Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PlayStation 2) review
"It was back in the days of the PlayStation that Rockstar Games first gave us a taste of the criminal lifestyle in Grand Theft Auto. For many, the game was just too controversial, while for some it lacked direction, and for others it was too graphically lacking. But quite a few people also loved the game because of the open ended nature of it. You could literally choose your own path through the game. At the time, this kind of freedom was almost unheard of. The game admittedly looked awful, but t..."
It was back in the days of the PlayStation that Rockstar Games first gave us a taste of the criminal lifestyle in Grand Theft Auto. For many, the game was just too controversial, while for some it lacked direction, and for others it was too graphically lacking. But quite a few people also loved the game because of the open ended nature of it. You could literally choose your own path through the game. At the time, this kind of freedom was almost unheard of. The game admittedly looked awful, but this was because of the technical limitations of the machines at the time.
Move on a few years, and the PlayStation 2 is available. And, it is a technical powerhouse. So much so, that when Rockstar released GTA3, it was instantly hailed as a classic of its time. For the first time ever, the game looked as good as the concept behind it. GTA3 became one of the biggest sellers of all time, and with good reason. Many people list it as the best game of all time. Not to mention the sheer notoriety of the game.
So, how on Earth do you follow that? Well, Rockstar are in the unenviable position of not needing to. Just releasing the same game with new missions would have appeased fans of the series. They have done this before with the London 1969 add-on for the original game, which was pretty well-received. Of course, add-ons are more synonymous with the PC than with consoles, and since GTA is now PlayStation exclusive, an add-on might have been risky.
There is no need to fear. This game is not an add-on. What we have on our hands is nothing less than a complete revamp of the original game. And, quite importantly, one that improves on pretty much every single aspect of a game that edged extremely close to perfection already.
The improvements are not instantly noticeable, however. In fact, for the first hour or so of playing, you may feel like you have wasted your money. Yes, you spot the new look right away, but the style may not be to everybodys taste. The game is set in 1986, and it looks just like 1986. This is strangely off-putting for a while, the dark cityscape of Liberty City being replaced with the bright and colourful settings of Vice City. The game does a fantastic job of catching the atmosphere of Miami, and you genuinely feel like you are in an episode of Miami Vice. The radio stations even play actual hits of the time, and this adds greatly to the atmosphere when you suddenly hear Blondie blaring out with Atomic.
Another possible problem is that you are playing a definite character this time. You are Tommy Vercetti, who has been sent down by the families to ready the way for their arrival, when a deal goes wrong, and you have to sort everything out. Giving your character a voice detracts from the appeal of the game slightly, in my opinion. This is just a personal thing, though, and it may not bother you. I have always liked the anonymity, being just a hired driver who makes his own way through the criminal underworld.
At first, this new feel is a bit of a problem. Because, at first, you don't know your way around this city, and the new look to the game throws you off a little. But, give it a little time, and you soon start to learn your way around. And this breeds comfort with the game, which in turn allows you to start enjoying yourself again. You start exploring the city, to see what it holds. The sense of awe as you explored the surroundings in Liberty City is something that was never going to be easy to replicate. To be honest, that sense is gone. The city doesn't feel like it has the same character to start with. You are left feeling decidedly non-plussed. Could it be that the most eagerly anticipated game in years is going to be an anticlimax?
Not a bit of it. Eventually the new features in the game take you over, and you find yourself loving the game as much as the original. From the moment you climb onto a motorcycle for the first time, the game gets a hook on you that just doesn't exist in any other title.
Everything you loved about the first game is here again, but it has all been tweaked to perfection. The already impressive range of vehicles has been extended, and they now act more like real drivers are inside them, often running you down. The variety of pedestrians on display is also quite astonishing. The police are more determined, and there are now more ways to get rid of them. There are also more places to hide from them, which leads me to the whole reason that this game is so much better than the original.
In the previous game you were limited to one hideout per island. In this game, you have much more choice. All you need to do is to buy a safehouse, and then you can hide there. Don't worry, this doesn't make the game too easy, as the houses are all quite expensive. And in this game, money is a serious commodity. It is harder to get, and easier to lose than ever before. No longer are you rewarded for slaying countless innocent victims. (Something I have always thought detracted from the games.) In Vice City, you need to work for your money, and you also need to spend it wisely.
Earning money is not just limited to missions. You can still moonlight as a taxi-driver, or any of the other side-missions. But there are new jobs on offer too. Fancy yourself as a pizza delivery boy? Go ahead. Want some risky high-return work? Then try turning your hand to sticking up convenience stores. The game even offers assassination contracts later on. Every time you think you have reached the limits of your freedom, the game throws a new trick at you. From the ability to enter the buildings, to the ability to buy new items of clothing, this game really does allow you to do almost anything you can think of doing. Get hold of a policemans uniform, and enter the station to see what I mean.
I am trying to find something negative to say, and for once I am stuck. Some may find the game too challenging, since money plays such a huge part. For me, this is only an improvement, but not everybody will like it. For anyone who was a fan of the original, this game is worth every single second of the wait. Whatever you liked about the original is here again, only bigger, and with more variety. In short, this is a triumph. From the clothing, to the helicopters, to the higher challenge, and even down to the golf carts everything about this game just screams out quality. The extreme violence may not be to everybodys taste, but I would implore people to look past that.
As sequels go, this is ideal. Anyone familiar with the previous game will be right at home instantly, and yet learners are catered for in a not too intrusive manner. As games go, this is pretty much the benchmark by which all other games will be judged. Your collection is simply not complete without it.
Community review by cheekylee (November 09, 2002)
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