience.
The normal missions are your usual flavor and to be honest, outside of the difficulty, not going to take too long to complete. The side missions are where any Grand Theft Auto fan makes their living. We have the usual Vigilante, Taxi, Hospital, Firetrucks, Unique Jumps and so forth. Replaced by the usual packages are unfortunately the 99 red balloons which you must shoot down. (I know it’s an 80’s cliche but it’s a pain in my rear). Rampages are back and they are much harder this time to boot, including one where you have to gun down 70 Cholos with a M249. Hopefully that kinda bloodshed makes the 10:00 news. Racing and check point driving side missions are also here but I never dabble in these too much. Many of the side missions now deal with building your empire which is where the fun starts. Extortion, Drug Running, Smuggling, Robbery and even a little Prostitution (Pimping Ain’t Easy!) are all included with running the empire. This is where Grand Theft Auto still rules the day and playing this game can take forever if you want to make it to your 100%.
I was able to purchase this little baby for $15 at the Circuit City on the day after it was released. I own every single Grand Theft Auto to date even including the ones for the original Playstation. My favorite will always be the original Vice City and I was honestly hoping that VCS would be a close second. Unfortunately it is the worst of the PS2 bunch. Bad graphics, a not so good selection of music and just foul up to the nines language hurt what could have been a suitable sequel. If you can get past that and don’t play any other GTA games, you can find a very serviceable free-roaming game. There are plenty of missions and side-missions that will keep you playing for a very long time. For PSP owners who already own this game, there are a few new wrinkles for PS2 owners but nothing I would classify as go buy this for your other system or else requirement. In the PS2 series, I would rank VCS last (Vice City, LCS, San Andreas/III (tie), VCS for those who are curious); if you own the others, go for it else go pay $10 for the original Vice City and enjoy that experience instead.