One of the biggest problems I had with last year's Grand Theft Auto game, Liberty City Stories, was that the missions were too short and simple. When Rockstar decided to release their first PSP Grand Theft Auto title they chose to simplify everything hoping that it would allow for a more pick-up-and-play style of game play. This doomed their PlayStation 2 port of Liberty City Stories, which looked a little too primitive when compared to other games in the series. Thankfully Rockstar decided to scrap those short missions and make their second PSP game play more like a traditional Grand Theft Auto game, something that works in the favor of this PlayStation 2 port. 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 what we saw in last year's Liberty City Stories port. Vice City Stories still looks better as a PSP game (there's something about the small screen that hides the game's imperfections), but it 's also not as homely as what we dealt with in the PS2 Liberty City Stories. Everything runs a lot smoother and there's not nearly as much pop-in as we saw in the last 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 just like they did in the original PlayStation 2 game. That's the biggest problem; while I had a lot of fun flying around on my portable system it just didn't feel as cool on the PlayStation 2. Flying in a Grand Theft Auto game just isn't as novel anymore, we've been doing that on the PlayStation 2 for the past five years. It's definitely nice to have, but there's just something about it that isn't as cool as it was when I was playing the PSP game. Sadly that goes for the whole experience, nothing about this PlayStation 2 game feels as exciting or fresh as it was when it hit Sony's handheld.
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.
It wouldn't be a Grand Theft Auto game without a great set of radio stations to choose from, and Vice City Stories definitely doesn't disappoint. If you're one of the millions of gamers who played Liberty City Stories last year then chances are you noticed that the soundtrack was not up to snuff. It's not that the music was bad, but given its 1990s setting most people were hoping for some big name bands, perhaps a Nirvana, Metallica, Pearl Jam or something. Instead we got a bunch of no-name artists cluttering up the airwaves.
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