Aaaah, the 80’s. It’s a pity that many of you are too young to have lived in the 80’s, because it was quite a time. Pastels, stonewashed designer jeans, neon, flashy cars, big hair – the 80’s had it all. Embarrassing? Oh sure, in the extreme. And yet it had a flavor, a sound, a style that was instantly identifiable as belonging to no other era. Now, you might play Vice City and ask yourself, “It’s a parody, right?” You’d be wrong. It’s the 80’s that were the parody, and Vice City got it just right.
In the previous GTA, you played Tommy Vercetti, a strong, silent type. You’re still Vercetti in this one, only now you’re practically a chatty Kathy (voiced by Ray Liotta). Filled with one-liners and smarmy comments, I had originally thought it would start to grate on me, that I liked the silent Vercetti, but I’m OK with the new you too. You are surrounded by a B-movie star studded cast, most of whose names I couldn’t place from their voices, but I would often be like – oh yeah, that’s the guy who used to play the cop on that series with the dog. OK, so my memory’s not too good. Did I mention that in the 80’s cocaine was rampant? Your erstwhile sidekick is named Lance (only in the 80’s could guys get away with a name like Lance). The two of you together have a very Crockett and Tubbs thing going like in Miami Vice, which Vice City clearly borrows heavily from. The yuks run fast and furious – pay attention or you might miss some.
The gameplay in Vice City remains, essentially, unchanged from GTA3 - steal cars, drive, shoot people, get paid. Enough creativity has gone into the missions, almost too many to count, that Vice City with no other changes could almost stand alone as a game, or at least a heck of an expansion pack. And yet Rockstar Games has made a tremendous number of tweaks to the physics, graphics, weapons, and AI, and in general everything just flows more smoothly. The car models all drive very differently, with good collision models. Weapons include handguns, semi-automatic, automatic, and sniper weapons as well as rocket launchers and such. There are also a number of manual combat weapons like a hammer, crowbar, chainsaw, and samurai sword, but as a whole I’d have to say that they all behave pretty much the same way. You can go inside many more of the buildings than you could in GTA3, and some of them leave a lot of room for mayhem such as the shopping mall. Ever drive a motorcycle inside a shopping mall? Now is your chance. The AI has been enhanced across the board. The cops are far from stupid, ducking, dodging, and seeking cover from gunfire, and not every average Joe is going to give up so quickly when you try and carjack him. I’ve had cars I’m trying to carjack run me down instead, and guys I pushed off a motorcycle so I could steal it got right back up and pushed me off! In fact, the entire game has been increased somewhat in difficulty – be prepared to do many missions more than once to get them right. A nifty addition from GTA3 is that when you die a taxi shows up to take you quickly to the spot where your last mission began. It only costs a couple of bucks, and it’s a great time saver.
And speaking of money, money in the last game became pretty much meaningless early on, as you very quickly had enough money to keep yourself in guns and what more did you need it for? In Vice City, and I see this as a stroke of genius on the part of Rockstar Games, you can use money to buy buildings – in fact the point of the game is pretty much to take over Miami. Some of the buildings simply become new bases, allowing you to save the game there and store some cars, but others open up new missions. I bought a movie studio, and am working to make, as near as I can tell, a pornographic fishing movie. I know it involves a very large shark model and a boat, and a woman named Candy Suxxx. Did I mention that this game is probably not for kids?
While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the game non-linear, there are a tremendous number of side missions that you can chose to do (or not to do) in any order you like. And if you come up against a particularly difficult mission, you can go off and do something else for awhile (though ultimately if the mission is part of the plotline you’re going to have to get through it somehow). At one time I counted seven separate mission trees cooking along, and I suspect it could go even a little higher than that depending on what businesses you buy.
The graphics engine has gotten a facelift and looks great, supporting resolutions waaaay higher than my computer can manage. In fact, to get it to go smoothly at 1280 x 720, I had to do a little housekeeping, defrag the drive, and clean out the system tray. The radio stations are back, sporting hours and hours of new audio. Much of the music this time around are clips from actual 80’s songs – the last game had mostly parodies and sound-alikes. Once again I found myself most often listening to KCHAT, the talk radio station, and an NPR parody called VCPR. The streets are full of screams, horns, gunshots – just like any large city.
If the game has one weakness, and as near as I can tell, it really only has one real weakness, it is in the controls for flight. A few missions, a blessedly few missions, involve flying, mostly a helicopter. I’ve never seen a more awkward or opaque flight control system for a helicopter. It was almost all I could to do keep the damned thing airborne. On the other hand, the motorcycles (four styles – dirtbike, fat boy, speedbike, and moped) all drive like a dream and are a good change of pace, though they don’t offer much in the way of protection in an accident.
I personally see Vice City as very near the perfect game. It’s engrossing, has a speedy learning curve, and is packed with action. You can play for just an hour, or be sucked in for hours on end. Though I have to warn you that several times I intended to play for just an hour, only to find myself several hours past with no idea where the time had gone. I suppose with a great game, that’s always a risk.