Besides Grand Theft Auto 3, no other game can compare to the action and adventure of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The first few hours of this game of fast automobiles and cutthroat crooks are more exciting than the majority of games’ whole lengths. There are a lot of interesting, albeit modest, tweaks to the model that attracted us so much last year, and they were released almost a full year after the last iteration (and right before E3 — thanks, Rockstar). I got really far into the game on the PS2, and I’ve spent the better part of this week replaying it from start to finish on the PC.
Those of you who have previously had the pleasure of playing the original game on PC or PS2 will appreciate me taking a moment to detail the many ways in which Vice City differs from and improves upon its predecessor. With a more developed main character, the story succeeds on many more levels. Missions tend to be more extensive and may include new gameplay elements. Buying and inhabiting buildings in the game gives access to new quests and rewards, expanding the game’s focus on architecture. The addition of new weaponry, vehicles, and other features sets Vice City apart from its predecessors. The only real negative is that the game’s design doesn’t quite hit the same high notes as its predecessor did. Basically, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
There won’t be as many twists and turns if you’ve already played Vice City on the PlayStation 2. Both games are identical in every way (which is good news for the people working on our strategy guides). The missions, rewards, and playable characters are all the same as the console release. The PC version is superior because of its higher resolution graphics, refined controls, MP3-powered radio station, and skin customization options.
You’re missing out if you haven’t tried either game on any platform. When compared to GTA3, Vice City has a considerably more focused and intimate narrative. The primary character in GTA: Vice City is far more integral to the story as a whole than he or she was in GTA: Vice City, when that character’s anonymity made it simpler to immerse oneself in the role. Cutscenes play out the tale and build up what will happen during each mission.
Set before the events of GTA3, the game is set in the 1980s. Tommy Vercetti, the gangster you play as, has just gotten out of jail after serving 15 years. When he gets out, his superiors assign him to Vice City, Florida, to head up some brand-new ventures. After arriving, Tommy forms an alliance with a shady lawyer (think Fredo) and plots a major drug score with him. Once the drugs and money go, Tommy must battle the established criminal groups of Vice City while trying to figure out who tricked him. As you would guess, there is a good deal of violence in this kind of situation. What may surprise you is how the game manages to offer all this content while maintaining a balance between comedy and terror.
Vice City is a fully realized island town that has more life and personality than any other video game location before it. The people of Vice City may be seen going about their daily lives at every turn, as cars whiz by on the streets, boats ply the waterways, and news copters fly overhead. Everyone in the city, from criminals to police officers to regular folks, possesses some measure of behavioral flexibility. However, they still have goals even if you’re not actively trying to stop them. Fistfights break out as a result of car accidents, and opposing gangs battle it out in the streets.
Even while you’ll be doing a lot of walking, the main meat of the game is in stealing cars and using them to get from one crime to the next. There are simply too many vehicles in the game for us to individually review them all, but the following should give you a decent idea of what to anticipate. There is a wide range of vehicles available, from compact sports cars to huge family sedans and wagons, with many options in between. Large vehicles like delivery vans, municipal buses, and trucks are slower than cars but are more durable in case of an accident. What you get in GTA4 is identical to what you got in GTA3, only more so.
Rules of the road explanations are nothing new to this series, but they are appropriate here. Rockstar has done a fantastic job of balancing giving you real-world repercussions for your choices with letting you run wild without having to worry about them. The police don’t care if they speed, run red lights, or cause accidents. This keeps things moving quickly and makes it so that if you do something to piss off the police, it’s just another facet of the game rather than a hindrance. The fact that collisions aren’t as game-ending as they would be in real life helps keep the action moving along.
To return to the topic of transportation, the motorcycles are a great addition to the series, not only because of the “cool” element but also because they present some interesting new gameplay possibilities. The four different varieties of motorcycles in the game provide, at the very least, a very quick and nimble means of transportation. From the saddle of one of these two-wheeled devils, navigating traffic jams is a breeze compared to the car driver’s seat. For those who are terrified of high speeds, there is also the Faggio, a lovely small scooter.) Motorcycles are fantastic for the game’s chase sequences because you can fire ahead of you.
The city is equipped with an abundance of ramps. Despite their prominent placement, they don’t feel out of place or draw too much attention to themselves. The ramps are typically placed in inconspicuous locations, though some may be too blatant than others (“what’s that giant ramp doing pointing out over the river?”). You won’t believe how many ramps there are on the rooftops of buildings until you see them from a helicopter. Many of these are organized into courses, providing access from one building to another across significant geographical areas of the city. Most of the jumps may be taken while driving a car or riding a bike, but some of the hardest ones require the tilting up and down capabilities of motorcyclists.
This time around, boats are more prevalent and frequently the target of missions. Over the course of the game, you’ll be tasked with completing missions involving boat races, boat theft, and boat damage. You can respawn boats at specific places after completing certain mission chains. The boating model is well-executed, with just the perfect amount of drifting and sliding to give the impression that the player is actually on water rather than pavement. Getting on and off the dock without tumbling off is the hardest aspect of boating.
Now I can get to one of our major gripes with you: you can’t swim. If the game weren’t taking place on a pair of islands, I wouldn’t mind it as much. This means you spend a lot of time near the water and frequently end up three feet from shore, drowning. When that happens right as a mission is about to wrap up, it’s very annoying. Rockstar’s “Gangsters don’t swim” justification seems to be a roundabout way of avoiding the issue.
Planes and helicopters are also accessible, although not until later in the game. These will become available to you after you have accomplished certain tasks or purchased particular real estate. It may be a requirement of certain tasks that you employ such vehicles. Once I had my own fleet of helicopters, though, the PS2 version lost some of its appeal for me. But that’s just me reacting to the game’s fantastic freedom of choice. I flew my agile copter high above the city and low through its winding streets for nearly a week without bothering to accept any new missions.
The original PlayStation 2 control scheme was very user-friendly, and this port to PC keeps it that way. However, the PC controls are superior to the PS2’s in some significant respects and fall short in just one, albeit essential, respect. (While the standard control scheme can be replicated with a controller, I’ll be focusing on the new keyboard controls in my evaluation.) The controls can be translated with little effort. The game supports both the WASD and arrow key play styles. The controls may be configured anyway you wish, so if you don’t like the defaults (such the sprint key being mapped to the right shift key, which is a problem for us WASDers), you can easily alter them.
Perhaps most notable is the inclusion of mouse support. Putting aside the preferences of fanboys, the fact that you can use the mouse to aim your weapons is a huge improvement. I’m not trying to disparage the Dual Shock system, but I find the analog aiming to be inferior to that of the mouse. Aiming is controlled using the analog stick on the PS2, in case you weren’t aware. The reticle will not move when the button is in the center position, but pressing it all the way will begin a movement in that direction. The reticle ceases to move when the mouse is still, allowing for more precise control.
Some of the missions have been greatly simplified thanks to the new targeting controls. Sniping Haitians from a rooftop or shooting naive people from a helicopter’s skid is considerably easier now than it was before. It took me a few tries using the gamepad to complete those two missions, but a single try with the mouse was all it required.
However, “mouse driving” is “le crap,” as the French say. It follows the same principle as the targeting controls on the PlayStation 2: when the mouse is moved away from the center, the car turns in the same proportion. It’s inconvenient to have to constantly realign your mouse with the center to resume straight movement. If I were to create a grid on my desk, maybe…. The option is to make the player continuously move the mouse in order to maintain a turn. Some of the twists I’ve had to make have been really difficult, and my desk is too small to accommodate them.
If that’s the case, you should use the keyboard controls. While it lacks the incremental control of analog inputs, the use of modest, short taps can almost replicate the sensitivity of analog devices. Again, as I said at the outset, a gamepad could solve this problem, but then you’d either have to give up mouse control altogether or switch between the two every time you got into a vehicle.
Many of the city’s buildings will have entrances and exits that are accessible without using a car. You can go to a variety of places in Vice City, from police stations to mansions to retail centers. Many missions really have you exploring the interior of one of these buildings. Although the game pauses momentarily to load when you enter or exit certain structures, the action continues outside. For instance, if you look out the window of your first hotel room, you will be able to observe the passing of vehicles. You’ll encounter that flow of vehicles when you leave your home.
Many of the homes and businesses you see in the game are for sale. When you complete certain quests, you will unlock access to certain properties. You’ll have your pick of a few nice apartments in various parts of the city, although discussing them in detail would spoil important plot points. Of course, you may utilize these structures as safe houses, but you can also keep extra vehicles in many of them. For instance, I own a home with a fleet of sports cars and a hotel on the north side of town filled with various police and FBI cars. Additional mission possibilities can be found in some structures.
Although the game has a clear narrative thrust, you are given considerable leeway to pursue optional side quests that flesh out the world but don’t directly advance the story. If you are having trouble progressing through the main storyline, you can always go explore other options. A change of scenery can be all it takes to gain a new perspective on a challenging objective (and the challenges here are a bit more difficult than in the previous game). This essentially provides Vice City with infinite potential for gameplay. You won’t necessarily find any major material, but you won’t mind spending random hours traveling about for the minor goodies either.
The game lacks the dynamic story-telling and objectives of games like Pirates!, with the exception of the vehicle missions that cast the player as an ambulance driver, police officer, or pizza delivery guy. However, the lack of genuine dynamic gameplay is made up for by the game’s in-depth storytelling. It’s not uncommon for assignments here to take several stages to complete. On the plus side, this results in a more exciting and thrilling gaming experience. But if you make a mistake, it may take some time to get back where you started. Thankfully, the new game has a taxi waiting for you outside the hospital or police station where you can rest up before returning to your unfinished job.
Even if it isn’t obvious from the screenshots, the graphics are stunning. When compared to Liberty City, Vice City at least appears to be maintained. Almost everything has a rosy hue that belies its true ugliness. Everything from urban cores to industrial ports to expansive golf fields is beautifully depicted and flows together. The city’s boundaries between districts and communities flow easily and naturally. The use of color to convey the sun’s warmth at daybreak or a storm’s coolness at sunset is a stroke of brilliance.
Some of the content will appear on the screen if you’re driving a fast enough car on a straight enough route. Having pedestrians suddenly emerge in front of you is not a major issue. The police on the beat and the rocks in the water pose the greatest threats. Fortunately, incidents involving this kind of live-streamed media are uncommon. Regarding the topic of speed, I’m relieved to notice that Rockstar has eliminated the distracting blur effect found in the PlayStation 2’s basic graphics mode.
You can test out how far a helicopter can be seen once you have one in your possession. Some details are lost at higher elevations, but this is a tiny price to pay for a bird’s eye view of the city spread out below. From above, you might see that large swaths of the city aren’t given the attention they deserve. This is like being disappointed when you were expecting soup with an eight course feast.
Having played GTA3, I can say that the sequel’s attention to detail is what most impressed me. As Tommy rides his motorcycle down the street, the back of his shirt flaps. When your automobile raises up, the hood will automatically release, which is a great touch. (The hood being up was a separate damage state in the previous game; if you wanted it to come off, you had to do even more damage to your automobile.)
The impressively stable frame rate and excellent aesthetics are a testament to how well designed the game is. In contrast to the performance criticisms leveled about GTA3, we have not encountered any bugs in our builds. I’ve had some difficulties getting my Audigy card to function, but considering how complex the game is, that’s a minor nuisance at most. The extraordinarily fast loading times have calmed me down. While waiting for games to load on the PS2, I frequently snacked on a sandwich. The loading time for the game is less than a tenth of what it is on the PS2.
The minimum requirements for the system are actually fairly low. The game is so well-balanced and optimized that you may be able to play it on a system that falls slightly short of Rockstar’s recommended minimum requirements. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that it operated smoothly at 640×480 on even 500MHz processors with 256MB of RAM, but we did test it on a wide variety of PCs. However, the video card is a crucial component, so if you plan on playing the game on a system that isn’t up to the recommended spec, you need invest in a suitable replacement. However, there may be something wrong with you if your 500MHz computer has a 128MB video card.
The cutscenes also highlight a few other minor graphical issues, such as the streaming pop-in. As with most other annoyances in the game, the mitten-hands and mild clipping are quickly balanced out by more remarkable aspects. The sequences’ true stars are the people who wrote and voiced them. Almost every scenario in this game has dialogue that makes you feel something, which is unusual for video games. The dialogue is sharp and sophisticated without being stuffy or crude. Of course there is foul language in the game, but it serves a purpose in the narrative.
The voice actors, however, are the real show stoppers. I was wondering how much of the money made from Grand Theft Auto 3 was invested in the development team for GTA4. Almost everyone in the cast is a well-known name in their own right, and they all, without fail, do an excellent job at voicing their respective characters. The game is improved greatly by the participation of well-known actors such as Burt Reynolds, Luiz Guzman, Dennis Hopper, Gary Busey, Phillip Michael Thomas, and a few others. Ray Liotta’s performance as the lead voice actor is, without a doubt, as flawless a casting and reading as anyone could hope for.
In contrast to Grand Theft Auto 3, which made excellent use of original music, Vice City features a variety of 80s-themed radio stations. The soundtrack, which include songs by artists as varied as Lionel Richie, Wang Chung, Ozzy Osbourne, and Run DMC, is integral to the game’s success and does a better job than any newly commissioned pieces could have. The dial’s ads and discussion shows are funny enough to be enjoyed outside of the game. They complement it by providing a few chuckles here and there and really fleshing out the game’s setting.
The radio stations are fantastic, but most gamers will try out the new MP3-driven station in the end. The prerequisites for beginning are minimal. I just dug into the directory, found a folder labeled MP3, and dumped in all my fave 80s hits without reading the manual or the readme file. I just need some Police, some Talking Heads, and that one song from Musical Youth that everyone knows. When the music is loaded, a station labeled “MP3 Player” will appear on the radio. Simply turn on your stereo and play the music you’ve saved in the folder. After all, when the music starts they make me want to dance and run.
How did you feel about Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Spaz?
Finally, we’re still bummed there isn’t a multiplayer mode, and I’m sure Rockstar saw that one coming a mile away. Rockstar’s explanation that they won’t implement multiplayer until it’s just as fun and rewarding as the single-player campaign convinced me. At that point, our biggest worry is that Rockstar will ultimately provide some innovative and thrilling multiplayer features. The final product better be spectacular if they’re going to exclude us from anything as basic as a four-player mayhem mode. Meanwhile, the game’s near-infinite replay value silences concerns about a lack of multiplayer.
Any complaints I have about the game are, at most, minor quibbles. Weak points are few and far between, and the game’s forward momentum ensures that you’ll breeze right through any boring sections unless you actively seek them out.
Personally, I think the PS2 version of the game would be more enjoyable to play in a living room setting, but that’s just me. (It also provides something for me to do while my wife plays The Sims.) When you’re lounging on the couch with the volume turned up, the immersive effect is considerably stronger than it would be on a computer screen. For these reasons, PC gamers who have access to a high-quality, surround-sound setup will have a harder time preferring the console release.
Even Nevertheless, the updated features and simplified controls of my PC are gradually luring me away from my TV. As I prepare to return to the game on the PS2, I am more cognizant of the aiming problems and the absence of a personalised soundtrack. Those augmentations are so potent that they almost make it worthwhile to own both editions of the game.
Even though Vice City is a vast improvement over its forerunner, the game’s design lacks the novelty and exploration of its forerunner. Rockstar gets a pass from me on that one. When the prior game is still quite popular, there is little reason to make any changes. The few changes they made improve Vice City, but it’s still not as surprising a delight as it could have been.