Ah, Vice City. I remember it very well from my childhood?the long, light-brown beaches, the pastel-colored garages and tenements, the Ferrari Testarossas coursing down the streets, that blond-haired guy with no socks blowing up cars with his shotgun, the serene Jan Hammer music…wait a minute, that was all on that one episode of Miami Vice I saw last night. Never mind.
The Vice City we’re talking about here may look a lot like the Miami that Crockett And Tubbs rocketed around every week in the 80s, but there’s far more to it than meets the eye. After all, this city’s home to the new Grand Theft Auto?a game that not only lets you play the villain escaping those impeccably fashionable cops, but is also the sequel to the highest-selling PlayStation 2 game of all time. Does it live up to the hype? It’s fair to say so.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is set 15 years before all the mayhem that took place during GTAIII. You play Tommy Vercetti, a punk from Liberty City that just spent the last few years of his life in prison. He’s sent down to Florida by his mob boss to scope out the local drug scene, but ends up caught in a coke deal gone bad. Now it’s up to him to get both the drugs in question and the money lost in the process… not to mention the folks who tipped the cops off to the deal. What’s the point of getting mad, after all, if you’re not gonna get even later?
ice City works basically the same as its predecessor?you have free reign around the city (though half of it is inaccessible at the start of the game) and you’re allowed to do whatever enters your mind. Assuming said “whatever” involves driving cars, stealing cars, attacking people, doing wheelies in the middle of rush-hour traffic, or sending an ice cream truck up a ramp and 200 feet in the air before landing in the ocean, that is.
There are over 80 missions this time around, and they’re tied together much more nicely. The endless fetch-n-kill jobs you had in GTAIII are mostly gone, replaced with everything from drive-bys and remote-control helicopter bombings to golf-cart car chases and pizza-boy assassinations. There’s easily a hundred hours or so of gameplay here if you try tracking down all the hidden packages and stunt launchpads, but you’ll likely add a few dozen more to that figure just by cruising around, checking out the city sprawl (it’s twice as big as Liberty City), exploring the insides of buildings, and scaring up the cash to buy strip clubs and condos.
I Ran So Far Away
Now, before I let myself espouse mightily about how addictive Vice City is, it may be best to go over some of its rough spots. Exhibit A: the graphics.
The city looks beautiful, especially at night when it’s all lit up with pastel colors, and there are all sorts of amusing touches you only get to see with thorough exploration. However, the famous GTAIII motion blur is back, and it’s worse than ever: the entire game looks like Tommy took some kind of really bad acid. This feature can be turned off, and it’s recommended you do so as soon as possible, but the blurring also hides some of the graphic plainness that’s an unfortunate necessity of the game’s huge environments. The GTA3 pop-in has returned, too?palm trees appear in front of you from just a few hundred feet away?and the characters in cutscenes still look kind of like marionettes with their weird flipper arms. All of this probably won’t bother you too much?the game’s just too darn fun for me to care?but it’s still understandable why Rockstar didn’t call this GTA4.
With that out of the way, it’s time to espouse. Vice City is absolutely packed with new stuff to play with, and almost none of it is boring or badly implemented. Besides the usual new cars, Rockstar has added motorcycles and a helicopter or two to the city traffic?the former are tremendous fun to drive, and the latter is great for surveying the crime empire Tommy builds up towards the end of the game. Ray Liotta (from GoodFellas) provides the voice for Tommy, and he’s spot-on wonderful in the role?the way he delivers each of his lines, from “I’m gonna get your money back, okay?” to “Hey, I like this shirt,” fits in perfectly with his smart-ass street criminal role.
But the best praise should really be reserved for the radio-station soundtrack. This is 1986 we’re talking about, of course, so the in-game stations play nothing but your favorites from the age of yuppies and wine coolers. Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, Mr. Mister, Jan Hammer himself?they, along with a few dozen others, are all in effect here. If you liked the hilarious radio chatter from GTA3, there’s a ton more of that here, too. Make sure you’re not in the middle of a multi-car police chase while listening to the Crocodile Hunter parody; you’ll likely break into laughter and drive into a light post or moped rider.
Take On Me
When you get right down to it, nothing much in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is different from its predecessor. The aiming system’s been improved, and the character models look a bit (just a bit) spiffier, but that’s about it. However, you’d be deeply mistaken if you think the formula’s stale. The gameplay in Vice City is more addictive than ever, except now there’s twice as much of what made the first game so great?more streets, more cars (and other vehicles), more cool missions, more awesome street life. GTA3 fans won’t be disappointed one bit, and those few PS2 owners who never played the last title are in for one of the most time-consuming games they’ve ever played. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a dirt bike I wanna send flying over this channel…