Review by falsehead
"The eighties revival shows no sign of slowing down... hooray!"
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is set in 1986. Its still gives me the occasional mortality crisis when I realise many of you playing this game where only tiny children or maybe not even born during these times. I was twelve in 1986. I remember it all, the clothes, the cars, the music (oh boy do I remember the music), the mobile phones the size of bricks, the Commodore 64 (from the ''loading screen'') and I even watched the cop show Miami Vice, which is an acknowledged influence on the game.
So while I have to live with the fact that the eighties, the decade I grew up in, are now being used as an ''historical'' setting for video games. I can also appreciate more than most the sheer love and attention to detail UK developers Rockstar North have put into making it as authentic as possible.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is an incredible game. It does what all good sequels should do. It takes all the best aspects of GTA 3 and improves on them in every way. It's going to be impossible to discuss Vice City without making copious comparisons to Grand Theft Auto 3. But working on the assumption you'll find both games of interest bear with me while cover the similarities and differences between the games.
Where GTA 3 was feted for its open-ended approach to missions and the game, there were a few of us who actually found GTA 3 rather boring upon prolonged play. There was an aimlessness and repetition to much of the missions and certain place where you came to a dead stop due to a particularly harsh and difficult section (yes Sniper Mission I mean you). The non-speaking ''hero'' you played is common to many game, presumably you will identify yourself AS the hero rather than WITH the hero. But personally I again found this lack of verbal interaction with the various gangsters in GTA 3 actually pushed me away rather than sucked me in. Finally my biggest complaint about GTA 3 was that it just felt so seedy and depressing after a while. Liberty City was a down at the heel, dirty old place. Longterm play left me feeling depressed and cynical. This was not a City I really wanted to spend much time in.
Vice City fixes all these problems and comes out of it a far, far better game. Instead of a non-name thug, you played Tommy Vercetti. Unlike the GTA 3 protagonist, Tommy begins as a powerful criminal, just released from jail in Liberty City and sent to Vice city to oversee a cocaine deal. This goes wrong, when his goons are shot and the drugs stolen. Tommy is left with just a hotel room and a paranoid lawyer called ken to help him begin his journey to the top of the criminal tree in Vice City. The story is told via a series of key missions you must undertake. Thanks to some witty scripting and superb voice acting these are fun to watch and really immerse you in the realpolitik of Vice City's underworld. Ray ''Goodfellas'' Liotta voices Tommy. Other famous voices are Denis Hopper, Lee Majors, Burt Reynolds and even the fragrant Deborah Harry!
Vice City itself is a revelation. A bright, open and affluent city it's a far nicer place make your criminal playground. Split into two main areas, you start of on the right hand island, this contains a golf club, a huge beach and in a new innovation for GTA, it has buildings you can go inside. There is the Malibu Club and a huge Shopping Mall to the North. As you progress through the missions, the rest of the areas open up for you. This happens much earlier on in the game if you concentrate on the storyline missions exclusively. Unlike GTA3 where it took a long time to open up new areas, the clever way they have split the missions into a smaller amount of story based ones and a huge quantity of optional ones means that you'll never come to a stuttering halt.
Add in to this the fact you can also go looking for Hidden Packages, or places to do your Unique Jumps and you'll never find yourself at a loose end. You can even have hours of fun robbing stores and mugging pedestrians for some easy cash. This cash can be used to buy weapons from Ammu-Nation, but also various properties around the Vice City. These once purchased act as save points and also some have garages to store cars. Unlike GTA3 you don't get a garage straightaway, you have a hotel room were you can save, change clothes and pick up your Hidden Packages Bonus items. But to get a garage you must earn $7000 to buy a nearby property.
As you complete missions more properties come up for sale, and soon you can be the proud owner of a Mansion, a Nightclub, Ice Cream Factory and the Printworks as well as smaller properties dotted about Vice City. It's this property ownership that above all else really makes you believe you and Tony are becoming the power behind Vice City! Once you own the Mansion, you start doing Missions of your own as you start to carve your name across Vice City. There are those who would take you down the way you take down the Mansions previous owner, but you'll have to find out about the twists and turns of Vice City's plot by playing the game yourself.
The missions have much more variety now. In one you have to guide an RC copter to lay bombs through a building site, in another you must chase a double crosser over some rooftops before following him on a bike avoiding getting your tyres shot out. A particularly fun one sees you having to club to death some gangster on a golf course. This involves a hilarious chase in golf buggies whilst wearing a particularly heinous golf outfit (check trousers, hat, pringle sweater, yum!). Of course many missions involve a lot of killing, but most of the time it's aimed at the other gangsters trying to take you down. There are a few assassination missions delivered by phone, its up to you if you want to kill the pizza boy or someone's wife, and as they scream pitifully in genuine fear, you may feel rather uncomfortable with what you are doing.
But that's GTA; if you want to keep your killing confined to the criminals then the game allows you to do so. You are not penalised for this. If you want to rob a store (another new innovation), you don't have to kill the storeowner. If you mow down pedestrians and drive recklessly you will get the police on your back. Of course, if you want to run amok with a katana, beheading all and sundry, you can also do that. But its extra, a bonus, no one forces you to do it. With GTA (and unlike say State of Emergency or the Getaway), you can reach the end with few innocent lives lost. The ''L3'' missions are also back. If you jack a taxi, Police Car/Tank/Chopper, Ambulance, Fire Engine or Pizza moped you can press L3 to do special altruistic missions. In your taxi you deliver fares, in the Police Vehicles you catch criminals, the Ambulance you save lives and the Pizza moped you deliver pizza. Complete these missions up to level 12 and several health bonuses are yours.
Graphically it's basically GTA 3 with a lick of pastel paint. All the cars look like genuine eighties ones and the various costumes to can dress Tony in are real classics of the time (the suit with sleeves rolled up, the tracksuit, the Hawaian shirt etc). There is a greater variety of pedestrian types as well, with rollerbladers and sun worshippers out in force. Each vehicle type still has a distinctive handling, some fast but easily busted up, others slow but more robust. Motorbikes also make a welcome return after there absence in GTA 3. You can nab yourself and dirt bike, a moped or even a Harley style one for a really classy way to get about Vice City.
The soundtrack also helps make this game a bit special. 80 tracks from the 1980's that play on various radio stations. Each station has a ''theme'' so Wave plays mostly synth pop, Wildstyle plays hip-hop etc. The musical choices are inspired, and for me every time Kim Wildes ''Kids In America'' came on I just had to ditch my mission and start burning it up and down Vice Point doing drive bys! Switching channels is done via the L1 button so you can easily tune into something that suits your mood at the time, be it power ballads (Cutting Crew ''I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight'') or disco (Michael Jackson ''Billie Jean''). These are songs that always transport me back to the eighties when I hear them and so the atmosphere of the game is completed by this inspired assemblage of nostalgia.
The scripting of the game is also genuinely amusing. All the characters are portrayed well, from Tony's straight talking, borderline psychosis, to the fast talking lawyer Ken Rosenburg and the laid back Brit, Kentpaul, manager of the ludicrously eighties style rock band ''Love Fist''. There are also two Talk Radio stations which had me in stitches sometimes while playing. The interview with the man who runs Vice City is priceless, and the adverts that permeate all the stations are also done with verve.
There are of course some problems. The graphics can be glitchy sometimes. I got cars stuck in fences several times. The police can be erratic in their responses. Sometimes you can punch one and not get a wanted star, other times you only have to brush against a police car to get them after you. I would expect passers by to react to you carrying a chainsaw or katana and standing in a pool of blood and the map is still hard to follow sometimes. But this is pretty small stuff.
Basically GTA: Vice City is a huge game. You can play the story missions and see the ending faster than you could finish GTA3. But then you have the many other missions and mini games that you can do as you carry on through the game. Perhaps you want to go dirt bike racing or partake in a demolition derby, well you can do this. Perhaps you would like to race mini RC cars on the beach, well, you can do this also. You can even find a football and play keepy-uppy for a while if you so desire. Shame you can't play golf on the golf course though…
Vice City gives you playground of almost infinite possibilities, held together with a strong central character and storyline. It's a nicer place to play in than Liberty City and there's definitely more to do for fun. The rehabilitation of the eighties continues. Until recently the eighties were reviled at one of the worst decades in the 20th century (mostly by bitter old hippies, still banging on about how great the 1960's were). But lets not forget that although we had nuclear paranoia, sky rocketing greed and poverty and Margaret Thatcher in the eighties, we also had kickass music, excellent TV shows and films and of course the eighties were the first full decade of home computers and consoles. With Shenmue, Shenmue 2 and now Vice City reclaiming this much-malaigned decade, I would hope other games would follow suit. Final Fantasy 1980 anyone?
Maybe not. Buy Vice City, play Vice City, listen to Vice City. If the youth of today can take ''Japanese Boy'' by Aneka (she's Scottish yah know) to their collective hearts then all is not lost. But who on earth thought ''Africa'' by Toto was a good track to put on it???
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/30/02, Updated 12/30/02
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