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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Review

publisher: Rockstar Games
developer: Rockstar North
genre: Action

PIII 800, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 915MB HD
ESRB rating: M

release date: May 12, 03
» All About Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on ActionTrip

During the past week, I had two priorities in my life. One was to make sure that all E3 scoops, articles, and media, get uploaded promptly onto the web site, and the second was to play as much of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as I possibly could. Both tasks were quite demanding, therefore I decided to disregard some of my more insignificant hobbies and habits, such as eating, sleeping, sitting on the throne, (Ed. - That means going to the bathroom, he's so melodramatic...) and breathing the sweet outdoor air. Ever since we received a copy of GTA: Vice City, it was clear to me that it would take a long time to review the game. Why? Well, the answer is simple. The game is much too complex (not to mention extremely addictive) to not spend time reviewing. Rarely do we encounter video games that are as involving and time-consuming as this one.

When Rockstar North and Rockstar Games decided to port GTA: Vice City to the PC (after its amazingly successful debut on the PS2), there was a huge amount of theories and gossip as to how the team would handle the transition from console to PC. As always, many industry skeptics have labeled the PC version of GTA: Vice City as Rockstar's obvious attempt to reel in more cash with their winning franchise. Some time before the game's launch, Rockstar released specifics on the improvements that were made in the PC port. Now, we finally get a chance to check out the full retail version first hand and discover if gamers should invest their time into another GTA incarnation.

In case you weren't briefed on the story, I'll walk you through it. (Ed. - Uhhh, yeaah. I'll, uh yeah, make sure you get another, yeeahh, copy of that memo. Yeaah.) You are Tommy Vercetti, a tough, headstrong, and particularly devious young mobster lad, who is sent off on a little "business" trip to settle a few scores and conclude a drug deal. Not everything went as planned and the deal ended up as a bloodbath and our hero Tommy, barely makes it out alive. From here on, things will start to get hairier and hairier. Flat broke, and with no one to rely on but you and your wits, you decide to find out who's at the bottom of this setup. The year is 1986 and your career in Vice City begins... In their attempt to make all the characters sound more realistic, Rockstar hired a fabulous cast of Hollywood actors for in-game voiceovers. The main character, Tommy Vercetti, got the voice of recognized actor Ray Liotta (who you all know from "Good Fellas"). Other cast members include Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos, The Matrix), Lawrence Taylor (former NY Giants player), Burt Reynolds, Gary Busey, and the lovely Jenna Jameson (starlet de porn). So, did such an impressive cast list do the trick? Most definitely. Each in-game character looks and speaks as if they were in a big-time Hollywood blockbuster movie. They all contributed to the authenticity of the plot, and make it easy for players to identify themselves with characters they see on the monitor. All in all, we're looking at a gripping plot, excellent characterization, and a certain special thread that ties it nicely together. It simply doesn't fail at any moment during the game.

The basic principles of gameplay in GTA: Vice City are the same as in GTA 3, hence my first instinct was to get me some nice wheels. Oh, what's this? A wealthy young driver out for a ride? In a Ferrari? Outta the car, fucker. Thank you so much. I declare this vehicle the property of VADAR from now on. The game carries that well-known GTA trademark - which means you can really go any where and do anything. Except this time, the development team at Rockstar North has taken it one step further. Vice City is bigger, more complex, and way more dangerous than Liberty City (GTA 3), so it's all on a grand scale this time. To begin with, your main character, Tommy, has a more important role now. Rather than being a mere delivery boy and or big shot's messenger, you'll be the one dispersing orders and giving out assignments - of course, you begin from scratch, so you're gonna have to work your way up to a decent gangster reputation.

"Freedom" is the right word to describe Vice City. The best part of the game is that you're not obliged to follow a strict and linear path throughout your career. At any time, you can just cruise the streets in your favorite car or start creating a chain of your own businesses (provided you have the funds to so). Earning cash can be achieved in several ways. Tommy can drive cabs, deliver pizzas, purchase real-estate, start his own local businesses... the lot. Thanks to the incredible vastness of the game's urban setting, there will be tons of opportunities practically around every corner. Liberty City was large, but Vice City is huuuge! Cruising throughout the enormous city jungle and carrying out various precarious tasks can get you a lot of injuries. Fortunately, there are many ways you can replenish your health - you can stop for a nice slice of pizza, or you can run over to the corner drugstore and recover there. Of course, you can always find energy "hearts" lying around. (Ed. - Not to mention the fact that picking up hookers is still possible. And not just any hookers, eighties hookers, with mega teased hair and socks with high heels.) The simple fact is that you'll never get bored during the game, which is largely due to the diversity of the missions. Tommy will go through a range of standard criminal undertakings such as revenge, intimidation, looting, extortion, and the like. One of my favorites was scaring the pants off two judges. Once you locate the judges, you fire up the chainsaw, rush towards them, and just watch them flee as they scream "Not guilty, not guilty!" Pretty cool. After experiencing the first couple of assignments, you'll soon get into the spirit of proceedings and everything will work smoothly. You'll know your way around and people will begin to respect, fear, and admire you.

Still, you should not begin the game thinking it will be a piece of cake. While the development team worked on improving the game since GTA 3, one of the main ideas was to enhance the AI. And I'm not just talking about the intelligence of rivaling criminal organizations. I'm referring to the intelligence of every "virtual being" that walks the Vice City streets. All I can say is that they did a truly marvelous job on it. There are many unique AI's, which denotes a wide variety of behaviors. For example, when you drag somebody away out of their vehicle, there's no telling what sort of reaction it might cause. Some people are going to be scared stiff, so they won't do much about it. Then again, others may start screaming and running towards the cops, requesting that they have you arrested. Every once in a while you run into drivers who won't be so supportive of you taking over their car, so they might punch you right in the nose (well, it serves you right for pinching a man's wheels). Another good characteristic of CPU-controlled characters, is that they use weapons very effectively and it's often advisable that you sneak up towards enemies, rather than running straight into their clutches.

Next off, an extremely huge selection of weapons can be found in the game - whether you find it hidden in some back-alley or if you pick it up from a thug you just whacked, it's all there baby. Some weapons can be used for mass destruction, while others will come in handy for intimidating the hell out people; enter the new-fangled chainsaw and the katana. These two are really nasty and are sure to cause great havoc and massive slaughter. Such weapons should be your first choices when you're out for vendettas or threats. For more hazardous tasks, for example when you have to face a whole platoon of fully-armed soldiers, the game allows you employ slightly heavier firepower, such as hand grenades, machine guns, pistols, sniper rifles, etc.

The wide assortment of vehicles is a feature that makes this game well worth your time and money (hardcore GTA gamers will know what I'm talking about). Apart from an impressive array of cars, trucks, pickups, Sedans, jeeps, and the like, you are given the opportunity to handle a wide choice of motorcycles, scooters, Harleys, and, best of all, boats and helicopters. This is all quite a commendable improvement over GTA 3. Also, even though the game upholds the same arcadish style of gameplay, the vehicle physics were tweaked to perfection. Every single means of transportation reacts and handles differently. At this point I'd like to mention that the controls were splendidly optimized for the PC standards, so that means not a single gamer will find them difficult to handle. In other words, the mouse and keyboard work a lot better than the PS2 game pads. Maneuvering the helicopters though, might take you a while to get accustomed to. Perhaps it would've been wiser to include simpler controls for flying, since this control system may appear somewhat complicated to some gamers. While it may not seem as a major drawback, it can be annoying in certain moments during the game; when you're hurrying off to make it in time to a "business meeting." Frankly, this was a minor problem, so don't make too much out of it.

GTA: Vice City has a delightful way of mixing genres. Action, driving, flying, and hand-to-hand combat! Thanks to that and other numerous innovative features, this game deserves praise all the way. Although as far as the basic story and the content go, the PC port doesn't bring anything new since the PS2 incarnation. But, that shouldn't discourage you though, for there are many things which make this product superior over the PS2 version.

The true improvements, however, lie in the visual overhaul the developers have obviously worked very hard on. Players who went through the PS2 title, will immediately notice how effective higher res modes can be (and this time they beefed it up all the way to 2048*1536 - it works, believe me). The main thing is that you are now able to increase the draw distance, which causes a remarkable effect when you're flying over the city or rushing through the streets at high speed. To make the town seem faithful to the 80's, the designers saw to it that every detail is in place. This can be observed in the city's architecture, the citizens' choice of colorful 80's style fashion, and of course a vast mixture of cars we all recognize from that wild and turbulent period of funk, the TV series Miami Vice, and the movie Scarface (which was apparently Rockstar's number one inspiration). Alongside these enhancements, the game possesses other PC-only characteristics. Cars, buildings, and other objects in the environment, all look imposingly better than those we've seen on the PS2. Furthermore, explosions are more colorful and vivid, particle effects look better too, and a great effort was poured into making the lighting effects and reflections better than those we saw in GTA 3 (and Vice City PS2). If you're interested exactly what were the technical innovations over the PS2 version, I'd advise you to check out our recent Vice City preview.

Well, the voiceovers were already mentioned, but it's fair to emphasize that the sound design of the entire game is absolutely spectacular. From ambient noises and pedestrians shouting at you as you race passed them, to the delightfully effective and charming tunes that wave though 9 different stations that keep humming on your car-radio - naturally, you can also listen to music while you ride on choppers, boats, scooters, etc. The overall sound quality has no weaknesses and remains the pinnacle of the game's addictiveness. You'll find yourselves overwhelmed with those car-tunes, and you'll frequently get the urge to just sit in your favorite car and blast through those streets and dense traffic.

In all honesty, I think there isn't a single gamer (hardcore or newbie) that won't find this game appealing. One thing that might stand out as a problem even now is the game's controversy and intense violence. Whatever. GTA: Vice City is a fictional parody of life and it perpetuates the arcade gameplay style we all know very well from the previous GTA game. From my point of view, these issues are the reason why this franchise stays so popular worldwide. Despite of what some of us think about such controversial works of art, there's always that urge for absolute in-game realism. In the end, people soon become fed up with fantasies and fairytales... It all boils down to a simple desire for games and movies that mimic real life. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is just a video game, as Pulp Fiction and the Fight Club are just movies. The fact that they shock and startle some people, only proves their worth. This is why they are "M" rated, I guess.

My final advice to you lot is that you should buy this game at once (if you're old enough that is). It's provocative, fun, intense, lengthy, and intricate. A must-have for all gamers.


9.3   Excellent

What can I say? The game is brilliant and will keep you occupied for the rest of your gaming days. It's fun, addictive, original, and it merges genres very effectively;

A hitch or two in some AI routines, but nothing serious. The helicopter controls could've been simpler... The game has an ending after all :(



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