A drug deal has gone wrong and your natural instinct screams revenge. Among your virtues of heart lie manipulation, theft, treachery, fearlessness and murder. These elements of ego are what lie within Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the most epic neon-pink production that has hit since LSD. Released on the PS2 many months ago and only recently for the PC, gamers can once again immerse themselves into the urban plethora of the criminal mind. Now taking place on a beautiful beachfront coast, mainly inspired from the 1980's image of Miami depicted in Miami Vice, prepare to slip on those white shoes, without socks of course, and sport your Don Johnson mullet with style.
As the first scene of this cinematically-styled game goes, you are presented with a drug deal involving your crew and some shady Cubans, and of course, things go wrong. The shit hits the fan and you and the remaining boys hit the streets of Vice City to brainstorm a resolution. Hence, the plot begins and throughout you will meet a widely varied band of characters, all very well portrayed with excellent voice-acting, great costumes and body language. The first character you meet is your neurotic, pseudo-Jewish, pseudo-cocaine addict lawyer and partner in crime who instructs you to head to a location for information. You jump onto the nearest vehicle, a pink scooter named "Faggio" and ride away as the radio blares Billy Jean by Michael Jackson - this is excellent introductory game play. Plenty of the game’s humor is formed through subtle suggestions and references and within five minutes of playing, the gamer can immediately recognize that a great deal of detail has been layered into Vice City. As the game progresses, this really helps to develop the style and appeal of the game.
So we begin in the streets with no power and no weapons. Your eager lust for power is always tempting you for the bigger n' better, always making you look for a shiny vehicle and something or someone to exploit. Instructions for various small jobs are passed on to you and as you complete tasks given from various crime figures or mystery men, you’ll have options to purchase weapons and the opportunity to learn how things work. Simply scouting around the city and becoming familiar with the geography and discovering the hidden extras is a good introduction. The city layout is well done and full of diversity, with different zones for different classes, races, and gangs, including different vehicles and equipment. You will perform job after job in order to advance the storyline and learn more about the whereabouts of the drugs which brought you to Vice City in the first place. You earn money for each job and when you have gained enough and completed specific objectives, you can buy new properties. These earn you not only local respect and new missions, but after completing the task for the location, you will acquire the option to save at their location, retrieve certain vehicles such as self-spawning cars and helicopters, and last but not least, a source of revenue which waits to be picked up each day. Some properties also have garages which can be used to store your car of choice. As far as which weapon you’ll use for what, it’s dependent on your imagination and your knowledge of their locations. You will play out a scene from the film Scarface as you chase a back stabbing snitch through the streets with a chainsaw. You’ll be able to pick off people with a sniper rifle, take out rollerbladers with the one-shot-kill magnum pistol, and do drive-by after drive-by on unsuspecting gang members with an Uzi. These are just a few examples of the many weapons to find and their uses within the game.
The storyline I will not comment on further, but I assure you it is well written. It’s nothing spectacular but something similar to an HBO miniseries. You will find much of the story is interlaced and consistent with the plot and people you encounter. Regardless, the character designs and personalities are a pleasure to watch. The cinematic quality that Rockstar and Rockstar North have produced is very high. Environments are always changing – indoor and outdoor, from a snooker bar filled with bikers to a record studio full of drugged and possibly bisexual Scottish rock stars. Throughout you will keep being impressed by the levels of detail and engine-driven cut scenes. While trying to play out the game’s story you will run into trouble with the law. The original wanted level rank system from the earlier versions of the Grand Theft Auto series is used to depict this. Nothing has changed within this element and I will simply caution that if you are not careful, or if you decide to go on a rampage, Panzer tanks and army troop trucks will be chasing you through the city in no time. There are also the familiar submissions for vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks, ambulances. One of the most entertaining is unlocked by obtaining an Apache-like battle helicopter and using it to chase down and destroy countless criminals.
One of the standout elements of Vice City is the soundtrack, which has already been released by Sony Music as a seven-disc collage, each an album of each radio station available in the game. The music selection combines some of the biggest hits of the late 70’s and early 80's, helping to set the mood and help keep things from getting dull while playing the game. The music ranges from rap to rock to the real sounds of Cuba. There are even two comical mock talk-radio stations to choose from this time around. As a personal note, after hearing it so many times while playing, I ended up getting Summer Madness by Kool & the Gang and have added it to my collection of driving tunes. Yes, games are infectious; I just hope I don't randomly start carjacking people and plowing down pedestrians without any regard to my moral or ethical decorum. Ambient sounds prove effective as well and add life to the environment of the virtual city. Pedestrian voices are sometimes comical but are mostly redundant. They do however provide an amusing spoof of the stereotypical urban lifestyle.
One area that fell short was the lack of online play although earlier versions of the series had some support. However, I have heard through various sources that there are individuals working to produce a free modification that will support multiplayer. We shall see...
The graphics are strong and appropriate to the game play, although you’ll want to be sure you have at least a 64mb graphics card, as anything less may run the game but will deprive you of much of the details that make the city come to life. It is a pleasure observing changes in the city from day to night; the spectrum of pastel colors and light promote a worthy night time atmosphere. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a great game that holds plenty of freedom for mission execution and a high replay value. Game play is a joy as with all its elements. Although language and content might be an issue for some including parents of young children and uptight moralists, warnings are clearly indicated. In my opinion, the level of drug related and sexual content is very mild and serves to add humor and mockery to the image of the corrupt city. Besides, where else can you build a wardrobe of casual 80’s clothing and suits and listen to the best music the 80’s had to offer at the same time. Buy it because you can chop off heads with a chainsaw or mow down ignorant innocents without fear of jail time. Buy it because you can purchase a strip club and get a free private dance from semi-nude women. Buy it because Vice City fearlessly pokes fun at many socially-accepted norms that just haven't changed. Ultimately, buy it because it’s just plain fun.