Review by Dogg

"Overdose."

The Grand Theft Auto series has slowly become one of the biggest, most influential names in the video game industry. And it’s only because of one game, the critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto 3. (The first two games in the series are far from being remembered anymore, though after the huge commercial success of GTA3 their sales started to gradually rise.) A big check for GTA3’s success was mostly for its graphic violence, language, and laugh-out-loud jokes, most of which were from little radio commercials played once your lead character was at the helm of the car. For the first time in the series, people could experience a nice, violent adventure that will not only start with a bang, but end with one too.

Following GTA3’s success, Rockstar Studios announced Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game that takes place in the second city available in the first game. Though details were scarce at first, people looked everywhere just to find anything about the game (which was mostly kept till the game’s release month). Amongst many rumors, facts, and scanned pictures and articles, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was finally released and proved that it was a game worth waiting for. In the sunny, washed-out locales of Vice City only one person can take control of the streets, and that person is Tommy Vercetti, Rockstar’s savior and cash cow.

The game begins with a cinema taken place in Marco’s Bistro, a restaurant of sorts located in Liberty City, and here you see a gang leader and his partners talking about “business.” They talk about how one of their main men, Tommy Vercetti, kept silent (almost like the Italian law Omerta), but now, however, they fear that he is too dangerous (“bad for business”). The leader, Sonny, comes up with a plan. He says that he will send Tommy to Vice City, and, along with some of his men, he will try to have Tommy make a deal with the Columbians, so he can get some of their rich A-quality cocaine. And Tommy does this. However, the deal goes sour and all of Sonny’s men end up dead, except for, of course, Tommy and a hotheaded lawyer thrown in the mix, Ken Rosenburg.

Following these events, Rosenburg and Tommy try to find out who took their cocaine (and their money) and this quest of theirs ends up involving other people (to a Mafioso in a yacht or even to a mustached hotshot). By the time Tommy eventually gets his hands on the stolen goods the story takes so many splits and turns that you won’t even know what’s happening. One minute you’re wanted dead on the streets, the next minute you’re found sniping platoons off tanks. It’s crazy, but good (its story takes a movie-like approach, and this, of course, is to be expected as the game follows some movies very closely).

The first thing you’ll notice about Vice City is that it’s almost entirely different then Liberty, but not by much. Both share similar things and both are so well designed that you’ll actually want to know every car on the street, or how many different pedestrians there are lurking about. It’s like a real city, and where Liberty City was more like New York, Vice City is more like Miami. But this isn’t a surprise as the game’s approach is also similar. Where Scorsese’s Goodfellas was the meat and bones of GTA3 it seems that the leftovers were all left to De Palma’s dark classic, Scarface, of which the game follows very closely (the game’s nightclub, the Malibu, is an exact replica of the one in Scarface, and the mansion you inherit is taken off from the same one used by Pacino in the movie). And, apart from a jacked-up cursing Cuban refugee, you’ve also got the whole 80’s T.V. show Miami Vice, which Vice City seems to follow even more then the aforementioned Al Pacino classic.

And that’s another thing with this game. It takes place in the 80’s, and follows it so closely. Everything from a black Michael Jackson to a Burt Reynolds voiceover make this game as authentic, and close to the glamorous decade, as humanly possible. The developers have even taken cars from GTA3 and made them more traditional, more old-fashioned so they can feel as if they were in that time-period (i.e. they’ve given paintjobs to cars like the Banshee and the Cheetah and have lowered their speed). Vice City also features motorcycles and scooters, something ripped straight out of the first game probably due to insane feedback. Motorcycles are generally faster then most of the cars and some missions will require you use a motorcycle to get to a certain destination, where you will perform your given mission (assassinate a hoodlum, deliver a pizza, et all). Helicopters also appear, though are used a bit later in the game. They’re a bit hard to navigate, but are helpful to getting out-of-reach objects and items. Boats also make a welcome return, and they are used far more then in GTA3. I, personally, would have used them more if they’re movement wasn’t as clunky (not particularly a fault though -- this is just the developers trying to make the game as realistic as possible).

Control is spot on and hasn’t changed from the game’s successful predecessor. Tommy Vercetti can perform several actions with the game’s given controls -- he can jump, run, walk, sprint, shoot a pistol, throw a grenade, steal a car, et all. It’s all incredibly varied and all his movements are amazingly easy to perform given that high count. Tommy also moves much better then GTA3’s protagonist/antagonist, and he’s just more of a bad ass -- screaming quotes to annoying pedestrians and giving the finger to red neck garbage truckers. (All that’s really missing from his trash talk are some good Tony Montana quotes.)

The series’ high point, stealing cars, is also better suited in this game and this is due to the many different cars available throughout these “Mean Streets”. You’ve got cabbies, mopeds, choppers, scooters, ambulance trucks, squad cars, and even dirt bikes and monster trucks. Several of these vehicles will even grant you “secret” missions and here you will basically deliver pizzas in the form of a drive-by, or shoot down harlequins in your squad car. You’ve got a world to explore; so don’t expect to beat this game in a week, or less. And, to show the developers love for everything old school, many of the taxis go about the name “Kaufman Cabs.” Get it? Andy Kaufman – Kaufman Cabs (the show Taxi?)… Forget it.

As you progress through Vice City, more of the huge metropolis will be available to you (when you first get in a car and hear the radio, you’ll hear a news bulletin talking about a hurricane threat to most of the city; so most streets are now temporarily closed). At first, you’ll be working with the lawyer, but later you will be part of the city’s dirty underground. You’ll work with a country hustler, a yacht owner, a corrupt Columbian in charge of drug rackets, and even the game’s main stud, the rocker Love Fist. But wait, there’s more! You’ll take jobs working for an adult film studio and even be a 2-bit hood hunting down Cubans or Haitians (whoever you’ll end up working with). The missions you engage in are all fun, and, for the most part, varied. Some of the missions are optional; others are story-based (meaning some don’t need to be done for completion of the game). And, for those worried, Vice City’s missions are much more challenging then GTA3’s (some can take a week or more to beat).

Vice City also introduces interiors, buildings that you’re allowed to enter. Not every building can be entered, but the main ones can (your apartment, the pizza parlor, Ammu-Nation, et all). The main interior in the game, well to me at least, happens to be the old 80’s pastime, the mall. Inside the mall you can buy hamburgers to replenish your health, or go gun-crazy purchasing weapons (some of which can’t be purchased anywhere else). Weapons include pistols, automatics, grenades, cocktails, rifles, and even my two favorites, the gatling gun (blows up cars in a second) and the rocket launcher (destroys annoying squad helicopters). You’ve even got different tools, or melee weapons to use. Everything from a katana, to a machete, or even to a screwdriver is all present and accounted for here (they all beat the lone baseball bat in GTA3).

The graphics are also improved, though not by too much. There are better textures, refined character models, and neat water, and other graphical effects, but some may just ask for more. Aside from the lead, all of the other characters look deformed and the cut-scenes, which usually go to show a game’s strongest graphical effects, look a little unpolished and sloppy. Cars look great, but when they crash nothing realistic happens (this is a game that wants to be like a movie, but takes everything as a joke). Aside from some graphical flaws though, the whole city in general looks great and pushes the PS2 system to the limit.

The audio is also a big part to this game and shows prime examples of why the last game was so successful. The voice acting is now done much better, and is done by bigger Hollywood actors. Tommy Vercetti’s voice is done by Ray Liotta, who was actually one of the main characters, alongside Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Ray does an excellent job and has supplied many voice samples for the character, which isn’t surprising since the game has a 1,000-page script (Liotta also received a ****-load of dollars). Other actors whose voices can be heard include Tom Sizemore and Dennis Hopper, whose one of my favorite actors (there’s even a mission in this game that’s similar to the movie he starred in, Speed, where you go Jack-crazy to stop a bomb).

Aside from the voice acting is the music, which is a true testimony to the 80’s. This time there are more radio stations and a lot more songs that are suitable to your liking. You have a pop station, a Spanish station, a metal station, a commercial station, and even a rap station. The collection of artists, and bands, which are heard, is even better. You’ve got Michael Jackson (Billie Jean), Blondie (Atomic), Twisted Sister (I Want to Rock), and even a Flock of Seagulls (I Ran (So Far Away) -- the same song heard in the commercials). You’ve even got the popular, though controversial Ozzy Osbourne, Run DMC, and Judas Priest to listen to. And the list doesn’t stop here; it continues. Vice City’s soundtrack is definitely one of the most astounding achievements ever in video games.

Finally, I find myself in a crossroads. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is not a perfect game, but it tries to be. It is flawed, but it tries to sustain a level of quality better then everything else. Featuring one of the best soundtracks ever in video games, A-list voice acting, and some excellent gameplay to keep you hooked for weeks, Vice City stands on its knees as an astounding achievement that anyone can fully enjoy and play. The game works wonders, meaning kids of all ages should play. (On second thought, maybe not.)

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”Say goodnight to the bad guy!”


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/26/03, Updated 01/26/03


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