Review by 8-ball
"Game of the year...bar none"
When this game was first announced, I really wasn’t sure how they could possibly be able to follow up GTA3’s excellence. But they did. Not only is this a worthy addition to the GTA series, this is the best game the series has to offer, beating out even the critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto III. Rockstar thought of a simple formula: you take an already masterful game, you add even more features and fix the few problems it had, add in a great ‘80s atmosphere, and viola, you have an even better game. That is the essence of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It is not a full-blown sequel, think of it more as an expansion—the best expansion you’ll likely ever play.
The controls are pretty much identical to GTA3, so for vets of that game it should be no problem jumping right into Vice City. The core gameplay is still intact, though a lot of improvements and additions have been made. One of the most obvious of which would be the ability to steal and drive motorcycles. They are very fast, and very fun. In my opinion they are the best vehicles in the game, and you’ll definitely enjoy going off the jumps (a lot of which were made specifically with the bikes in mind) with them. You can also do wheelies and stoppies, and the game will record your best of each (speaking of which, the game keeps track of all the stat categories it did in GTA3, plus a lot more). There are a few different types of bikes too, ranging from a slow, agile moped to a sleek and speedy street bike. You can also now fly helicopters and planes, giving you the ability to access the rooftops of most of the buildings and fly over the city in a breeze. Yep, no more endless “full-winged dodo” rumors to worry about here.
The cars all now have a distinct ‘80s look, as does everything else in the game. There are also more cars now, which really helps add to the variety—you won’t always be jacking the same car that you just jacked a minute ago. They’ve upped the ante on the number of weapons also, though they are now categorized and you cannot pick up more than one from each category. Rockstar did this to prevent the hassle of switching through an endless list of weapons while in the heat of battle. It is a disappointment though, that you cannot carry the rocket launcher and the flame-thrower (for example) at the same time. At the start of the game you’ll be using most of the basic weapons, and as you get further you’ll begin finding the upgraded versions of each category of weapon. Some of the melee weapons really get unique; you can get everything from a golf club to a katana to a chainsaw!
You now have the ability to damage cars by punching or using a melee weapon, and it’s a very nice addition-there’s nothing like adding a quick punch to a car driving down the street and having the driver stop and run away. And adding to the more interactive vehicles, you can now shoot out the tires of vehicles and watch them struggle to keep control of their car. But beware, the cops will also use this strategy when you have a wanted level. It really makes for some exciting chases, especially when more than one of your tires is popped. And now you can shoot through the windows of cars and kill the drivers inside-the lack of this ability bugged me in GTA3. The actual city is now on 2 islands, instead of three. The islands are bigger to make up for it, but a big beach takes up the entire east coastline of the first island, which is kind of annoying, considering there isn’t a lot to do on it. The city doesn’t have as many hills either, done obviously to be similar to the flatness of Miami, but in my opinion it makes the city less fun to drive through. You can now access inside areas, which, depending on which area it is, can be either useless or fun. There’s a huge mall that is great for causing havoc in, but overall most of the indoor areas are higher on looks than interactivity.
After you’ve completed a good amount of story missions, you’ll gain the ability to actually buy your own properties and businesses, which in turn opens up even more missions. Assets include a car dealership, a strip club, an ice cream shop and more. The assets will also allow you to collect your profits from them (it works in a daily salary type of system), and Rockstar did attempt to make the money actually mean more in this game, in the beginning you will have to scrounge a bit more. But as you get further with the game, money will no longer be an issue (ala GTA3). Overall, the gameplay, while still similar to that of GTA3, has been greatly improved. A few minor complaints is all I have, everything else is spot-on.
The story line isn’t spectacular, but it does have its moments. You play as Tommy Vercetti, and boy is he a stark contrast to the silent, nameless pawn you play as in GTA3. Voiced by Ray Liotta, he’s got an attitude and he doesn’t take any ****. And he’s much more ambitious than the loyal terrier of the game before, as you soon realize.
The graphics aren’t a whole lot different than GTA3, as it is the same engine. The draw-distance is much better in this game though, and being able to see further in the horizon really makes the city seem bigger and more real. At night VC glows a neon-like color, and it’s obvious what city the game was modeled after. The pedestrian graphics look the same, though, as expected, their style has changed accordingly with the new city. You’ll see scantily clad bikini babes and shirtless surfer dudes abound. In conclusion, the graphics still aren’t spectacular, but they still get the job done quite nicely.
The normal gameplay sounds are about the same as GTA3, not a whole lot different in that aspect. However, the pedestrians will now say even more things as you walk by them. I’ve been playing the game for 40 or so hours now and I still hear new things being uttered by Vice City’s town people. Tommy will also throw in his own remarks if the time is right. The voice acting overall is really quite good, and even pornstar Jenna Jameson makes an appearance.
Of course, the really great thing about the audio in the game is the authentic ‘80s music. From Michael Jackson and other pop stars to Slayer, Ozzy, and Twisted Sister, the music in the game is absolutely fantastic. You’re sure to find something you like on one of the several music stations, each with it’s own set of real ‘80s hits. There are also 2 chat stations now, rather than the lone chatterbox of GTA3. KCHAT is mostly interviews with celebrities, hosted by a young woman named Amy, who probably has trouble tying her shoes. And VCPR is a station containing debates about the issues the city faces, with 3 guests arguing and sometimes even attacking each other over the airwaves. It all makes for great fun. I found myself enjoying VCPR better than KCHAT. I will admit though, that I did enjoy chatterbox a bit more than these two new talk stations. Lazlow doesn’t host either of them, but he does DJ the rock station, entitled VROCK, in which the main comedy relief of the station is Lazlow struggling to act like a tough, hard-rocker. As I said earlier, the music in the game is fantastic and sometimes you’ll find yourself staying in a car just to hear a song.
This game, like GTA3, has a lot of different things that you can do other than the regular story missions. It really makes for some great length. Getting 100% will take a lot of time, and without the guide it is near impossible. You’ve still got the standard R3 missions (with pizza boy missions added in), the hidden packages, the unique jumps, as well as some other new things that affect your %, like the ability to rob 15 different stores throughout the city. There are less story missions in the game, but there are much, much more side missions this time around (as said earlier, nearly every asset that you buy will give you more possible missions). To sum things up, the game is quite long and should eat up a lot of your time, especially if you choose to go for 100%.
This is a definite must-buy game. Regardless of whether you are big into the genre, you should not miss this game. Not only is it one of the best games of the year, it is one of the best games in a long time. This game easily deserves a 10 in my opinion; you’d be cheating yourself if you at least didn’t give it a try.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/05/02, Updated 02/15/03
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