Review by Great_Khan

"1984 was a bad year for Vice City."

To me, 2002's Vice City is by far the best Grand Theft Auto out there, with the brightness of the game and the city making the whole experience much more enjoyable, as blood would scatter on the screen as you chain sawed into people along the beach with beautiful palm trees. As a city, Vice easily stood above both Liberty and San Andreas as a more enjoyable place to do things, if only due to its bright colour scheme and colourful characters. Now the city has returned on the PSP as a sequel to its Liberty City Stories portable brother. I loved LCS, it was enjoyable, and basically felt as if a PS2 game had successfully been forced onto the PSP. So with such a track record it would seem impossible for Vice City Stories to not be fantastic. Its set in a glorious city, and with the transfer onto the PSP already proving possible and effective, what could go wrong...?

Well, quite a lot can.

The sheer number of problems that VCS has is quite frightening, both in terms of glitches and the game itself. I'll deal with the simple technical issues first, this thing is glitchy as hell, every time you play this game for over 3 or 4 minutes you will suffer from either images popping up late, often after you've collided with something invisible, or all the textures will vanish from buildings, leaving a horrible blurry mass. This is a feature to give off a blur effect when driving fast, and in that way, it works, everything blurs when you go fast, but the problem is it often stays around for a few seconds after you stop, leaving you with a city which has had it's textures removed. Another phenomenon, which I first encountered on LCS, but only once, is cars which have managed too fall through the road. As in, the front half of the car is underground and the rear is pointing up in the air like the titanic. This happened to me about eight times during the course of the game, my favourite of these happenings being a car parked upside down on the bottom side of a bridge, as if stuck to the bridge with some strange reverse gravity. On the plus side, there didn't really seem to be that much slow down for me, despite what other reviewers have said, there was a bit, but it's the least of VCS visual problems.

Next on my tech problem list is the sound, when driving at high speeds the radio frequently stops working for a few seconds, seemingly the PSP can't handle generating so much world so fast, and kills off the radio. Along with this radio problem, when you get out of your car and get back in, the game will often forget what radio station it was on and change stations, usually just turning it to off. The final audio problem I encountered was when two mission introduction clips simply didn't load the sound. Luckily I had subtitles on, but it was generally annoying. You really lose out on the emotion of a scene when you can hear them.

But that's just stuff which isn't planned that goes wrong and tends to just be annoying, unfortunately the game itself seems to just been written and designed poorly, because it's often just not a fun game to play. GTA games have always taken liberties with their stories (ohhhh, such punage), usually offering up a solid reason for the beginning of the crime spree, which then kind of becomes a formless mass of money grabbing missions, culminating in taking over the city. Such as GTAIII's "I was backstabbed, and then I escaped from prison. So I need some money... Hey, maybe I should just take over the city too" or VC's "I need to get my bosses money back or he'll kill me... wait a minute, if I take over the city I can just kill him". Really, there's never been much substance to the middle section of GTA stories, as you usually go from A to C without even stopping in on B. But here, there's no... Anything. No reason to do anything, no "Guy you have a grudge against and must stop" nemesis guy to keep the story going in any sense. It's just pointless. It's all "For your sick brother" which is the weakest plot I've ever heard, considering you never meet him in the game, he only has asthma, and you become filthy rich halfway through the game, not just in game money, but in the actual story line, you're off getting beachside houses and whatnot, but not sending a cent off to the brother. There's just no reason to do any of the stuff that happens, none of the real character conflicts begin until after you've already made a killing.

Other GTA's have made up for stories with large blank spaces with fun and interesting characters. For VC, you had heaps of great characters, which were all quite enjoyable to be around, even the annoying characters were funny as hell, such as your lawyer. Plus you had Tommy Vercetti, who just wins in the lead character contest. Here you've got a couple of fun characters, such as Phil, but a whole lot of irritating characters, (Lance) and pointless personality void characters (Mendez Brothers, Gonzales). There are a couple of others who TRY to be out there and interesting, like the strange sexually ambiguous director Reni, but they just generally don't work. He and a few of the other more out there characters seem to be strange for the point of being strange, and in turn become unbelievable, and fail to really be enjoyable to watch. There's just nothing carrying you through the game. Plus, Lance is back, which is already a negative, but he's even worse with his stupid catch phrases and what not. They made him much, much more annoying.

And what about the guy you play as, Victor Vance. Well he's supposed to be a bit more of a good guy, but really, he's just a bad guy with a conscience, or a good guy with the weakest will of any man in existence. Well, this and an irritating tendency to think he can look down on every one, leading to hours and hours of complaining, basically, he can do what other bad guys do, but he's better than them as a person. He is actually very hypocritical. Seriously, in the second mission, he kills like 3 people for some drugs, simply because somebody asked him to... that doesn't count as a good guy. At all. There's no reason for this act, hell, there's no reason for anything he does. Sure, he needs extra money, but there is no reason for him to do this sort of thing, there's no reason why he couldn't just get a job. All the previous characters had reasons they had to do horrible things for money, Tommy Vercetti feels like more of a good guy than Vic. My favourite of his weak willed moments is when he is asked to take over a crime empire; the conversation basically goes like this...

"I ain't no drug dealing crime lord"

"But you could be"

"Ok then"

I don't know of anybody taking over an underground crime syndicate by accident to help their brother get some Ventolin. To be honest, you get a feeling that you're being a better person doing vigilante missions than you do playing as Vic. Basically he's a pansy, and when he does cool things, he whines about it and makes the whole thing seem like it's a chore.

But what about the gameplay? GTA has always been a game that could probably get past these flaws on it's fun factor. To be honest, a lot of the fun is hard to find underneath the glitches and bad decisions. On the good side, you can now sneak up on people and break their necks, which is a hoot, as it's holding someone by the throat and beating them to death without them fighting back. Basically, hand-to-hand combat is a whole load of fun. Guns however are not. The auto-targeting system is far worse than it was last time, if you have a mission with a large number of opponents to kill, you pretty much have to sprint into the middle of them before you start shooting, or you'll spend all your time gunning down civilians and police officers walking along the street behind you. And a lot of enjoyable weapons are hard or simply too much effort to find. The M4 is unattainable until late in the game, and the hidden packages (now red balloons) don't offer much of use. Of the items that you unlock the body armour and the Enforcer pistol are the only things that are really worthwhile. You don't get the best sniper rifle, Assault rifle, Heavy weapon (actually, the heavy machine gun you get is probably better than the RPG) or even SMG. Basically, you have have to buy everything. Now, money isn't a problem, because the new empire business thing makes more money than your average internet phishing scheme on old people, the problem comes from the fact that the stores aren't synchronised and you need to drive around to 3 different stores to stock up on all the best weapons. Also, fun weapons like the Chainsaw and Katana are all far too difficult to locate to be worthwhile. Hell, I never even saw a chainsaw on my 100% play through, I'm not sure if they're in the game. Drive-bys are just as hard as they were in LCS, I maintain my belief that two L and R buttons would have made up for the one Analog stub problem, and wouldn't have taken up all that much space.

So, combat is generally as enjoyable as comedy about airline food, despite being a very easy game to complete apart. But there are a few things in the game that cause even more problems. Firstly, there's swimming. How many times will you swim deliberately in the game? Once... after a Unique Jump. Why? Because there's nothing gained by swimming. Basically it makes you a sitting duck to be shot at, and worst of all, it basically means that instead of drowning instantly when you with the water, you now get to swim for 45 seconds first. To stop people from swimming to the East Island before they were meant to, Rockstar gave the player a limited amount of swimming time before you drowned. But they didn't make more access ramps to the water. So now, when you fall in the water, you need to be near a dock or you'll drown, after swimming fruitlessly at a terribly slow pace for about 45 seconds. The ramps were all there in Vice City for boats, and let's face it; Vice City wasn't a giant yacht club. So the little life saver they added is often an exercise in delaying the inevitable. The second problem with swimming comes with getting out of the water. You can't get onto moving boats, because you're character stays still while performing the animation to leave the water, while the boat moves, resulting in you falling back in soon as you're upright.

There are a few new vehicles now, Jet Skis and Hover Craft, both of which suffer from major camera issues, which admittedly don't plague any other vehicles, it makes these ones unusable, along with their complete lack of control. Like LCS, Motorbikes are notoriously delicate, throwing you flying with the slightest of bumps, but add to this the fact about half the content on the street shows up late at high speeds, riding one is suicide. Police on the roads also seem to be a little bit random in their crime detection, you can steal a car while one is still on screen in front of you and not get a wanted level, just as you can run head on into one and avoid punishment. Yet, you will occasionally get two stars from killing only 5 or 6 civilians, and often for just throwing a single Molotov that kills 3 or 4 civilians.

Other than that, sheer laziness seems to be the biggest flaw with the game design. Police and Ambulance vehicles don't have the usual chatter over the radio that they used to, now they're just silent. Chain link fences cannot be knocked over or moved any more (well, one can), The whole world is pretty much indestructible and offers no interaction. Along with this the city has gotten sparse. There are barely ever any cars to steal at night time, and you'd struggle to see more than 10 civilians on screen at any given time. It just doesn't feel like a real, living city anymore. Character movement also feels like it was created lazily. Allies seem to find themselves stuck quite often, particularly Lance who I had stuck behind a building at the opposite end of a block that I was fighting on. AI is horrible, as most of you opponents will stand in the open and not move as you tear them apart with a chain gun. The final lazy thing about this game is the mission design. LCS had very short missions, which could been seen as a positive, aiding in making the game portable, but the PSP can be put on standby and resumed at any time, so really, missions could take hours and it wouldn't matter due to this nifty hardware feature. VCS has in a way improved on this, now missions are longer! But don't read that as a positive. Everything.... and I mean everything happens on the west island. Most of mission icons in the second half of the game are located on the east island. Put two and two together and you get about 30 missions which start with "Drive to Location A five minutes away, and then do the mission"

So, Is the second GTA for the PSP a bad game? It's got some serious negatives, and many of them actually harm how much you can get out of the good things, but I'd still have to say no, it isn't. It's a glitchy, poorly planned and tested game, but it's not a bad one. It's still GTA, and that means you still have all the standards of a GTA game on offer. Maybe done more crudely, and honestly without any charm whatsoever. But it is portable, and honestly that fact on its own makes up for many of it's shortcomings. In fact, the biggest thing that hurts the game is Liberty City Stories, because that game is far smoother, thought out, complete, and simply better. If you've finished LCS, and want something else to put in your PSP, I can only think of a handful of games that would take precedence (Which is more to do with the PSP's dismal range, than the game itself). It's worth making a trip back to Vice, but it's not as stunning as you'd remember it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/04/08

Game Release: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (AU, 11/10/06)

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