29 Jan, 2003

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Review

PS2 Review | The sequel to the chart-topping Grand Theft Auto III makes it's face known. But is Vice City any match for it's bigger brother?
About twelve months ago, a game going by the name of Grand Theft Auto III came out. You might have heard of it. The hype surrounding the game was actually fairly low, considering that the game was the third in the series. Not that you would know that, of course, seeing as the game was met with rave reviews, and since the game has spent the better part of thirteen months in top ten best seller lists all around the world.

Naturally, when Rockstar, the developers of GTA3, let out word that a sequel to the game was in the works, hype quickly began to generate. As information gradually filtered into the media, the hype reached staggering levels. It was going to take something special for Vice City to impress.

Does it succeed? Does it better GTA3? Yes, it does. However, one thing must be made perfectly clear. From the beginning, VC was only ever going to be GTA3 part two. There was never going to be any amazing revelations. If you’re expecting VC to be an entirely new game, you’re going to be disappointed.

In Vice City, you take on the roll of Tommy Vercetti. The year is 1985. You’ve just spent fifteen years in the slammer, and you’re not at all happy with your former ‘family’, led by Sonny Forelli. But, when Sonny insists you go to Vice City to check out the town, you don’t say no. Your priority is to get a foothold in the cocaine filled city. First objective? Use some of the family’s money to buy some A grade coke. But when things go wrong, you start copping heat from the family. It’s up to you to find out who screwed you out of the deal and get your money, and the coke, back.

Right from the start, it’s deadly obvious that this game is the sequel to GTA3. Which, is by no means a bad thing. The game is structured in the same way as its predecessor. You progress through the game by completing various missions, granting you access to new places on the island, new weapons, and new vehicles. The game is a third person over the shoulder affair.

Visually, Vice City is generally a lot better than GTA3. Since the game is based in Miami, things are a lot brighter, which gives the game a different tone. The character models are still very similar, but there is a bit more facial detail this time around. The main characters are a lot better this time around. The game isn’t silky smooth by any means, but you have to expect this when the PS2 has to throw around so much information at once. The car models look a bit better this time around too, but there seem to be too many similar looking cars in the game.

The graphics aren’t without fault. The PS2 seems to be borderline on whether or not it can throw out this much information. It shows at points, where there is some criminal popup. For the most part the pop up isn’t an issue, but every now and then some of it crops up in ways that will make you freak out. On one occasional, I actually hit something before it had popped up. The animation is also generally good. However, some of the character animations, particularly Tommy running while he holds a large gun, are outright disturbing. There are also some minor graphical glitches every now and then, such as the ground underneath the car temporarily going invisible, or getting cars jammed in invisible holes. But, overall, the graphics come out as a notable improvement over GTA3.

One issue that seems to have divided the people on this game is the trails option in the menu bar. On my TV, I definitely have to play without them. It makes the game look a lot crisper. I think my head would be spinning after playing five minutes with them activated on my TV. But, on high end TVs, trails are supposed to look really good. Try them both out on your TV and see which one gets your approval.

Vice City is definitely easy on the ears. All the major characters in the game have been voiced by celebrities, and the highlight of the bunch is definitely Ray Liotta as Tommy Vercetti. Tommy totally convinces me that he is a badass gangster not to be reckoned with. The pedestrians also have a larger vocabulary this time around, but there are still a fair few repeats. The car engines are also pretty good, but a few of them seem to be recycled on numerous cars, such as the Cheetah – Admiral.

The radio stations also make a welcome return to the game. For me, the highlight is VROCK. Coincidently, Lazlow, from GTA3’s Chatterbox, is the DJ for this station. The talk show stations on VC aren’t as good as Chatterbox, but are still pretty good. There is also a slew of 80’s music littered throughout the game. I won’t mention any names, but there is enough radio crammed onto this DVD to keep you listening for ages.

VC, despite basically being GTA3 part two, has a fair bit of new stuff crammed into it. There are three major additions; you can now enter a limited number of buildings. There isn’t a whole lot, but it’s a good start. You can also buy property throughout the game, ranging from a dodgy shack to a nightclub. These act as new save points, and a fair few of them are where the bulk of the later missions in the game come from. All of the mission properties generate revenue after passing all the missions for that particular property. However, you must physically go to each building and collect them as they fill up though, which is a hassle at times. Motorbikes have also been added to the game. Riding through the back of a city on an Angel (read: Harley/chopper) is a fantastic feeling. There are 4 main types; a chopper, a dirt bike, a scooter, and a street bike, which goes really fast. There are also several different changes of clothes available, ranging from a Police outfit, right through to a blue jumpsuit with a hockey mask. Some other minor additions include pizza delivery missions, the ability to damage cars with fists/weapons, more weapons (chainsaw, hammer, minigun, katana blade, etc) and a heap more.

Being the successor to GTA3 instantly means that this game is going to be instantly playable. The ‘go anywhere, do anything’ motto still exists, making the game just as much fun to play as GTA3. There seems to be around the same number of missions this time around, except now there is a lot more variation. There’s a street race through the city, your standard 'kill this person' missions, grab this case missions, and so on. Very rarely do two missions seem the same, as was occasionally the case in GTA3.

The fighting and camera system has also been improved. Unfortunately, it’s still far from greatness. You can now center the game behind you by hitting the L1 button, but it doesn’t seem to spin around fast enough. Pulling R1 locks into the nearest target and centers the camera behind you, which is a great help when having to dispatch a number of enemies. But sometimes the lock on targets a hidden enemy, which isn’t much help when there’s another one shooting at you. And, occasionally, when I hit the target button and hit the shoot button, the gun wouldn’t shoot, usually with the magnum. This was extremely frustrating, as while you’re struggling to fire the gun, enemies are knocking your health down and down. Another problem with the fighting system is that you can now only hold one gun of each type. For example, one hand to hand weapon (hammer, baseball bat, katana, chainsaw), one pistol (revolver, semi-automatic), one shotgun (automatic, standard) one submachine gun (uzi, MP5), one machine gun (colt), one sniper rifle (with or without laser sight, which is basically useless anyway) and one large weapon (flamethrower, rocket launcher, minigun). This is extremely annoying, as to change between guns means you lose the gun until you can buy/find it again.

The cars seem to handle basically more or less identically to their counterparts in GTA3. Indeed, a lot of the cars make a comeback, only in their 80s guise. The handling cannot be argued with, as it is swift and precise. The motorbikes also handle quite well, but good use of the handbrake is needed if you want to ride them at speed. The boats seem to handle incredibly bad, but that’s the intention. If you master the boat handling, consider yourself damn good at GTA. The planes actually fly this time around – none of the Dodo styled mastery required. The helicopters also handle incredibly well, and are a dream to fly.

Once again, the AI in VC leaves a lot to be desired. The cops are hardly rocket scientists, but, they are a definite improvement over GTA3. My main AI complaints lie in the pedestrian and other car AI. Pedestrians sometimes dive straight into your cars path when you are driving up on the footpath. This is just flat-out stupid, and puts cop heat onto you if a cop happens to be nearby. But the bit that gets me is when you’re speeding down a highway at speed, then a car in the other lane decides to change into your lane. Often hitting them, or something on the footpath/medium strip is impossible. The worst thing is that this seems to happen ALL the time. So. Damn. Frustrating.

Another thing - why the hell can’t you swim? There is nothing more annoying that accidentally driving off the edge of a river/dock, then watching your health tick away.

Like GTA3 (again), VC will last you a damn long time. Once you’ve acquired all the properties and completed the storyline missions, there’s still so much to do. Unique jumps, a stack of rampages, vigilante/ambulance/taxi/pizza delivery missions, a hundred packages, and a stack more. However, a lot of the stuff you will have to force yourself to do. Taxi missions get very tedious really quickly, and ambulance missions will drive you insane. But, if all else fails, just stuffing around, killing masses of people and just enjoying the sights, sounds and secrets of Vice City will keep you busy for a long time.

So, is Vice City good for you? There’s a simple answer to that. If you loved GTA3 and want more, Vice City is for you. If you hated GTA3 and never want to see it again, definitely avoid this game. But, most people seem to fall under the former category. Buy this game.

Just don’t expect a revolution.

Note: This game has been censored in Australia. The ability to pick up prostitutes is the only thing confirmed to have been removed.
The Score
Vice City takes GTA3, injects large amounts of steroids, and comes up with possibly the best game on the PS2. If you want more GTA3, make sure you get a hold of this game.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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