Last year, Rockstar and DMA unleashed Grand Theft Auto 3
onto the unsuspecting populous. While the first three entries in the series had managed to garner a cult following, the series never achieved the mainstream success that it enjoyed last November. The series had finally hit the big time and in the process, solidified its position in the overly crowded marketplace. It breathed life not only into the Playstation 2 but also into the entire gaming world, causing other companies to commission titles that will include similar ideas and themes. Being that they were first out of the gate, the masters of the genre have set out to dominate the marketplace for a second straight year. A lot of pressure has been placed on the shoulders of this talented team of programmers to deliver another surefire hit. How did they do? Let’s just say they’ve got ice water in their veins.GTA 3
has often been seen as the pinnacle of gaming. It was showered by critical acclaim from all of the top sites and media outlets and for good cause, the game was just an amazing experience that successfully broke the shackles of confinement that had haunted video gaming since the day it was born. Though the game had quite a few flaws, gamers were willing to persevere these shortcomings, a testament to the game’s addictive nature. There a question that is often asked yet rarely answered, how does one improve upon perfection? Enter Grand Theft Auto Vice City
, the prequel to last year’s game that improves upon its predecessor in nearly every conceivable way.
Since this is a prequel, it takes place well before the events of GTA 3
and though the game isn’t exactly story driven, it’s still nice to see the designers are committed enough to fill gamers in on the past of their favorite mobster errand boy. The ordering of the games is very much akin to Grand Theft Auto
and GTA London
in terms of succession and timeline. The game now takes place in Vice City, which is basically a spin off of Miami Vice that thankfully omits the presence of Don Johnson though the music and cheesy threads remain intact. Instead of taking place in a sort of modern day alternate universe, we enter the time machine and are thrown back to the mid 80’s, back when Flock of Sea Gulls was tolerable and the boys wore more makeup than the girls.
The game begins with a startup sequence of the old Commodore 64, a nice touch that will probably go unnoticed by half of the people that see it. Afterwards you’re treated to a nice sequence of cutscenes, leading up to a drug deal gone awry where Tom, our protagonist, barely manages to escape with his life. After dealing with his mob boss, Tom sets out to find the bastards who set him up and of course, recover the lost goods. This time around, we learn the origins of our main protagonist. As opposed to GTA 3
, more emphasis has been placed on the development of Tom than the rest of the mafia. He has now been given a voice and plays a much larger role in the grand scheme of things than just that of an underling. Voiced by straight to video actor Ray Liotta, he’s chocked full of attitude and he’ll express his feelings on the situations at hand. The end result is a character that is much deeper and multidimensional than before, causing the gamer to actually take a vested interest in the person and the actions and events surrounding him.
Of course the rest of the characters are voiced by some of Hollywood’s top vocal talent, including Dennis Hopper, Tom Sizemore, Burt Reynolds, Phillip Michael Thomas, and Gary Busey. Perennial porn star, Jenna Jamison, also lends her voice to the cast as well as former New York Giants great, Lawrence Taylor, but their roles are significantly less than those of the top billings. Again, the story is told through a series of excellently produced cutscenes that feature interaction between Tom and the rest of the characters. Like last year’s game, each of the lines are delivered with amazing feeling and accuracy, almost as if each of the characters are living and breathing beings. Again, this makes for memorable characters that hit closer to the player as he starts to relate to them and their lives.
The gameplay remains virtually unchanged although the setting has moved from the big city to the beach. There are still some heavily industrial downtown areas but much more emphasis has been placed on the Miami lifestyle and swagger. Since this game takes place in the 80s, you can expect to see the entire world populated with tons of neon signs that are meant to be decorative, but prove to be an eyesore. Of course you’ll also see blatant overuse of that ugly shade of neon pink that really seemed to be all the rage in the 80s. It’s all over the place, from the clothes, to the vehicles, to the objective arrows; it’s both a nice knock and a nice homage to the most forgettable decade of the 20th century.
Some new features have been added that really go a long way in improving the onscreen action. First and foremost, you’ll now have the ability to crouch. This not only helps you shield yourself behind objects, but it also helps improve accuracy for your weapons. As you progress through the game you’ll be given the option of purchasing legitimate businesses such as a strip club in order to earn some cash on the side. You can now bail out of moving vehicles as opposed to having to stop them completely. This does a number of things, it allows you to avoid danger that you weren’t expecting, it allows you to use the car as a projectile against a horde of enemies, and it allows you to escape from a burning vehicle with much more ease. The targeting system has been reworked quite a bit but still proves to be far too clunky than it should be. The PC port GTA 3
showed that a viable targeting system is indeed possible so there is absolutely no excuse for this ineptitude.
There is also a whole new assortment of weapons but they’re mostly interchangeable with the exception of a few key ones. The chainsaw is by far, the best weapon in the history of video gaming and in a small nod to id Software and Doom
, the guys at Rockstar have included it here for your own sadistic pleasures. Not only can you chop your foes to pieces but doing so will send blood flying in all directions, causing it to splatter on your screen.
All of the vehicles are entirely new and appear to be earlier models of the vehicles that appeared in GTA 3
. As you cause mayhem and violence, you’ll come across a few familiar names. Each of them is beautifully modeled and appears to have increased in poly count in a highly significant manner. There are more areas of damage and the tires can now be blown out to slow down a potential escapee. They are much more refined and featured some beautiful design touches that make them unique and appealing. The handling also seems to have been reworked to add a more slippery ‘boat on wheels’ sort of feeling that was a must for vehicles in the 80s. They are much harder to control this time around and have a much higher tendency to lose control during tight turns and high speed driving. Of course the amazing physics also make a return and seem even more realistic this time. Cruising around the cityscape is a blast and you’ll no doubt want to check out the various vehicles that make an appearance.
Then there’s the business of the motorcycles, by far, the most entertaining addition to this year’s game. You’ll be able to steal mopeds, choppers and performance bikes this time around. All it takes is a swift elbow to the face of the current owner and the bike is yours. Bikes were included in the previous iterations of GTA
but were omitted from GTA3
for undisclosed reasons, now they’re back with a vengeance. They’re awesome to ride and are a blast to control. You’ll be able to pop wheelies, stand up on the seats and fire forward with a machine gun. The animations are well done too, you’ll see your character’s shirt flap in the wind as he picks up speed, he’ll lean into turns and he’ll even place a foot on the pavement to help guide himself through sharp turns. Best of all, colliding with objects will send your character hurling through the air just like you’d expect in real life. You’ll definitely want to check out the bikes in this year’s game as they have become a favorite around the GN offices.
Making a return are the excellent radio stations and for this round, we’re treated (or subjected) to an amazing collection of real life 80s music. Rockstar managed to snag great groups like Flock of Seagulls, Zapp and Roger, Nena, Blondie, Hall & Oates and much much more. Just looking at the musical credits in the back of the manual could cause someone to have a massive headache, there are so many artists listed as contributing to the soundtrack that it truly is amazing. Massive amounts of time must have been spent to acquire the rights to use all of these artists’ songs and I feel that Rockstar should be commended for their efforts. It’s not like they just went to one label and scooped up all of the artists either, the songs in the game come from literally dozens of different record labels. The music is just amazing and it’s awesome to have some licensed music to go along with all the murder and mayhem.
What makes the music so great this time around is the massive selection available for you to choose from. Chances are, GTA Vice City
will have songs that can cater to every single audience out there. It successfully touches all of the major bases by selecting the best titles available to represent their respective genres. That means that you’ll get rockin’ 80s tunes like 99 Luft Balloons
and More Bounce to the Ounce
and less tunes from forgettable bands like Heart and The Culture Club. Talk radio also makes a return although it’s not nearly as funny as the version hosted by Laslow last time around. There are some truly great musical selections in here and if you’re in the mid 30’s and you wish to relive your youth, you’ll no doubt be pleased by what GTA VC
’s soundtrack has to offer. It would have been nice had there been an option to create a custom soundtrack out of the available songs but I’m willing to forgive this omission.
Visually the game has in a few respects, although you probably won’t notice it at first. While GTA 3
featured some pretty detailed landscapes, GTAVC
completely blows it out of the water. After playing VC
the environments of GTA3
just look barren and plain. You’ll see much more foliage and roadside objects, many more buildings that feature unique designs and architecture and overall, just much more detail. There are now interior areas for you to explore such as a mansion and a shopping mall. Nightfall brings the city to life, lighting up the entire city in an extravagant display of highly stylized neon lights. The main character seems to have been refined quite a bit and although he still looks a bit too lanky, he’s much more soothing for the eyes. He actually seems to have progressed quite a bit and in many ways looks like a cross between WWE Owner Vince McMahon and Shawn Stasiak. Judging by the screenshots, you might expect the game to have faced a revelation of some sorts in the graphics department, that is until you see it in action for yourself.
Due to the massive scale of the game, this game cannot visually compare to the other top tier titles. The blatant overuse of motion blur (a great way to hide dropping frame rates) makes a triumphant return and strikes nearly ever portion of the game. Problems arise during the custscenes when you realize that the models could have benefited from a few more polygons. Characters often look out of place during the numerous cutscenes; it often looks as if they’re floating across the floors as opposed to walking across them. Their arm movements and mannerisms are also pretty weak and cannot match what the other premier PS2 titles are doing. While much of the game has been improved it still looks like a game that is a year old and in this respect, the game often looks old and dated. Sure you’ll see some neat visual tricks to add a surreal feeling to the game here and there but the game just isn’t much to look at anymore. Last year’s game wasn’t a very impressive visual treat but managed to pass in the graphics department because there was just so much to display and render. There are a few neat tricks thrown in here and there such as trees that sway and water that actually splashes onto your screen, but it’s not enough to overcome the graphical deficiencies. Pop up runs rampant and seems to have grown to become an even larger problem. Roadside objects are now affected by the pop-up, sometimes a dumpster or an indestructible object will magically appear out of thin air to impede your progress. To put it frankly the graphics look old and dated and are only saved by the tremendous overuse of the industry’s best eye-tricks. Grand Theft Auto Vice City
is an excellent game but the fact of the matter is, if you hated last year’s game then this won’t do much to change your perspective on the series. Most of the same problems from last year’s game live on in this expansion pack of some sorts and while some of them have been addressed, they’re still as inept as ever. The same braindead AI that crippled GTA3
makes a return appearance and is more annoying than ever. In a level where I was to infiltrate a boss’ house, an AI teammate accompanied me in hopes of obtaining some sweet revenge. As we fought our way, strike that, as I fought our way to the boss’ room, he did the logical thing and stood in the line of fire. Of course he held a weapon in his hand the whole time but apparently he had no idea how to use it so what did he do? He got in my way, every time I tried to move to get a clear shot at the boss he would just follow me and block my path. The AI coding in last year’s game was horribly inept and it’s just as bad here as it was there. Other times you’ll be on missions where you must protect someone but they’ll inadvertently get stuck on a piece of the level and you’ll have to go back and retrieve them. The pathfinding AI is just horrible and it carries over to the enemy AI as well.
Most of the time they’ll just stand there and act as fodder for you and your heavy arsenal. Often times you’ll hear gunshots only to discover that it’s an enemy who has been firing into a wall for the past 5 minutes. Missions only become difficult when the numbers are heavily skewed towards that of the opposition, as it appears that the first rule of becoming a thug is to get a lobotomy. Take this case into point; an enemy stands guard on top of a building with a sniper rifle. A cutscene shows two of my people run along a path and get cut down by his amazing aim. What happens next? Tom and the group that he is fighting alongside safely run up to the point where the two guys were shot and I am ordered to take out the sniper. Suddenly he can’t find the trigger and I have all day to take him out with my own sniper rifle. It seems like the missions have great premises and promise but there just isn’t enough structure to them to make them operate to their full potential.
The camera still proves to be the game’s weakest aspect, it often gets caught on objects and swings around frantically for no apparent reason. Most times it feels like it’s far too close to the action and conceals what is happening in the near vicinity. Then there is the problem when you’re just trying to look and see what is going on around you, namely, you can’t. The first person look mode is still available but it’s not a viable solution to the game. Having to stand still just so that I can see who’s shooting me is ridiculous. Had Rockstar allowed the right analog stick to control the camera while you move with the left analog stick, there would be no problem. Combat also seems to be relatively unchanged and suffers from the same problems as before.Grand Theft Auto Vice City
isn’t for everyone though and if GTA3
failed to hold your interest, I recommend you stay away from this one. However, if you were one of the millions who succumbed to the addictive nature of the series then you’ll definitely want to pick this one up. While there is a lot to loathe about the game the goods far outweigh the bad. Rockstar has successfully carried the torch in this year’s iteration to deliver an amazing game that really does live up to the hype. They have refined many of the game’s aspects, delivering a title that is much more polished and pristine than we could have ever imagined. There’s enough depth here to drown a bus full of Mormons and in the end, isn’t that what we’ve always wished for? Now excuse me while I hit these hoes up for some cash.
Thug life gettin' you down? Then check out BradyGames' excellent strategy guide that features walkthrus for all of the game's missions. In addition to the walkthrus there is also a guide detailing the locations of all the elusive hidden packages and other assorted goodies. Hit up BradyGames.com for all the goods
Rockstar returns to deliver another great title that suffers the same flaws as its predecessors. While the flaws tend to hinder the gameplay, it's still enjoyable by nearly everyone in the market. A definite pickup for those who are even mildly interested.