Despite its many technical problems I couldn’t help but be impressed with Rockstar’s first Grand Theft Auto game for the PSP, Liberty City Stories. It represented the first time a 3D version of the series had shown up on a portable game system, and lo and behold they managed to make it work surprisingly well. Here we are one year later and Rockstar is back with their second attempt at the franchise on Sony’s PlayStation Portable, and not only have they managed to improve on the original’s experience, but they’ve created one of the best portable games I have ever seen.
Welcome to Vice City … again. This is Vice City Stories, a prequel to 2002’s runaway PlayStation 2 hit, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Set in 1984, Vice City Stories is the beginning of the modern Grand Theft Auto tale. As you might expect from a prequel like this, Vice City Stories manages to introduce us to several popular characters and makes a lot of fun of things that eventually happen in future installments. The game still does offer a few PSP specific quirks, but ultimately this is a much smoother game than Liberty City Stories. The Grand Theft Auto series has never been known for its flawless technical prowess, so expecting such from a handheld game is unrealistic.
Vice City Stories tells the tale of Vic Vance, brother of Lance Vance (who you may remember from his turn in the original Vice City). After being drummed out of the Army, Vic finds himself running missions in order to make money to support your ailing brother. At first Vic seems completely against the idea of doing any kind of illegal activity, but it doesn’t take long before he gives in and spends the rest of the game delivering drugs, running from the police and killing hundreds of people.
Eventually Lance Vance shows up in Vice City to create some real problems. Together Vic and Lance piss off a bunch of drug lords and other gangster types and are forced to figure out a bunch of creative ways to keep the heat off of them. In your time in Vice City you will meet a number of memorable characters, including an abusive white trash husband, a pre-op transsexual, a whole lot of Cubans, and even Phil Collins. Yes, that Phil Collins.
The game’s progression is no different from that of any Grand Theft Auto title; you make your way from mission to mission in a semi-non linear fashion. That’s to say, you will occasionally have the choice of which mission you want to do first, ultimately leading you through several different story lines that eventually get wrapped up in a fairly satisfying way. If you’ve played any of Rockstar Games’ recent games you will no doubt recognize what’s going on here, this is all standard stuff by now and it’s clear that Vice City Stories is not trying to reinvent the franchise.
Rockstar Games is often hailed as one of the few game developers that really understands how to weave an interesting story. While that’s definitely true here, early on this game asks you to trust it. Although Vic starts the game as a new Army recruit, he’ll be asked to do some pretty questionable acts. Literally the first thing you do is secure some drugs, kill a bunch of Cubans and pick up a hooker for your superior officer, Sgt. Martinez. All of this seems a little out of place at first, but eventually the story calms down and turns into a traditional Grand Theft Auto plot.
The area of Vice City is largely unchanged from the version found in the 2002 Grand Theft Auto game. It’s an island city that is an homage to the fictional movie versions of Miami, Florida. If you loved Miami Vice or Scarface (the movie, not the terrible game) then you’ll feel right at home with this over-the-top location. Initially Vice City is split into two large sections connected by four bridges. At first you will only be able to access the western half of the city, but after completing a few missions you will be able to go wherever your heart desires.
Where Liberty City was a dark and depressing metropolis setting, Vice City brings a lot of vibrant colors to your PSP. There’s just something uplifting about motoring around the beach locale, full of women in bikinis and beautiful sunsets. It doesn’t matter that you’re being asked to do some of the most dastardly acts known to man; it just feels a lot more upbeat when you’re doing it in the gorgeous weather of Vice City.
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