It was hardly surprising to hear that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories would be making its way to the PS2. The PSP version of Vice City Stories was incredible, and its quality meant it was always something of a no-brainer for Rockstar to port the game over to the PlayStation 2, and expose 110 million-plus people to Vice City Stories. But is the experience just as fun on the home console, or merely a quick cash-in?
Vice City Stories is set in 1984. Players assume the role of Vic Vance, the brother of Lance Vance, easily one of the most memorable characters from the original Vice City. Through a series of cutscenes at the beginning of the game, we learn that Vic has just joined the U.S Army, originally with the intention of supporting his sick brother and the rest of his family. However, Vic's commanding officer Jerry Martinez soon involves Vic in a few illegal shenanigans, and soon enough our hero is in deep trouble. Vic's motives are a little different to those of your typical Grand Theft Auto protaganist, mind - he's largely doing all of these activities for the money.
When you first begin the game, you'll start off at the army base near Escobar Airport where, due to a hurricane warning, your access to the islands will be restricted. The first few missions are relatively easy affairs, but it isn't long before you're really being challenged. If you happen to fail a mission, you can jump into a taxi and it will take you directly to where the mission is, so you don't have to run around finding the mission icon.
If you're coming straight from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, then Vice City Stories may feel like a step backwards. San Andreas boasted a lot of customisation options which Vice City simply doesn't have, though fans of the series will appreciate the fact that they can now swim in Vice City. Also new to the game is the ability to run businesses. There's a fair selection of these in Vice City to try your hand at, and by taking them into your possession, you can upgrade them and ultimately collect cash from the venture. There are also empire missions, which can be completed to increase the popularity of your business. Whilst taking over all of the businesses is something you'll have to do to finish 100% of the game, by the time you've taken every single one over, it's likely you'll have enough money to not worry about generating revenue.
The Grand Theft Auto series has had a few recurring problems, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories doesn't take any steps to improve upon such issues. The melee combat and targetting have always been bugbears, and still are. When you aim most of the time, the game will actually target an enemy, but occasionally you'll hold a weapon to a civilian. If an enemy nears you, you're in trouble though, as it's hard to target enemies when they've closed in. The ability to enter the interiors of some locations throws up a few problems also, with the camera occasionally becoming trapped, and if you're entering an area with a large amount of enemies, the last thing you want is to lose track of Vic.
Despite such irritations, it's difficult not to enjoy the game. It's still just as fun to jump into a police vehicle, fire off a few shots and go on a twenty-minute chase, whilst Vice City itself is fine-tuned for chaos, with unique jumps and high buildings in abundance. We've seen our fair share of sandbox games over the past few years, but none of them can match the enjoyment levels that you get out of police pursuits in Rockstar's titles. Even if you don't want to play through the story mode, half of the fun in Vice City Stories is to be found by simply creating your own chases and pursuits.
Technically, the game looks better on the PlayStation 2 than on the PSP. Rockstar has added a little more detail to Vice City, not to mention a greater draw distance; though you'll still see parts of the environment being drawn in at times, the old city still looks and feels like a metropolis that lives with or without you. The frame rate has also been improved, but despite the modifications, this is no longer a beautiful PlayStation 2 game. While it may have been impressive three years ago, the technical blemishes of the game engine are becoming ever more apparant.
As with any Grand Theft Auto title, the audio in Vice City Stories is simply superb, and the soundtrack is easily one of the best in any game. Just as the game represents a return to the '80s, so does the soundtrack. There are eight stations which play music (V Rock, Flash FM, Emotion 98.3, Fresh 105, Paradise FM, VCFL, Wave and Radio Esperanto), and a talkback radio station (VCPR) where you can tune in to some of the opinions of Vice City's wildest civilians. The radio stations don't just play music, but also treat you to hilarious advertisements and some quite brilliant DJs, with the marvellous Hector Hernandez returning as DJ for Radio Esperanto. There are over 100 fully-licensed songs in the game, including many memorable numbers, with I Want to Know What Love Is from Foreigner and In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins amongst the highlights. As long as you like '80s music then, you're bound to have something to sing along to most of the time. A few times I actually found myself driving around, just so I didn't have to get out of the car and stop listening to the music.
The main story mode will last you a good while, but completing the story is only the tip of the iceberg. There are unique jumps to be found hidden around the city, as well as taxi missions and other hidden goodies. Alas, the multiplayer mode has been removed from the PS2 version - a shame, but a necessary and understandable sacrifice. Vice City Stories is also the type of game you'll pull out occasionally for some quick, virtual destruction.
Although it may not be without its problems, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is still an incredibly fun and highly recommended experience. The title is available at a budget price, and with so much content it's bound to be the only PlayStation 2 game you buy for some time. It's not innovative, and it is a port of the PSP version, but it's also incredibly fun, and that's what ultimately matters.