Review by djnightforce9
"Fun game but certainly not flaw-free"
The Grand theft Auto series is certainly one of the most well known sandbox style games around. In every game, you can basically choose to do the story missions or just have fun killing random people/stuff and escaping the cops as they want you dead or busted more and more. This concept is preserved very well in Vice City as well but there are still some caveats that prevent it from being a truly perfect game.
Graphics: If you have played Grand Theft Auto III, you will feel right at home here. The graphics are essentially the same right down to the familiar "heads up display" layout showing your health, ammo, etc. There are of course some graphical improvements over the previous game such as the water effects and overall, Vice city seems more bright, cheerful, and pleasant to look at than Liberty City. There is also a very wide variety of scenery to look at as opposed to having the same buildings repeat every few blocks. Very well done.
Music/Sound: This is probably one of the main highlights of this game. Since most of the time is spent driving around, you will likely be listening to the in-game radio stations a lot. Instead of using synthetic video game music, actual licensed songs are present in this game (many music genres are covered to appeal to all tastes) which really helps in the immersion factor as it feels like you are listening to a realistic radio station. There is also so much content/variety, that you will rarely hear the same thing twice (at least not until you get far in the game and have listened to all the radio stations thoroughly). In between songs, there are some very comical talk shows. Outside of the radio stations, quality certainly does not die down. When you crash into another car, the driver inside yells out an insult (which is what you would except to happen) and the same goes for when you almost run someone over. Ambiance was also done really well too. For example, if there is a body of water to the right of your character, you hear the sounds of waves in the right channel/speaker as you would except. If enemies are distant from your character, their voices are muffled so it actually sounds like they are yelling from far away.
Gameplay: Up to this point, my impression of this game has been very positive. Here is where the game's quirks lie. As I said in the intro, this is a sandbox style game and the freedom found in the previous Grand Theft Auto games is preserved here as well. However, there are some gameplay mechanics which do degrade the experience preventing the game from being as good as it could have been. Here is a list:
1. You cannot control the camera when you are driving (like you can when you are walking). You are instead limited to a fixed set of keystrokes (or gamepad buttons) that allow you to look to the sides and behind the vehicle as well as a few selectable fixed camera angles. The main problem with this is that it makes it more difficult to navigate as you can not put the camera at a more comfortable angle (or when the camera ends up pointing in the wrong direction). This is mainly a problem when travelling at high speeds during a vehicle chase scene (or when scenery such as trees block your view) as well as limiting your ability to aim the machine gun while on a bike. Perhaps this was a limitation with the game engine used.
2. You can not shoot one handed guns while driving most vehicles. Why not? You seem to be able to do it just fine on a bike. I see no reason for this as there are plenty of missions where you have to wear down an enemy vehicle so that the driver abandons it and can be killed more easily. Ramming isn't exactly the most efficient way to do this (since your car is likely to wear down first).
3. Enemies are unrealistically precise with their gunfire. This is mainly a balance issue. For some reason, you can't hit enemies from a distance with your guns even if pointing directly at them yet they can hit you perfectly with the very same weapons at a farther distance. This makes no sense and adds to some very frustrating moments when you get gunned down by several distant enemies you can't possibly hit.
4. The amount of damage a car takes during a collision does not seem to reflect how hard the vehicle hits. I have seen cases where I only nudged a wall very gently yet somehow (looking at the amount of damage) that still counted as a full speed crash (which makes no sense). This becomes a problem when you need to preserve the integrity of a vehicle as much as possible during a getaway or escort so it does not catch fire.
5. You lose all your equipment when you are busted or wasted. While this does make sense, all it does is force you to reload your game when either event occurs (as it will be VERY expensive and/or time consuming to replenish everything). In addition, it also means you have to run back to one of your safe houses and save after each mission (in case something happens during the next one). This wouldn't be so bad if there were mission checkpoints or autosaving after missions (so you can retry without penalty) but unfortunately, neither of those features exist in this game.
Other than the above, there really is nothing else "wrong" with the gameplay (unless I was to nitpick about minor details such as not being to bring up the map with a single keystroke or the inability to grab onto ledges and climb over). Vehicles handle beautifully and I especially like how the max speed and handling is reflected by the type of vehicle being driven. Your character also runs very fast which is excellent for a getaway on foot or when there are no vehicles in sight and you don't want to move at a painfully slow pace. Once again, if you have played Grand Theft Auto III, then you should feel right at home with the core gameplay mechanics.
Story: After a nice opening sequence that gives you an introduction to Vice City (I will let you play the game if you want to know the specifics), the storyline is developed further through a series of missions. Some missions contribute to the main plot while others are separate side stories or sub-plots. This system is perfect as it allows you to fool around as much as you like and advance the story at your own pace. If you fail a mission, you may retry it as many times as needed and most (but not all) the cutscenes are skippable so you don't have to sit through them every time.
Overall: My impression of the game is generally positive but as I said before, I believe this game could have been so much better had some of the gameplay mechanics been improved over the previous title (yeah, all the issues I listed above were present in Grand Theft Auto III as well). This is a fine light hearted game if you just want to fool around but it's definitely far from perfect. At the time of its release though, it was likely the best of its kind (since it was the era before gamers got flooded with several other sandbox style games).
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 04/13/09
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (US, 05/12/03)
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