"Vice City is For Lovers"

The great thing about video games is they allow you to escape from reality and do something that you normally couldn't. The Grand Theft Auto series lets you tap into your wild side and wreck havoc on a modern day metropolis through brutal violence that would normally land you a life sentence in prison. GTA lets you rip someone out of their car and steal it, riddle a cop's body full of shotgun shells and have angry sex with a hooker. I sure as hell wouldn't dabble in such devilish antics, but in a game why not? However, the franchise's third entry was far from perfect, and it was hard to immerse yourself into its world. GTA3 put you in the grimy, depressing Liberty City as a nameless mute taking orders from generic crime lords.

Who wants to escape reality to play as a spineless underling in a dingy city that looks like it was hit by the bubonic plague? That's too much like my real life!

Vice City gives the player the opportunity to be a respected man of crime. You're Tommy Vercetti, a suave yet short-tempered mobster appropriately voiced by Ray Liotta, in a rise to power story akin to films like Scarface. Tommy is a far cooler character than his predecessor; he'll snap at people, make sarcastic retorts, and generally be a total badass. Story sequences are even improved thanks to Tommy interacting with stronger characters, such as an angry midget drug lord that takes his rage out on pigeons, a sweaty Cuban man who constantly reminds Tommy of his “big cojones”, and an African American hitman named Lance Vance, whose rhyming name is a constant cause of torment.

Tommy also has the good fortunate to take over a more appealing game environment. Vice City is a bustling urban paradise set across the materialistic 80's. Once again Rockstar has provided a gigantic map for your playground of destruction, but this time you're taking over a city filled with expensive sports cars, hip night clubs, and big breasted bikini beach babes. Even cooler is the fact Vice City lovingly embraces the 80's with its smooth criminals decked out in pastel-colored leisure suits, ten pound cell phones and awesome soundtrack comprised of licensed hits of the era. Now you can flog random people to tunes ranging from Michael Jackson's stylish pop ballad “Billie Jean” to Iron Maiden's powerful heavy metal anthem “2 Minutes to Midnight.” The 80's provides a slick backdrop you wouldn't normally find elsewhere.

Although including memorable and likable characters and locales is pretty cool, the game plays better than its predecessor too.

By half-way through GTA3, the missions began to all feel the same. Vice City once again scatters jobs all throughout the city, but this time there's much more variety. In one mission, you'll take to the seas on a speedboat race to a drug supplier, but as soon as you've grabbed the goods, your opponents start up a game of Battleship . . . and you're the battleship! Then the game switches to an action-packed shooter-on-rails segment where you'll gun down swarms of enemy boaters and a pursuing helicopter that's kicking up sea foam with its twin machineguns. Follow that up with a timed assassination run, where you'll race against the clock to either snipe several victims from afar or take to the streets in a series of difficult car chases.

Later you'll pilot a remote-controlled mini helicopter to plant explosives in a skyscraper. Armed security guards will try to stop you, but simply fly your chopper blades into their bodies and slice and dice their pudgy flesh! At one point you even rush an injured buddy to the hospital while drunk, so the game will hinder your driving abilities by swirling the screen in all directions. This may sound annoying, but it's difficult not to laugh at and enjoy the entire experience while your pal, who is also very drunk, is professing his love for you and commenting on how the roads are made of jelly.

Vice City also boasts a variety of tweaks and improvements to GTA3's seamless on foot and driving gameplay. Tommy controls just like the mute on foot only movement has been thankfully sped up, while driving mechanics overall feel more realistic by allowing you turn and maneuver more easily without the predecessors constant sliding. The latter is especially awesome because it gave Rockstar the opportunity to craft a more aggressive police AI, but the improve mechanics make it easier to avoid incoming automotive assaults. The results are high speed chases that are balanced and a total adrenaline rush. Other additions including crouching while on foot to increase accuracy and defense, shooting out tires to force pursers to swerve out of control, and motorcycles. In all honesty, motorcycles don't really add anything gameplay-wise (in fact, they're harder to drive than cars), but who hasn't ever wanted to ride a hog?

More importantly, Vice City adds more weapons to your arsenal. If you've ever wished to do your best Leatherface impression without the neighbors calling the authorities (I KNOW I HAVE!), you now can with a delightful chainsaw that Tommy plunges into his victims' chests while drops of blood splash onto the screen and ooze toward the bottom. You'll also have several types of weapons previously seen in GTA3 at your disposal. For example you can wield a standard handgun with quick-firing capabilities, yet it lacks the power of its counter-part: the slow but extremely deadly magnum revolver.

But it's clear that Vice City would have benefited from more polish because it suffers from several of the same problems as its predecessor. As before, every time you fail a mission you have to drive all the way back to its starting point. Is a simple retry option to throw you back to the beginning that difficult to implement? In addition, your character is still unable to climb over anything above his knees, and even then you need to back up, sprint, jump, and hopefully you'll make it over. And once again falling into water means certain death since you're character can't swim. How am I supposed to believe Tommy Vercetti can accomplish all these difficult missions and run Vice City from behind the scenes yet can't swim or climb a fence? Fortunately these rarely become a nuisance.

However this next problem is a constant pain. Dying or getting busted by the cops will again remove you of all your weapons. This isn't too annoying at first, but once you've accumulated an armory of guns and ammo, you're not going to want to waste a small fortune rebuying everything when you can just reload your save. Avoiding such luxuries as ‘not having to reboot my game' is incredibly important too because unlocking the final missions requires spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchases businesses. Of course, sitting through all that loading becomes old fast; especially when simply letting you keep everything would have eliminated the problem entirely.

Vice City isn't the perfect escape from reality. The annoying flaws like not being able to swim will have you come crashing back to life when you realize an egotistical mobster has trouble doing something you learned at age five. But this is still a solid, massive, and lovable evil game thanks to its improved mechanics, better mission variety, and more appealing 80's world that never stoops to mockery. If you want to rule a criminal empire, Vice City is the better place to do it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/24/02, Updated 08/10/06

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