Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Review of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Tommy Vercetti is a thug…and a damned unlucky one at that. When his “boss” decides it is time to expand their little business into the drug market, Vice City is picked as the place to start their operation. Lawyer, Ken Rosenburg gets the nod as the contact there and Tommy is recruited to purchase the initial quantity of coke to kick start the business. The deal quickly goes South with a shootout occurring at the time of the trade-off, leaving Tommy as the only survivor.
So, this is how Vice City begins…a shootout, lots of dead bodies littered about and our “hero”, Tommy now having to explain to his boss Sonny that not only didn’t he get the blow, but he lost all of his money as well. Tommy swears that he will find the peeps that set him up and get the money AND the dope…and so starts Tommy’s quest (and the game itself) in earnest.
The one thing (well, there are actually MANY things) that I really liked about GTA: Vice City is that in additional to the missions (which really IS the core gameplay), gamers can also choose to just explore the massive expanse presented here and do pretty much whatever they want to. If you feel like jacking a sweet ride and cruising the city, you can. If it tickles your fancy to merely run around and kill as many innocent pedestrians as possibly before getting caught by the local law enforcement…you can. If you feel like walking up to person, cracking them in the jaw and then continually kick them in the nuts when they are down until they turn into a bloody pulp…you can! Also, early on in the game, the mission selections begin to separate, with Tommy taking cues from multiple sources. Depending on which missions the gamer chooses to take will dictate the order of which things progress…and how early (or late) additional pieces of the city is opened up to explore. Vice City is truly a very good representation of a living, breathing city that moves along with or without your assistance.
The locale is a much brighter, “happier” looking place when compared to GTA 3’s dark gritty exteriors. But don’t let the looks deceive you…there is definitely a dank, dark under belly to Vice City. Beneath the bright neon lights, lies a city that is crawling with corruption and decadence…and a big city it is at that. Vice City is supposedly 2 to 3 times the size of GTA3’s Liberty City and I have no reason to doubt this claim. Considering the fact that gamers can now enter many of the buildings, cruise around in a boat or take to the skies with a chopper or plane, the overall scope of the game is easily twice the size of its processor if not more. The one thing that isn’t true though, is that the city is totally open to you right from the start. Nope, parts of the city are blocked off for various reasons, but luckily they can be opened quite early on in the game.
For those readers that are not familiar with the PS2 Grand Theft titles, here is a little low down on how Vice City plays…
Gamers take on the role of a mob guy named Tommy Vercetti. Tommy was called down to Vice City to assist his boss Sonny on getting into the drug cartel scene. As you have already read, things went down badly and now Tommy is responsible to get his boss’s green back. The main gameplay is mission based with Tommy taking orders from several sources. Which missions and in which order you choose to them in, is all up to the player. Since most of the missions involve breaking the law, Tommy must be careful to stay off of the police “radar”. This is represented by 6 stars on the screen. Each time a star lights up, the tenacity of the police trying to capture you increases, up to the 6th star lit star which has the local law enforcement initiating martial law on the city and calling in the armed forces to apprehend you. Generally things never get this far, as you are normally busted or killed long before then. When that happens (busted or killed), you find yourself either in front of the cop station or hospital…with all of your weapons lost and another failed mission under your belt.
Evading the law (getting your star count back down to zero) can be done in a number of ways. Getting killed or busted is the quickest, but that sucks. Laying low for a while usually cools things off, or finding glowing stars that are littered about the city. For each glowing star found, one lit star is reduced from the screen.
Getting around the city can be accomplished by running on foot (not fun) or jacking a ride (lots of fun). A partial map of the city is displayed on the lower left of the screen and in addition to a road map, it displays icon for specific points of interest, like contacts (to get missions), an ammo and hardware store as well as Tailors and phone booths during specific times in the game. Mission objectives/locations are also represented here by either a colored square or triangle. As you pick up missions and progress through the game the story unfolds in a very cinematic style. This is the neat part of Vice City…the gamer really “feels” like they are a mobster and that this is their city to control, corrupt or die in.
Many things have been improved or added upon from GTA3. The targeting system has been tweaked and enables gamers to easily target with a push of the R1 button. It still isn’t perfect, but it works much better than the previous system. The drivable vehicle count has now doubled from approximately 50 to over 100 cars, trucks and now MOTORCYCLES!! It is very easy to grab a high performance ride right from the start of the game, as they are parked or moving about the city at any given time. The motorcycle selection is a good one. Players can abscond a rice burner (café racer), cruiser, moped or dirk bike…with each having its own particular handling characteristics (as do the cars). Gamers will also be pleased to learn that they can fly around Vice City in a helicopter and a plane, as well as a boat! Talk about your travel options!! To complement the handling characteristics of the vehicles, the gas and brakes are touch sensitive…meaning the analog pressure sensing on the DS2 is actually getting a workout here. Players will also want to note that Tommy can now target and shoot at people while driving in a car or motorcycle. This is very cool, making drive-bys a common event in the game.
The weapon count has also increased to around 40 instruments of murder from a screwdriver to a sniper rifle. The good old baseball bat is back as well as some really nice new choices like a chainsaw and a machete. Each weapon will deal out a specific amount of damage, so if you want a quick kill be sure to equip some of the heavier artillery. Stuff like a golf club or a hammer might be nice to damage cars, but I wouldn’t want to go up against an armed hood with one and expect to win that fight. I also liked the fact that I can now shoot out car tires with the sniper rifle. Bottom line – the weapons really rock.
Another thing that appears to have undergone a change is the cop AI…they are much more brutal and persistent now. There is defiantly a lot more of them walking the streets at any given moment and will immediately give chase if you are caught beating or shooting a pedestrian. Even for “minor” infractions like being seen jacking a car will have the police out in force. Of course, running over or intentionally killing a cop will have your star count up to two or three in no time with road blocks being set up and police helicopters on the loose taking pot shots at you.
Pedestrians also react more realistically now to situations occurring around them. If you start beating up someone, nearby people will either scatter (for the most part) or try to knock you down (rarely). They will also be doing their own thing like buying drugs, rolling blading, jogging, etc. As Tommy walks by people, he will overhear them talking…about almost anything. The end result is a much better realized environment full of people going about their daily lives.
I thought the missions and overall storyline/plot was much more enjoyable and better “hashed out” than the previous PS2 GTA game as well. While the earlier missions in the game reminded me very much of a typical GTA3 mission, as the game progresses they get very deep and involved. Most importantly though, I found that the missions were a lot of fun, much more so than GTA3’s. Where many of GTA3’s were extremely frustrating, Vice City’s (while no cakewalk) were infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding to complete.
The graphics engine used for GTA: Vice City is a technological masterpiece and an artistic mess all at the same time. On the technology front, the engine beautifully displays a completely interactive city that is virtually “alive” with activity. People are going about their normal business. Cars, planes, buses, etc. are all in motion at any given time. The draw distance is remarkable for a city of this size. Everything that is viewable in the city is displayed, whether the gamer is traveling by foot, automobile, boat or plane. This is quite a remarkable feat considering what is being shown on the screen.
The backgrounds are wonderfully depicted with buildings adorned with bright neon trim, colorful landscapes and an intricately designed roadway system. The car models are nicely rendered with good reflections. The cars are also completely destructible…meaning that as you drive about and hit other cars, structures or people, the auto’s take damage (glass shatters, doors, trunks and hoods fly off, etc)…until eventually they begin to smoke, ignite and ultimately blow up…at which time you better make sure you get your ass outta the car!
The special effects are much better than GTA3 with increased use of particle effects, reflections and smoother texturing. The falling rain will send little droplets onto the cars windshield and of course affect the driving characteristics of the auto (especially motorcycles). Sun glare is ever present and can really become a distraction at times. Explosions are more vibrant and realistic looking than before. The damage model on the cars also appears to be improved as I noticed a lot more crumples, dings and scratches occurring than before.
The animation, while still not perfect is much improved over GTA3 and the game now runs at a much smoother frame rate that stays constant most of the time. Even the camera control is better, with the focus staying where it should be most of time to give players an optimal view of the action.
Now for the bad parts…First things first…get your ass into the menu screen and turn off the default “Trail” option. When enabled, the colors are washed out, the backgrounds are blurry as hell and the game just looks like an unpolished first gen title. The lens flaring is also almost unbearable at times with reflections that are literally blinding while you are driving. With the Trail option off, the games color palette comes to life and the screen display is much more sharp and defined. Of course, this is just my opinion and gamers will surely wish to try both to see what they prefer.
Next up are the character models…they are some of the worst yet seen in the videogame industry. For the most part, they are just plain scary and painful to look at. Yes, they are better than GTA 3. Yes, they are textured and animated a bit better…but they are just butt ugly to view. And they hands…my God, the hands…I have nightmares just thinking about those damn characters hands. The fingers appear to be melted or fused together and the overall appearance is just plain freaky and almost distracts one from the game at times.
For all of the bad though, the overall graphics do an outstanding job in depicting the world of Vice City. I never felt that they took away from the overall enjoyment of the gameplay (except for those freaky hands), mostly because the performance of the game is so damn good.
Last but certainly not least is the sound/music department for Vice City…it’s a real dozy. Rock Star has managed to highjack some of the biggest stars ever to lend their voice talents in a game. First up there is Ray Liotta as the voice of the lead character Tommy Vercetti. His performance, in a word, is flawless. Ray’s voice is a perfect match for the lead and his inflections, scripted dialogue and off the cuff comments are just plain awesome. Other stars to lend their talents are Burt Reynolds, Philip Michael Thomas (Tubbs from Miami Vice), Jenna Jameson (the porn star), Dennis Hopper, Gary Busey, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo, William Fichtner, Lee Majors, Lawrence Taylor, Deborah Harry and Luis Guzman…sorry if I missed a few, but you get the idea…
As if the voice acting weren’t enough, the game also has over 80 fully licensed tunes stripped right from the 80’s from Michael Jackson to Motley Crue, Ozzy to Flock of Seagulls…the soundtracks are friggin’ totally awesome. Of course, any vehicle you drive, from a gulf cart, motorcycle or helicopter, has a radio with a selection of 8 stations to pull the tunes in from. There is nothing quite as satisfying as cruising around the golf course in my cart right after slicing up a bunch of thugs with my chainsaw and Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out” comes on or cruisin’ on a timed mission and Two Minutes to Midnight from Maiden comes on. I could go on naming instances like these forever…needless to say, the music plays a wonderful, memorable role in this game and the tunes, for the most part, are truly fantastic.
Finally to round things off nicely are the sound effects…again, fantastic. From the various exhaust sounds of the vehicles to the variety of gun shot sounds, Vice City has some truly marvelous sound effects. Explosions are nice and full-bodied and car crashes sound “impactful”…and the best part, everything is pushed out in 4.1 DTS (sorry, no center channel support).
Well, this is long ass review and yet I am sure I left a LOT of stuff out. There is just so much to this game, that it can literally be mind-blowing. Needless to say, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is wonderfully crafted game that delivers aces in every facet of the title. The graphics are sweet (but does have problems), the sound category is second to none and the gameplay is pure nirvana.
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Grand Theft Auto: Vice City' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Tom Rooney © Absolute PlayStation
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