Review by BloodGod65

"Apparently I Do Love the Eighties (A GTA Retrospective)"

In the second edition of my Grand Theft Auto retrospective reviews, we'll be looking back to the much anticipated follow up to the record setting Grand Theft Auto III. Taking place in the 80's, Rockstar not only exercises their inimitable skill at satire by picking apart an entire decade's worth of culture, but tunes and tweaks the problems of GTAIII to provide a significantly enhanced game.

Vice City is set in a fictionalized version of 1980's Miami, filled with lots of gaudy neon and pastels. Given the setting it should come as no surprise that the plot hinges on drugs to a great degree. Mafia man Tommy Vercetti gets out of the federal penitentiary after a fifteen year stint and is sent to Vice City in order to lay the foundation for the Mafia's expansion into drug operations. Vercetti lands in the city with a couple of associates, a large amount of money and a contact who is supposed to deliver his first batch of cocaine. As is often the case when dealing with drugs, things go horribly wrong and during the first meeting, the people on both sides of the deal are ambushed by an unknown third party. Unfortunately, Vercetti's contacts come out on top, snatching the money and running with the drugs while he runs for cover.

In the aftermath, Vercetti tries to fix the whole mess, working for many different seedy people in the city while trying to piece together what happened. Eventually Tommy succeeds in finding out who screwed him over and from there the game becomes a tale of his attempts to take over the city in a Scarface-esque rise to power.

As with GTAIII, Vice City also displays a wickedly sharp satirical wit. And when it's the eighties under the spotlight, there's plenty of material to use. Drugs, pop music, materialism, the excessive lifestyle of rockstars; anything and everything is fair game for Rockstar. They also aim for the throat with their depictions of sleazy politicians and the self-righteous hypocrite Pat Robertson knockoff, Pastor Richards, who promises salvation from a nuclear holocaust as long as he's given enough money.

What really makes Vice City interesting is how it interweaves with the world portrayed in GTAIII. While there aren't many overt references, those who played it will appreciate and enjoy the subtle nods. Characters such as Donald Love make brief appearances and Lazlow hosts the rock radio station. In a cool tribute to continuity, many of the cars in the game are older versions of those seen in GTAIII.

The story does a good job of setting up the whole adventure, but the graphics and the audio are really the icing on the cake as they ultimately set off the atmosphere and feel of the 80's. While the graphics are ugly, with basic textures and blocky character models, they do adequately convey the feel of an 80's era oceanfront city. Colors are very vivid and at night, there's lots of neon in certain parts of the city. However, there are plenty of graphical glitches such as disappearing roads in addition to the typical pop-up and fill-in. The game even seems to re-use some of the animations from GTAIII, such as the Dude's walk and run (which is somehow even more hilarious on the Hawaiian shirted Vercetti).

The audio greatly outshines that of Grand Theft Auto III. While the previous game did have some pseudo-celebrity talent, it pales in comparison to the voice actors here. Standing in stark contrast to the entirely mute Dude, Tommy Vercetti is voiced by Ray Liotta of Goodfellas fame. Liotta does a bang up job of bringing the cynical and sarcastic Vercetti to life, making him instantly likeable and despicable all at the same time. Other notable voice talent includes Danny Trejo, the always hilarious Luis Guzman as a tiny coke baron, Burt Reynolds as a scheming real estate magnate, Dennis Hopper as a crazed porn director and more. The soundtrack is my favorite of all the GTA games (what can I say? I'm a sucker for eighties music) and displays plenty of variety. There are two hilarious talk radio stations, rock music, pop, new wave and plenty more. It's also worth mentioning that the game has a couple of original songs by fictional rock band Love Fist who incidentally (and no doubt intentionally) sound a lot like 80's glam-rock gods Motley Crue.

When it comes to the gameplay, Vice City is head and shoulders above its predecessor. The overwhelming majority of the complaints I had with it have been addressed, which goes a long way towards improving the quality of the game. The most recognizable of these is the dramatic overhaul of missions. Previously the missions were very short affairs that somehow managed to often be ridiculously aggravating. Now missions are typically longer and have more objectives, so you won't often be just driving to a location, shooting the place up and reaping the rewards. More often than not, they are multi-stage affairs which are more interesting and more entertaining.

However, there is still the occasional tricky one that ends up with a trip to the hospital. Unfortunately dying mid-way through (or at the tail end) a mission means starting over from the very beginning. Rockstar has implemented a new system to make this less of a headache. Upon exiting the police station or hospital, there'll be a taxi waiting to drive you back to the mission contact, so there's less down time if you want to jump back at it. However, this doesn't address the fact that dying or being arrested means losing your entire arsenal so it is useless more often than not.

Other areas that received dramatic improvement are with the cops and the aiming system. The aiming system was a real headache in the last game and while it still isn't great, it is significantly better and more accurate. For all intents and purposes, it works the same way with players holding a button to target an enemy then firing away. But it has been tightened up so that it's easier to hit said target. For some reason not all weapons use this system. When using an assault rifle there is no auto lock so you have to manually aim, which is a pain. Also, there's no option to change aiming sensitivity, which is a problem because the reticule swings wildly when in manual aim.

The cops have also been improved for the better. Whereas in GTAIII cops would simply swarm and ram your vehicle from every direction, they now actually behave more akin to what real police would do, instead of acting like a modern squad of Keystone Cops. While they are still more prone to kamikaze tactics than real police would be, they are more tactical. They'll try to spin you out by hitting the rear of the car, or fly past and stop to create a roadblock. And because tires can now be blown out, they'll even throw out spike strips that, when hit, make a car nearly impossible to control.

In addition to all the overhauled mechanics, Rockstar has added quite a few new elements. Players can jump on a motorcycle and even fly helicopters. While these new vehicular options don't radically change how you'll move through the world they do give you more options. Vercetti is also a braver fellow than the Dude as he can jump out of a car while it is still rolling. This is a blessing when your ride takes that final bullet and bursts into flames. Vercetti can also crouch to steady his aim or to duck behind a car when being shot at. There are also some very mild customization options which allow Tommy to change into a different outfit.

The really big addition is property. While its implementation isn't fleshed out, it is pretty nice. At a certain point in the game, you will be able to invest money into property throughout Vice City. This allows Tommy to buy property for use as safehouses, where players can save the game. However, certain businesses can also be purchased. Once they are, players are tasked with completing a short mission strand. For instance, after buying a car lot you'll go on a car theft spree and after buying a taxi company, engage in a small war with a rival company. After completing these, the mission will begin to generate money, which players can then pick up for their own use.

Vice City is, on every level, a better game than its predecessor. With a cohesive story, interesting and compelling characters and dramatically overhauled gameplay it is significantly easier to play and enjoy. On the whole, Vice City is still an enjoyable experience, especially if you have an unnatural love of the 80's.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/12/09, Updated 07/06/10

Game Release: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (US, 10/27/02)

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