Grand Theft Auto Vice City
The biggest game of the year is here - but can it deliver?
Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush, a lot of people have been wanting this game for quite some time now. Allegedly, the game has already sold something like a million copies without even arriving on store shelves, so it’s a pretty safe bet that the Take 2 hype machine has done its job admirably. But how have Rockstar faired in following in the footsteps of one of the PS2’s biggest hits to date? Well, they’ve certainly lost none of their edge and inspiration, Vice City adding to the already excellent formula honed in the original with some finesse, and creating what is sure to be a game of equal, or perhaps greater success: both commercially and critically. The first thing I noted in playing Vice City is how polished the game is, the comparatively short development period and inevitable pressures upon the designers, seemingly having had little recognisable impact on the games excellent production values. GTA3 hasn’t succumbed to the controversy of the first in its second iteration either, Vice City more than earning it’s ‘18’ certificate, thanks to the sheer ruthless possibilities presented to the player, and the graphic nature of the violence depicted. Don’t worry, I’m not going all Mary Whitehouse on you, suffice to say that the Daily Mail are sure to have a field day when they eventually spot this game in a few months time. So does GTA: Vice City fulfil the expectations ladled upon it by the gaming masses? In a word: yes. Not only does the game improve much of what has gone before, it adds a whole new layer of freedom and choices on what was already a daring experiment in autonomy. The gameplay effortlessly manages to blend the free-form nature of this genre-straddling game, with a successful and highly immersive plot. You name it, and Rockstar have taken inspiration from it; you’ve got driving, role-playing, fighting, shooting, flying, and lovely cinematic sequences – all enveloped and combined within the rich ambience of ‘Vice City’, a fictional Miami of the mid-80s, humming with criminal activity. As well as the usual array of lovely and not-so-lovely automobiles, buses, trucks and other such vehicles, a new line of bikes, from Scooters to Harley’s also joins the mix for the ‘borrowing’. You’ll be able to fly helicopters and the like too, as well as several other diverse modes of transport that will prove crucial to many a shady assignment. A few new weapons will also feature, and as with the original GTA3, you’ll be able to proffer new guns, vehicles and cash -as you progress through the games missions, earning lolly as you go. New areas of the city, and new criminals to offend or seek employment with, also become available as you move through the game, and its pleasing on this front to note that Vice City offers some of the most fun and imaginative missions to date; a certain exploding remotely-controlled helicopter springing to mind as a good example. The police of the fictional metropolis have also grown a little more agitated from the original, with a greater police presence in general leading to some frenetic movie-style car chases, which can, and often do, lead to amusing water-jumping antics, in true Blues Brothers style. As ever, the game’s structure, whilst being totally free-form (you can explore the city, and generate havoc to your hearts content at any time, should you choose), also encourages you to complete missions for the subsequent benefits available. Cash garnered can be used to makes purchases in Vice City of the property variety, allowing your character, Tommy Vercetti, to begin building a criminal empire of his own. The beautiful and downright inspired side of all this, is the well-crafted plots and characters that link all the missions and events of the game together. On this front, things have improved considerably from the original, with some amusing dialogue during cinematic-sequences that at times is worthy of The Soprano’s. This is helped along immensely by voice acting talent featuring the likes of Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds and Dennis Hopper, which just demonstrates the attention Rockstar paid to creating a seamless, and believable story to bind everything you do together. Switching your criminal allegiances will become a frequent option as you discover and penetrate deeper into the underworld of Vice City, with your character arriving having left prison to get to grips with the drugs industry of the city. Of course, should you find all this story nonsense a little on the restrictive side, you do of course have the option of creating anarchy through the city, or alternatively ‘go straight’ as a Pizza delivery chap. On this front, the games physics have been improved, as has the detail of the damage that can be done to cars, which all adds to the already staggering detail of this game. On the graphical front, things haven’t moved on in leaps and bounds, though some nice special effects do impress, as does the detail of Vice City as a tangible place in general. The camera angles can, very occasionally annoy, and a few small clipping problems are also noticeable every so often, but given the overall appeal of the games unique and ‘cool’ stylising, to moan too much would seem decidedly unfair. Which leads me on to the audio, yet another ‘not-so-hidden’ depth you’ll discover is a joy in GTA: Vice City. Not only can you switch between numerous 80’s inspired radio stations while cruising the city streets, the game does in fact include some nine in total. Artists such as Blondie, Kate Bush, Kim Wilde, Spandau Ballet, Run DMC, and Ozzy Osbourne all feature to get you into that 80s groove. It’s a small inclusion, but once again adds further to the richness and depth of this immense game as a whole. All in all, the trappings of immense international success appears to have done little to dent the creative spirit of Rockstar, with Vice City proving every bit as compulsive as the original; perhaps more so. I think the element that impressed me most was the ability of the game to blend a feeling of immense freedom, with a tightly-knit and believable plot, which offers the goals and rewards so essential in a game. How many developers have found this aspect a stumbling block? All in all, not a revolution from the original, nor entirely perfect (can any game be?), but without question one of the finest releases of the year, and, one must suspect, one of the PS2’s finest games to date. A veritable tour de force of design richness and diversity.