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GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY / Rockstar / PC
Fundamentally, Vice City is more like a really big add-on pack/total conversion to Grand Theft Auto 3 than a new game; it came out only a year after GTA 3 was released, and thus the underlying game engine is virtually identical. Enough little tweaks, improvements and adjustments have been made to make the game excellent in its own right, however, and even markedly superior to the game that came before it.
Pizza boys get all the action
The most notable overall change is the thematic shift, from the general gray drabness of 200x New York to the vibrant Vice City (a take primarily on the South Beach and downtown areas of Miami.) The environment is more colorful and interesting, as would be expected, but the level of detail in the graphics has also been upped. Character models are still blocky, unrealistic and even a bit creepy, but the backgrounds sport more lavish detail and variety, and the weather and lighting effects are noticeably improved (neon streaks as you race about at high speeds at night, pink sunrises shimmering off the water, more detailed headlight effects, and fairly impressive tropical storms that like to spring up out of nowhere.) The terrain also sports much more noticeable variety from the generic Gotham metropolis of GTA3 - the South Beach area in which you start has a distinct "neon and party" nightclub vibe, while Little Haiti across town is composed of run-down shacks and junked cars.
"On today's episode of Dirty Jobs ..."
Aside from the change of scene, the game also time-warps back to 1986. This provides all sorts of retro-kitschy fun in the form of loud fashion sense and vehicle types, but the biggest advantage taken of the setting is the new suite of radio stations. GTA 3's radio system was good and pretty robust, but it mostly consisted of parody music created by Rockstar in-house musicians. Apparently the massive loots that GTA3 hauled in allowed Rockstar to go out and pick up some record label licenses, and the result is a soundtrack wholly composed of IRL 80's classics in a variety of genres. VROCK is hosted by Laslow (in a younger incarnation), and mostly focuses on early 80s hair metal from the likes of Twisted Sister, the Crüe and Judas Priest. Emotion 98.3 features the voice work of Fernando Martinez, noted pimp and talk show caller from GTA 3, who guides you through the world of mass market pop of the likes of REO Speedwagon and Cutting Crew. Radio Espantoso broadens the cultural horizons a bit, as the Scientist and KJAH did in the previous game, but this time out it's classic Latin jazz and Caribbean dance hall music hits from the 70s and 80s. Fever 105 features Barry White sound-alike Oliver "Ladykiller" Biscuit and a whole lot of fat black dude seduction music - Rick James, the Pointer Sisters and Kool & The Gang among a bunch of other stuff you've probably never heard of. Flash FM also has a return appearance from GTA 3, the younger incarnation of the 80s-obsessed Toni (who DJ'd the all-Scarface station in the previous game.) Flash is basically interchangable with Emotion, but with a different playlist - here you'll find INXS, Lionel Ritchie and Wang Chung among others. Wave 103 is maybe the most quintessentially 80's station of the game, dealing in New Wave and synthpop such as Blondie and the famous Flock of Seagulls song that became the game's advertising tagline. Wildstyle is the final musical selection, with the origins of rap and hip-hop like Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash. 1980s music is largely not looked on with enthusiasm by those that weren't there for it, and even those of us that were there don't necessarily find hearing it all game an appealing prospect, but whoever made the soundtrack selections here had pretty good taste. Each station is largely composed of big Billboard hits, but they did seem to at least choose the more palatable ones and ones that had at least some substance. There's also a few forgotten obscurities sprinkled in there that are interesting. There's about 15 songs per station, plus two all-talk channels (and the obligatory parody commercials), so it certainly takes a while to get sick of the soundtrack, and it's likely that any given moment there'll be SOMETHING you don't mind listening to on (and silence is always an option if not.) An added perk of the PC version is that, like the previous game, you can dump MP3s into a game folder which will be played on a custom station, but the game seems to be picky about the formatting of the MP3 files and if you try to use ones it doesn't like, it just suspends all the radio stations.
Rockstar's massive loot piles also apparently extended to allow them to pick up an interesting range of voice talent. Ray Liotta manages to make main character Tommy Vercetti personable and memorable, where he would have been rather bland otherwise. Lesser roles are filled by Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, Luis Guzman, Danny Trejo, Gary Busey, Lee Majors (
), Debbie Harry, Fairuza Balk and Gary Busey. Even Jenna Jameson is brought in for a frivolous role, and in a cute touch, Tommy's on-again off-again partner is voiced by Phillip Michael Hoffman (the black guy from Miami Vice.) As it happens, however, they all do their jobs pretty well, except poor Dennis Hopper who sounds like he wants to get back to his meds and bed as soon as possible.
Being that the same engine is re-used, the gameplay is fundamentally the same as that of GTA3 (which is chiefly why I went into such detail about the music and sound first!) A range of motorcycles, from fat hard-to-handle Harley clones to pizza delivery mopeds, have been added to the vehicle mix and have pleasing control and physics. Maybe a little less pleasing are the helicopters and planes, which feel like the designers had too much of a misplaced concern for "realism" over fun when it comes to wrestling with the controls, but which are also largely optional in their use. There's also a slightly greater range of boats, and a higher overall vehicle count than in the previous. The police aren't really any more smart or skilled, but there's an extra wanted star level (though attaining it is near-impossible.) At three stars, the Vice unit (a pair of Crockett and Tubbs lookalikes in a sports car) will be on your tail, and at five stars paramilitary commandos will rappel down from omnipresent helicopters to try to machine-gun you to death.
I didn't think the missions here were notably better or worse than in the previous game. I've seen complaints from a few different online sources bemoaning the fact that the missions here are more rigid and offer less in the way of individual creative solutions to get through them, but I really didn't find that to be true. As in the previous game, there's actually only a few missions where you are really free to come up with your own off-the-wall tactics, and most of them keep you within a pretty strict set of parameters. I thought this game's missions were notably toned down with only a few really challenging, cuss-fit-inducing ones. The game also gives you more flexibility in completing the story mode, having you choose from a few different sets of missions of which not all are required to advance the story to completion (but all remain available even after the ending credits roll.) I thought that, on the whole, missions were improved here at least a bit. I could actually finish everything in this one without cheating, whereas I couldn't even come close to finishing GTA 3's final couple of missions without weapon cheats.
The PC version of the game offers a few benefits over the console ports. Aside from the ability to aim with the mouse - a vast improvement over the console controls - this version has the sharpest and most detailed graphics, allows you to insert your own MP3s (with some amount of difficulty), and is highly moddable. There's official support for new player skins, with an in-game menu, and over the years players have hacked in all manner of vehicle, weapon and character mods. There's even a multiplayer hack by the name of Multi-Theft Auto and a couple of total conversions.
"That's some fine police work there Lou"
Map of properties/safehouses
Web archive of TheGFCC.com
(primo modding site from back in the day)
Vice City vehicle gallery
Wiki soundtrack info
Kent Paul's 80s Nostalgia Zone
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