Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories Review
Last year's release of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 3 shocked the whole videogame industry. It was surely expected to be a fantastic game, but expectations were not only met they were well exceeded. I had a good feeling as I mostly do with upcoming titles, that GTAIII would be an exceptional title, but not once did I think that this game would go on to sell nearly 7 million copies in less than a year. Square's Final Fantasy games don't even generate that much sale worldwide, and GTA isn't exactly a stellar series with a respective background to fall back on like the Final Fantasy series; until now, that is. With GTAIII's tremendous and overwhelming success, Rockstar has certainly found themselves a cash crop and they're showing it off to the world. A follow up to GTAIII, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is neither a sequel nor related to GTAIII's story line in any way. It is an all-new title, with absolutely no ties to the third.
Visually, while certain enhancements have been made, do not expect anything significantly noticeable. That is not to say that the enhancements are subtle, they're not...they're just not overwhelming. Still powered by Criterion's robust Renderware platform, Vice City sports many improvements over its previous brethren. For starters, your surroundings are now more tied together than they were in GTAIII. To explain: let's say in GTAIII you're looking back at the cars behind you and you see a taxi and a police cop. Then you go back to the default view, look 2 seconds later, and all of a sudden those two cars have been replaced with something new. The problem with GTAIII is that it only rendered what you were facing and not what was around you. So the traffic cars were really all over the place and not tied together with your surroundings. In Vice City, that problem has been corrected and significantly so. Not only are vehicles constantly present behind you if you look back on occasion, but even if they drive off, and get reasonably far away, you can still catch up to them and they will still be there. Therefore, just because you can't see them, it doesn't mean they've been dispersed of by the game engine. I kept on fooling around with this enhancement by parking my car at a certain point, straying away from the point, then coming back to it and seeing it was still there. Now you can't go excessively far, because that's just asking for your car to disappear, but you can go reasonably far, which is still a huge improvement over GTAIII.
Another well-done enhancement is the textures. On both the vehicles and the environments, the texture detail has been bumped up a notch and it is somewhat noticeable when compared to GTAIII. The buildings look very well done, considering the size of this game. But most notably, the car models have seen improvement as well. In comparison to GTAIII's duller looking rides, Vice City's rides are far more curvaceous and detailed, as they even cast some lighting reflections, which is something GTAIII did not have. As far as the more technical merits go, the draw-in distance for objects has remained pretty much the same, but the draw-in distance for the road has improved to a degree; nothing drastic, but improved regardless. The frame rate is much better this time around and it isn't as jittery as it was previously. Everything animates much smoother and the game doesn't sport any aliasing issues as well. For what it does, GTA: Vice City is a remarkable looking title. Chances are the draw-in issues in the game won't distract you, because it is done very elegantly and smoothly that it doesn't become an eyesore to look at. If you concentrate on it, it will annoy you, but if you just play the game casually, you'd swear that the issue doesn't even exist.
The defining portion of GTA titles is most certainly the gameplay. While at its core, Vice City may feel a bit similar to GTAIII, do not be misled -- Vice City is leaps ahead of GTAIII in terms of features, extras, etc. GTAIII, while boasting a whole bunch of great stuff, pales in comparison to what Vice City has to offer. First off, Vice City features 120 different vehicles, which includes helicopters, boats, etc - this would be in comparison to GTAIII's 50. The number of weapons has been increased, though not too significantly, from 20 or so weapons in GTAIII, to a little over 30 in Vice City. Some of the new highlights of the weapon selection include the machete, katana (sword), brass knuckles, meat clever and even a screwdriver. Below is a description of GTA: Vice City's story backdrop. It basically describes the basis of the story. If you do not want to know, skip the italicized text and watch the opening intro for yourself.
Having just made it back onto the streets of Liberty City after a long stretch in maximum security, Tommy Vercetti is sent to Vice City by his old boss, Sonny Forelli. They were understandably nervous about his re-appearance in Liberty City, so a trip down south seemed like a good idea. But all does not go smoothly upon his arrival in the glamorous, hedonistic metropolis of Vice City. He's set up and is left with no money and no merchandise. Sonny wants his money back, but the biker gangs, Cuban gangsters, and corrupt politicians stand in his way. Most of Vice City seems to want Tommy dead. His only answer is to fight back and take over the city himself.
What makes Vice City even better is the fact that even the pedestrians on the street interact with each other, and if you come up close to them, you'll hear them actually hold conversations between other people. Vice City feels like a totally new experience and the story is absolutely awesome. It's captivating in that suspenseful kind of way, it's twisted, spiteful, and a joy to watch as it all unwraps. One of the coolest additions made to Vice City is the ability to purchase your own property for residence, like a condo in a building, or even a strip club. The addition of flying helicopters, using speedboats regularly, and driving everyone's favorite, the motorcycle, there's a new dimension added to the world of GTA. It's not just cars, it's about everything. The motorcycles are a blast to drive with. You can pop wheelies as well as fakies. The helicopter is a ton of fun to explore the city with, and the speedboat is just cool, though not incredibly useful. The diversity of the missions is also noticeable, as there are dozens and dozens of missions to do in Vice City, all with different objectives to be completed. You don't need to hear it from me any further, plain and simple, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a stupendous game. Gameplay wise, it is twice the size of GTAIII, if not more. It takes videogaming to a newer level, as it reaches an unprecedented level of freedom that few games will ever get close to pulling off.
Compare GTAIII's measly hour a half of radio audio, to Vice City's enormous 9 hours! Vice City features a total of 90 tracks, in comparison to GTAIII's 20, and it features roughly an hour of audio per radio chat station. Of course, by now you should all know that Vice City features only 80s hits that are performed by The Cutting Crew, Michael Jackson, A Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, Megadeth, Judas Priest, David Lee Roth, Ozzy Osbourne, REO Speedwagon, INXS, Run DMC (R.I.P. Jam Master Jay), and Tito Puente (R.I.P.), along with dozens of others. Each radio station has its own host, of course, and some have even returned, such as Lazlow, Toni and Fernando Martinez. If 80s music is your cup of tea, then you'll love every second of Vice City's audio, but if you're like me, the only portion of the soundtrack you'll enjoy is V-Rock, that's it. However, I'm giving the sound in Vice City all the credit in the world. It doesn't particular move me, and I don't quite care for the vast majority of the tracks. But it is what it is, and seeing as how I'm not a child of the 80s I don't really have much say. I didn't grow up with this music, though again, I love rock soundtrack, as it includes notable artists such as Twisted Sister, Ozzy, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Slayer and even Anthrax. Some of the other tracks I love to hear in Vice City include The Cutting Crew's "I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight", A Flock of Seagulls "I ran", and Gary Numan "Here In My Car". Some songs are also not listed on the official soundtrack release by Sony/Epic Records, which is weird, and they are also not listed in Rockstar's list of tracks in the game, yet they are featured in the game. Regardless, the soundtrack in Vice City freaking rocks for the most part. The radio talk shows are funny as hell to top it all off.
In regards to the rest of the audio, Vice City features over 1000 (count 'em!) pages of script, which is more than twice the amount of GTAIII. The voice acting is done by none other than everybody's favorite Goodfella', Ray Liotta. Liotta plays the role of Tommy Vercetti, and accompanying him are the likes of Dennis Hopper, Gary Busey, Jenna Jameson (yes! the pr0n star), and more. The voice acting is absolutely sensational. Real life actors can barely do a job as well as this; everything about the voice acting rocks. Nothing is ever out sync or doesn't make sense, it's pretty much perfection. Lastly, Vice City features DTS support for 4 channel sound, so take advantage of that if you have the hardware.
Vice City's control has been noticeably changed for the best. Running is now faster than it was before and targeting has been significantly improved. The controls for the most part, though, have remained absolutely the same. With the exception of a few new inclusions, controlling Vice City is the same as controlling GTAIII, so there's nothing to worry about regarding that. Two of the new control extras include the ability to crouch while you're sniping (L3) and the ability to combo your punches and kicks. That's really about it as far as controls go.
In the end, Vice City proves itself, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It's an unbelievable game that is well worth the attention of every single PS2 owner, granted you are of age. Though these words really mean zippo, as chances are you've already purchased the game, but who can blame you? This is GTA: Vice City after all and it doesn't disappoint the least bit. It's one of the best games of the year, no doubt, and anybody who denies the game that much is a tree-smoking psychopath. It looks wonderful, considering the amount of things the game engine is simultaneously doing. It plays like a dream, and the story is good enough to rival even the best Mafioso film out there. With voice acting and a soundtrack like Vice City's, you just can't go wrong. Vice City is yet another PS2 title that will go down in the record and history books.
11/4/2002 Arnold Katayev