Grand Theft Auto III and its sequel, Vice City, delivered the fun to such an extent that revisiting their respective cities sounded like a fabulous idea the minute the credits started rolling. We were introduced to a new city and a new anti-hero with San Andreas and Carl Johnson a few years later, and the first trailer for GTA IV will go live on March 30, 2007. In the meantime, Rockstar decided to give us another glimpse into the lives of the characters we met in GTAIII with its side story title Liberty City Stories, and now they’re going to tell us a few extra tales from the most decadent neighborhood in the most decadent of decades… Vice City.
Like its predecessor, Vice City stories is a PS2 port from a game originally designed for Sony’s PSP handheld and as such comes complete with all the limitations of that platform. PS2 versions of PSP games tend to look very cheap, as the display resolutions of a PSP title look fuzzier and a bit washed out when blown up for PS2 gameplay. Vice City Stories is no exception. Add in the fact (or should subtract be the right word?) that the multiplayer modes present on the PSP have been removed, and what you end up with is a bit of a “hobbled” experience. For the $20 price, however, Vice City stories does a very good job at giving players a small, fresh taste of what made them love the series in the first place.
A prequel to Vice City, VC Stories takes place in a time shortly before the first game in the Miami-esque city during the 1980’s. All of the neon lights, gaudy clothing and substance-free music of the time are here in full force, as it should be, even if the storyline contains more holes than a pre-torn pair of stone-washed jeans. The felonious fun of the game is very present and very over-the-top with a solid frame-rate, and the mission structure is very “quick and dirty” (a fundamental design choice for a handheld title with a mean play time of twenty minutes). The complex mission “stages” normally found in a full-tilt GTA title is trimmed down to more simple, straightforward challenges, except this time around they haven’t been over-simplified like they were with Liberty City Stories.
Players control the life of Vic Vance, the brother of Vice City mainstay Lance Vance, who has just enlisted in the Army. Right off the bat, our “hero” is leagued up with some sociopath that has nothing but nefarious schemes on his mind and eventually, you guessed it, Vic is off committing more crimes than Tony Montana. The plot of this side-story installment should not be scrutinized too closely. Players will recognize many characters within the story, as old favorites (Ricardo Diaz, Phil Cassidy, Umberto Robina et al) return for more hijinks, plus a couple of new players to round out the cast.
Even on this smaller scale, the endemic control issues found in the GTA titles have returned. Auto aiming weapons and melee combat is still a bit of a clunky, “gotta get used to it” affair that should have been tweaked to perfection many titles ago. The driving mechanic is the same as it has always been, although the vehicles on the sultry “Miami” pavement can fishtail very easily and at times be a real challenge to control.
The sound design is back in its top-notch form, with the voice actors delivering great performances (Phillip Michael Thomas, Gary Busey, Danny Trejo and Luis Guzman, etc) and the sound effects are exactly as they have been since 2001. Where Vice City Stories shines (and where it has always shined) is in its soundtrack (the vehicles radio stations). The original Vice City is arguably the best soundtrack ever produced for a game, even if the content is the mindless fun the music scene in the 80s was, and Vice City Stories follows in stride! Such memorable tunes as Scorpion’s “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” Scandal’s “The Warrior,” Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” and many, many more hits round out the “I remember that tune!” factor very nicely.
Vice City Stories on the PS2 is a great return trip to the seediest of cities, but a short one at that. The fact that the game itself is a port over from a handheld will hamper the experience for some, but the nice $20 price tag more than makes up for it. The experience is a great deal more entertaining than the previous effort (Liberty City Stories), so if you enjoyed Vice City for the PS2 and don’t own a PSP, go ahead and pick this one up. GTA IV is on its way and is likely to set the franchise on its ear, so this will serve as a nice “reminiscence” of where we have been before we leap into the future and plunder yet another city.