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Review: Grand Theft Auto Vice City (PC)

Posted in Action,PC,Reviews by Shawn Wallace on 24 2003f May 2003

Greed.  Corruption.  Hawaiian shirts.  This just about sums up the mid-80’s in Miami, Florida.  However, in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (GTAVC) you get one more small variable; guns.  You play Tommy Vercetti, an up-and-comer in the crime world, fresh out of the joint.  You’re sent on what is to be a fairly routine mission for a crime boss and you end up vying for your own stake in Vice City’s web of fear.  It’s a glove that fits Tommy Vercetti nicely.

Those familiar with Grand Theft Auto 3 will be right at home in the GTAVC universe.  For the most part the control scheme and overall feel of the game is the same.  It takes mere moments to get everything set up and rolling.  I did experience some fluctuations with the EAX3 implementation (as did others I consulted with as well) but moving this back to basic DirectSound support fixes any aural glitches there may be.

Upon insertion in the game you’ll find yourself set in a clone of Miami, Florida called (appropriately) Vice City.  During your stay you’ll make contacts with unreputable business, meet new and interesting people… and kill them.  Seriously though, one of the great features of GTAVC is the game’s reliance on you interacting with the in-game characters.  As you proceed through the game you’ll make new contacts which provide new opportunities to expand your (and sometimes their) empire, which in turn creates new friends and enemies, which in turn creates causality… you get the picture.  It’s all a vicious cycle but a fun one.

The name of the game is Grand Theft Auto so where would the game be without vehicles.  The various missions throughout the game will introduce you to all sorts of driveables, ranging from scooters to tanks.  You’ll recognize the body style of several vehicles but, because of permissions from auto makers, their names have been changed to protect the (not-so) innocent.  Speaking of scooters, one great new addition to the GTA series of games it two-wheelers, i.e. scooters and motorcycles.  Players will be able to drive knock-offs of such goodies as Harleys, crotch-rockets and dirt bikes.  Each has it’s own role in the game and at some point you’ll need each one to complete a mission.

On the car side of things you’ll run into a plethora of options, including sports cars, trucks, dune buggies, compacts, semis and buses.  Again, because of the great mission variance, for the most part, you’ll drive one of these at least once throughout the game in an effort to complete a mission (or two… or ten).

As far as weapons go, your choices have expanded greatly since GTA3.  You can use everything from brass knuckles to M-16s to a helicopter chaingun (one is mounted to a helicopter, another you can carry Predator-style and mow down pretty much anything) to a MAC10 to a baseball bat.  Most have a satisfying feel to them (some require you to stop before you can use them, others can be used on the run) and, when used properly, can wreak havoc even on the most stern of enemies.  Rockstar didn’t waste any time in implementing plenty of options for GTAVC’s players.

Now that we’ve laid down the ground work, let’s talk about music.  That’s right, GTAVC takes place somewhere around the mid 80’s, meaning no alternative rock, no techno, no new-style hip hop rap.  For those who grew up or was an adult in the 80s, the music selection will send you on a trip back in time as the soundtrack for the game is some of the prime tunes from the Era of Gluttony.  There’s nothing like doing a drive-by on some Cubans in Little Havana, rolling in your Lamborghini and grooving to Flock of Seagull’s I Ran.

The points covered on the previos page (sound, vehicles, weapons) all lead up to the gameplay.  Those familiar with GTA3 (in the PC gaming world, who isn’t?) will be right at home in GTAVC.  There are missions required to advance the storyline but players have complete free will within the game world.  You could choose to not complete a single storyline-based mission and still have plenty to do.  Side missions include driving an ambulance, a taxi or being a ‘vigilante’ and actually doing good deeds instead of involving yourself in a life of crime.

As you complete storyline-based missions, other side-mission opportunities will arise (what did you expect?  You’re making a name for yourself and there are men who need good men to do bad deeds) that aren’t required but will earn you extra cash.  However, let’s turn our focus back to what could be considered the meat of the game, the main missions.  Being the up-and-coming crime lord that you are will require you to be hands-on, committing some pretty atrocious acts required to further you on up the ladder in your ultimate goal of ruling Vice City’s crime syndicates.  GTAVC players will find themselves doing basic Hit and Run jobs, busting criminals out of lock-up, stealing and racing cars (come on, it’s Grand Theft AUTO), competing directly with police to get things done, bombing malls, doing bank jobs… this game has it all.

A couple new twists have been implemented with GTAVC.  Number one, you can talk!  Seriously, in GTA3 you were a mute henchman just trying to make a buck but in GTAVC you’re Tommy Vercetti, a mouthy ex-con who isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the biggest of the bad in Vice City.  The dialog in the game (and especially Tommy’s) help to set the overall feel and accomplishes its task nicely.

Another new ‘feature’ is that you can now buy property in Vice City.  Several options are available to you such as warehouses and nightclubs and, once you buy these types of location, new missions open up to you.  This is really where the game excels, giving players a huge variety of choices and contests to embark upon.  This is where the game really shines as players may be putting the hurt on a security company one mission and the very next will find you in a race against time to outgun the police themselves to some evidence.  There’s great satisfaction in completing many of the missions within the game (although one of the setbacks to GTAVC is that a few of the missions are ridiculously hard and can cause even the tamest of gamers to curse their mother, all in all the difficulty level is fairly consistent and, as you play through the game and become more familiar with its style, you’ll also get better at completing the variance of missions in less and less time) and each completion comes, usually, with a material goal, whether it be money, weapons or vehicles.

Visually, GTAVC is a treat.  Enhancements have been made since GTA3, namely that terrible PS2 motion blur is gone.  Textures are sharper and players can now crank up the draw distance, allowing you to see towering buildings looming over the skyline, blimps weaving in and out and jet liners leaving contrails high in the sky.

After doing some basic benchmarking I was actually obtaining a better framerate in GTAVC than in GTA3.  I matched all of the settings between each game as closely as possible and found GTAVC to perform very well.  I even put GTAVC on a PIII 866 with 512 RAM and a GeForce2 MX and the game is still completely playable at 640×480.  I have to hand it to Rockstar, they didn’t eliminate the low-end crowd with GTAVC.

As far as drawbacks to GTAVC, they’re few and far between.  As mentioned earlier, there are a few missions that are very, very hard and some amateur gamers may find themselves getting pretty frustrated.  There are some minors glitches with the AI but they are very minor.  GTAVC has a very completed feel to the game, another testament to Rockstar’s ability to produce top-notch titles.

In conclusion, I pose this question; is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City a true sequel to GTA3?  I’d say no.  The gameplay hasn’t really evolved a complete step up from GTA3 but it has become more polished and the balance and variety of missions has increased greatly.  The weapon choice is through the roof and the satisfaction of playing 10 minutes or 10 hours of GTAVC rarely wanes.  If you loved GTA3 and are itching for more of the same (with that great 80s feel) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a must buy for you.  Don’t delay.

FINAL SCORE: 94/100

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