Review by Thorpe

"We're back to Vice City once again but in the portable form."

As some may remember, Vice City was the second Grand Theft Auto game on PlayStation 2 set in 1986, This time we're back in Vice City but two years before - in 1984. What made the PS2 game so good was the colourful and tropical feel it had to it. It certainly did revive many eighties elements and had so many other great things about it.

Now, we're back this time in Vice City Stories. It basically brings us back to the familiar Vice City map with a few changes made to it. With the success of Liberty City Stories it was certain that there had to be a second game. Any previous players of Liberty City Stories will easily adjust to this game since it basically has the same feel and control to it.

You play as a character called Vic Vance. Vance sound familiar? Yes, he is the brother of Lance Vance who appeared in the PS2 game, Vice City. As this is a prequel, he's alive and looking younger. His attitude and respect are clearly visible in this game as Vic notices a lot. Vic starts off at the military to earn some money for his family as he desperately needs it. Vic is a character who you wouldn't want to mess with - he's not stupid and doesn't like to cause too much trouble. Although, the latter is that he probably just doesn't like making trouble but still does it anyway.

Punching, kicking and shooting are present as per usual. I feel that the shooting in this game could of been improved. I just don't seem to be getting a great feel of it as I would in the console games. You hold R and Circle to shoot. You can switch to another person by using the left and right d-pad buttons. This will come quite in handy when you have a lot of people to deal with. Many missions will require you to shoot down a number of enemies. The problem with the switching here is that sometimes it will lock on to a pedestrian rather than your main enemy. I was hoping that this would be fixed in this game. One thing that will be a lot more difficult than the console versions is turning the camera. The PSP does not have a right analog stick so you are limited to using the L and analog nub to turn it. I found out that you can instantly kill someone without the need for a weapon. All you need is your fists. By walking behind a pedestrian and holding R and Triangle you can snap their neck. This is a good way of getting some quick money from them although after a few neck snaps you'll probably have a wanted level. I really like this but it will be harder to use on cops and such chasing you since they will always turn around when you go behind them.

There are some good vehicles in this game. Each vehicle feels and acts the way it should. So, if you are driving a heavy truck it certainly does feel heavy to drive and if you ever crash into one of these trucks you'll notice it will be hard to knock them over. There's plenty of variety including sports cars, vans and trucks, motorcycles and casual cars. They've even chucked in some flyable vehicles and a jet ski. If you ever decide you want to keep a vehicle you can store it in the numerous safehouse garages across the city. So, when you load up the game next your vehicle will await you.

Having finished my way through Liberty City Stories in only a matter of days I find that Vice City Stories has some longer missions. This meaning, Vice City Stories is most likely going to take a bit longer to complete than Liberty City Stories. This is a great improvement added to the game. Hopefully, in the future they'll have room for even more missions. As well as missions comes the side-missions. The fire truck, paramedic, vigilante and taxi missions are all present as they have always been in this franchise but you'll find a new addition...

This addition is running your own empire. There are various businesses scattered across Vice City (these are marked on the HUD) that you can take over. These businesses are protected by rival gang members and to simply take over you just grab their attention by blowing up their nearby vehicle. By taking over you'll be receiving money every so often which you can spend on new weapons and such. Building a business is fairly simple and easy. If you don't have a lot of cash then it is best to start of with a small building. The business can range from prostitution to drug dealings. Every now and then you'll need to protect this empire from rival gangs. The larger it is the better it will be. Not only will you receive a large chunk of cash but it will also act as a safehouse.

As you progress through the game you will unlock multiplayer games. Unfortunately this is limited to those within range of your PSP (ad-hoc mode). An infrastructure mode would of been great but again, it's not in this addition. If you are done with the story you can go collect balloons and complete unique jumps. Now, you can either go find these on your own or use a walkthrough. It's a lot easier to track what stuff you have since it records it on the map for you. This is very handy instead of writing down what stuff you have and have not got. I would hope to see this feature in any future Grand Theft Auto games.

In San Andreas, the introduction of being able to swim was put in. This worked very well in that game but doesn't quite in Vice City Stories. The main reason is that you can only swim above the water. You cannot dive under and see what is lurking at the bottom of Vice City. Plus, you are limited to how much time you can spend in the water. A meter pops up when you go in the water and when that goes all the way down you drown (and so you have fed the fishes). I am guessing that there are no sharks present. If you ever read through the manual of the PS2 Vice City game they said that there were sharks and so you cannot swim. Unfortunately, I don't think swimming is as big as it turned out to be in San Andreas. Climbing should have been put in Vice City Stories since they allowed swimming but unfortunately not.

As many will remember, back in the day Vice City was out on PlayStation 2 it looked beautiful with the neon lights, tropical elements and really nice looking islands. This is no exception on PSP - it's all back and certainly once again revives that eighties feel of Vice City. The palm trees, vehicles and characters look good in this portable version of Grand Theft Auto. One flaw that is yet again present is the texture loading. I have experienced this a lot in the previous games, where you are driving and then suddenly a wall or a building will suddenly load up in front of you. Also, driving really fast puts a lot of constraint on the PSP system. When you start to slow down the game needs to catch up on loading the textures. This usually doesn't take long but would of been better if it was not present at all. The skies in this game just feel so warming and lovely like they were in Vice City. When it starts to get late things get a lot darker. It can be a little off-putting at times since it may be a little difficult to see everything but certainly looks good - day or night. If it gets too much the brightness can be changed by pressing Start during the game.

The radio stations have a good variety of songs and certainly are better than those in the previous game on PSP. There's pop, rock, hip-hop, shows and funny adverts that make Grand Theft Auto unique. This game definitely does well in terms of the soundtrack. A problem with the radio stations is that they sometimes cut out for a second or two. This usually happens when there is a lot of action happening around you or if you are driving really fast. The frame rate holds up well in Vice City Stories but the radio will occasionally cut out whilst it is doing so many tasks at once. If you ever get bored with the music on this game there is the introduction of custom soundtracks (these were also present in Liberty City Stories) so you can import your own music or podcasts into the game. However, this needs to be done using Rockstar Custom Tracks application and it does not use the music from your PSP's MUSIC folder.

Character voiceovers are great and go well with their personalities. Cutscenes are nicely directed but I would of liked to have seen some more background noises in them. Mostly, it is just two characters just talking to each other and that's it. Different vehicles have their own engines noises so you'll get familiar with them after you've been driving a lot.

Vice City Stories is another good addition to the Grand Theft Auto franchise and does make some improvements over Liberty City Stories such as improved frame rate, better visuals and a better soundtrack. The missions are longer and there is plenty to do once you have done then. It does not live up to the likes of San Andreas yet but it's worth buying for the PSP system. Any hardcore fan will not want to give this a miss.

The focus for a next game would need to be on loading textures faster, adding more elements from San Andreas and making combat feel as good as it is on the consoles. Vice City Stories cannot be ignored - you are sure to be on it for many hours completing some easy and some hard missions. Then after that, completing various tasks to achieve a 100% rating. This is sure to be a lengthy game if you want to go for 100%.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/06/06

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