Review by Rottenwood

"Pink Is The New Black"

Few games have caused more recent hooplah than Grand Theft Auto 3, a funny and violent 'crime simulator' that let you live the life of a gangster and commit random misdeeds at your leisure. While the media obsessed over the game's violent content and crude dialogue, many people missed the game's true strength - the ability to do whatever you want at any given time. Want to do a mission and advance the plot? Go ahead. Or maybe you'd rather steal somebody's car and mow down pedestrians? That's fun, too. Shoot a shotgun into a crowd? Be a legitimate cab driver and collect fares? Just sit and listen to the hilarious radio dialogue? The game had a wealth of fun inside, just waiting to be explored.

Of course, wildly successful games inevitably spawn sequels, and before you knew it, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was on the shelves. Vice City plays essentially the same as its predecessor, except for some minor gameplay tweaks and a switch to a 1980's setting in Miami... er, 'Vice City.' The GTA gameplay still carries a lot of punch, and the game mines a lot of laughs and style from the 80's theme. But in the end, you can't help but feel that you're playing an expansion pack rather than a full-fledged sequel. Add in some annoying little quirks, and you've got a game that's good rather than great.

The story revolves around you as Tommy Vercetti, a Liberty City gangster who has 'relocated' to Vice City, where you don't have quite as many violent enemies. The game kicks off with a drug deal gone bad, and even though Tommy isn't responsible, he takes the heat from his boss back home. Your initial purpose is to reclaim the drugs and cash, but before long, you get caught up in a much larger web of criminal craziness. Before the game is over, you'll have done favors for all kinds of Vice City crime lords, and even end up buying businesses that generate cash for you. It's a busy life for us hard-workin' gangsters.

While doing missions for the crime lords will advance the game's story and generate income for you, the real meat of the game is found through exploration. There are hidden packages to find, unique stunt jumps to perform, side missions to tackle, and those beloved ultra-violent rampages to enjoy. You can have fun simply driving around and listening to the radio, which features both hilarious talk stations, and classic 80's tunes from various genres. And, of course, you can simply choose to kill and steal at random until the police (or, eventually, the military) manage to capture or kill you. Beating the game at 100% - which involves completing every side task you can possibly think of - will take a long, long time if you do it without cheating or using FAQs.

While the game is not overly challenging, it can be frustrating at times. Steering the toy planes and helicopters for various missions can be a pain in the ass, and you'll likely have to do those missions many times before you finally get the hang of the awkward control scheme. And on some missions, you'll have an ally named Lance helping you out, which is great - except that he tends to get shot up more than he shoots back, and you'll end up having to protect HIM, even though he's allegedly 'helping' you. Lance is more of a liability than anything else, which rather defeats the purpose of having him around. And while battling the cops is great fun, they'll often ignore everything else around them - up to and including gunplay and murder by gang members- to chase after YOU, even if all you did was steal a car or punch a passerby. None of these things is a gamebreaker in of itself, but over time, they add up to annoy you to a fairly large degree.

But Vice City has plenty of good stuff to keep you coming back for more. The story is very well written and played out, and with professional actors playing the main characters, the voice-acting is top-notch. Extra kudos to Ray Liotta and Burt Reynolds, who were obviously having a blast in the studio. While much of the game's humor will probably go over the heads of the teenage boys who play these games endlessly, adults will be laughing themselves silly. And all of the little 80's-period details are spot-on, from the clothing to the vehicles. The ability to purchase businesses (and eventually make cash pick-ups at them) is a very cool and authentic touch, too.

Of course, the lion's share of the game's fun - car-jacking, gunplay, and random violence - were all featured in Grand Theft Auto 3, and you can't help but feel a sense of deja vu as you play through Vice City. This game is no rush job, as the terrific production values will attest to, but it definitely lacks a certain inspiration outside of the well-implemented 80's theme. People raved about the ability to use handheld weapons and drive motorcycles, but really, those are things that should've been in the previous game. I get the feeling that Rockstar will basically turn this series into the gangster equivalent of the Madden franchise: releasing a new game each year with minor improvements, and milking the cash cow like a fiend. It's good business strategy for them, but it can't help but come off as a little hollow.

Vice City looks great overall, although I'm still not overly fond of the way character models are drawn in the series. Just somethin' odd-looking about them, I guess. Still, one can't help but be impressed at the sheer amount of content on the screen at once. Sight gags are everywhere, too, ranging from funny billboards to amusing corporate names and slogans. Oh, and I hope you like 80's pastel colors.

The game'a audio presentation is, quite simply, second-to-none. Besides the boatload of classic licensed music and the hilarious talk radio dialogue and commercials, you'll hear random funny stuff from people on the street as they chat and fight. Add in great voice-acting and authentic sound effects, and you've got a perfect audio score. Not that I keep seperate audio scores, but still.

Vice City packs a heck of a lot of fun, even if it feels like Rockstar simply went back to the well and gave their previous game an 80's paint job. Still, this is a better game than Grand Theft Auto 3, with some minor refinements and superior presentation. We're probably creating a monster, but if you like the thought of running amok to the strains of A Flock Of Seagulls, give Vice City a spin. It's budget-priced now and well worth the cash.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/28/05

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