One of the biggest problems I had with last year’s Grand Theft Auto game was that the missions were too short and simple. To make the game more accessible for the portable Rockstar decided to make it possible to beat all of the missions in only a few minutes, which really limited the types of things you could do in the game. Too much of that game was spent just driving people around and gunning people down, it just didn’t feel like the Grand Theft Auto games we are used to. Thankfully Rockstar got the memo, because Vice City Stories ditches the short missions and offers us lengthy tasks that have multiple parts. Now a mission may have three or four different things to do before you complete it, which certainly goes a long way to make this feel like a traditional Grand Theft Auto experience. This also makes the game a lot more difficult than before, but it’s no more difficult than what we saw in San Andreas.
While it’s true that most of Vice City Stories is the same old formula that worked in all of the other Grand Theft Auto games, there is at least one interesting piece of game play added to the mix. Well, “interesting” may be overselling it a bit. This time around you will be able to build up businesses and go on connected missions. There are a few dozen businesses scattered around Vice City, each requiring you to evict the current owners (generally by starting a big gang war) and starting anew. When the businesses are in your control you will be able to choose between several different types of jobs, including money laundering, drug dealing, prostitution and so on. As you take over these various businesses you will gain extra money which you can use to buy new weapons and land. There are missions associated with these businesses, but they are wholly uninteresting and certainly not worth talking about. While I like that Rockstar is trying something new, there’s something about this aspect of the game that doesn’t feel right when you’re going through the rest of the game.
Vice City Stories manages to upgrade the Liberty City Stories engine in a number of substantial ways, many of which you will immediately notice. For one thing the graphics are significantly better than they were in last year’s PSP Grand Theft Auto. Everything runs a lot smoother and there’s not nearly as much pop-in as we saw in last year’s model. Better yet, this time around you will actually be able to swim … which makes a whole lot of sense with all that pesky water everywhere. Since Tommy Vercetti never took swimming lessons as a kid, this is the first time you will be able to adventure into the Vice City water without a boat of some kind.
One of the biggest improvements over Liberty City Stories comes in the way of helicopters. Just like in the original Vice City, players will have a chance to take to the skies and explore the tops of buildings. The helicopter controls feel pretty good on the PSP; I ended up having a lot of fun just flying around the city while playing it on the go. There are a few pop-in problems associated with the helicopters, but they are kept to a minimum and aren’t very distracting.
Along with the helicopters you will also notice that the speed boats and jet skis have been completely overhauled. No longer are the water crafts something to avoid, now it’s actually a lot of fun to speed through the clear Vice City waterways. As I piloted by jet ski from one island to the other I couldn’t help but be reminded of Nintendo’s classic Wave Race series, which is certainly an improvement over what we’ve seen in past Grand Theft Auto outings. There are still a few water vehicles that will drive you crazy (I’m looking at you, hovercraft), but you will be able to avoid most of those in the course of the game.
Although it doesn’t play a major role in the game, it’s worth mentioning that Rockstar decided to add the bicycle made famous in San Andreas. I didn’t notice it until late into the game, but after I located my first bike I ended up ripping through the town in a way that seemed more personal than before.
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