February 6, 2019
May 21, 2019
We revisit the "city of vice" in this fourth entry of the Grand Theft Auto series. Wreak havoc, "do as thou wilt", and become Vice City's crime kingpin, all the while marveling at rosy sunsets, exotic beaches, and a thriving neon-drenched East Coast city.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was the first GTA game I had ever played, and it was nothing short of exciting. This was at a time when open-world games were a rare novelty and not the standard. Sure, you've had some open-world games released years before, going back even to the Nintendo era (Legend of Zelda). However, this one truly made me feel like the world was my oyster and I could do virtually anything I wanted without restraint.
After trying out GTA III a few years later, it became clear to me that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City had a definitive edge. The ability to enter buildings and engage in a plethora of fun indoor/outdoor activities revamped the GTA experience for me in a significant way, whereas GTA III, notwithstanding being a worthy first attempt at a fully 3D open-world GTA game, felt mostly lifeless in contrast. Perhaps you could blame my rose-colored glasses, but there is some undeniable objectivity to this assessment.
By the way, I realize that you could theoretically enter some buildings in Vice City's predecessor (the Ammunation stores or Salvatore's Mansion come to mind) but the number of unique interiors accessible in Vice City had considerably increased. Some interesting indoor locations include an entire mall, an airport, the Malibu Club, and a myriad others. In fact, I would dare say this game had some of the most fascinating interior designs out of any other GTA game, apart from GTA IV perhaps.
As far as characters go, this game introduces a voiced protagonist, courtesy of Ray Liotta. You gotta love Tommy Vercetti for his unapologetic (albeit clearly not emulable) nature. He may not be as nuanced and as complex as the other protagonists in the series (Claude Speed, the predecessor's main character, was mostly a blank slate, so he's discarded from the list), but at least with Tommy you can just blast everything to smithereens without fretting over creating a disconnect with the character, whereas with Niko Bellic or CJ, given their background and the emotional baggage they carry, you may feel a bit off doing these things (at least I did).
For the record, Niko Bellic was, in my opinion, one of the best protagonists in any Grand Theft Auto game (not for nothing do I still consider GTA IV to be the best game in the series hands down). Regardless, I can still appreciate Tommy for his wittiness. No other character could fill the starring role in this colorful entry better than him.
The other characters were pretty iconic too and provided much of the overall comic flavor of the game. Ken Rosenberg (who would make a cameo in San Andreas) was a pretty peculiar (and amusingly sad) fellow with an interesting arc. A law school graduate who got too involved for his own good with Vice City's major crime families. His coke addition - probably triggered by his poor life's decisions - ultimately helped shape him into the nervous wreck he was. Kent Paul is a 3D-rendered hilarity and another great comic "relief" in a game that doesn't strive to take itself too seriously, to begin with.
Finally, I need to praise the graphics/sound design. For the time, the graphics were a huge leap forward from the previous game in the series (while not being overly spectacular) but the artistic direction is what really made this game shine. The refreshing color palette, coupled with a well-achieved retro style - reminiscent of 80s Miami - aged fantastically well (especially now with the advent of the vaporwave craze!) This game also added more variety of radio stations to choose from, with some memorable tunes that would be forever tied to the game's legacy.
The game is played from a third-person perspective in an open-world sandbox. It's set in 1986's Vice City - a compressed rendition of Miami City - wherein you'll be free to travel to every location (save for Starfish Island, which would be unlocked later on).
You play as Tommy Vercetti, a former member of the Forelli Crime Family back in Liberty City who, after a relatively long prison sentence, arrives at Vice City to arrange various drug deals. One of them (portrayed in the game's intro) goes terribly wrong, and, from then on, you're embarked on a quest to find the person responsible for the ambush.
Throughout the course of the game, you'll start building your own criminal empire as the plot thickens, being able to own property and businesses for revenue. In the interim, you'll be engaging in all sorts of illegal activities, including street races, heists, and robberies. You're also free to pick random fights with pedestrians, kill them, and navigate through the map in purchased or stolen vehicles (joyriding).
In total, you'll be able to drive 101 vehicles, including sports cars, public service vehicles, 4WDs, motorcycles, boats, and even helicopters. This is a huge spike from the 56 vehicles present in GTA III.
However, to my dismay, Tommy is extremely allergic to water and can't swim to literally save his life. This is heavily counterintuitive, considering how you can swim in numerous other games of that generation (or even the one prior). We would have to wait for San Andreas in order to finally have functional swimming capabilities.
Apart from completing the main story, you can likewise access side missions, some of them related to the game's empire-building premise. Some of them, however, are not as related, like the "Pizza Boy" missions, in which you'll essentially just deliver pizzas for profit.
Some of the side missions reward you with perks, provided you reach a certain level. For example, the "Firefighter" missions will allow you to earn the fireproof perk (meaning that Tommy would be immune to fire damage) upon reaching level 12, while the "Paramedic" mission will eventually grant you the ability for unlimited sprinting.
You're likewise capable of unlocking outfits to wear as you progress the storyline. These outfits can be obtained at specific locations or stores. Although you won't be able to combine clothing items, at least Rockstar added a layer of customization that was absent in GTA III.
To conclude, this game is largely linear in the sense that you don't have choices as to how the game ends. In that vein, it's similar to GTA III. The trend of alternative endings in GTA games would not start until GTA IV, and it would depend upon a choice you had to make at the very end of that game (same with GTA V). You may argue that the story is not as central to GTA titles as it is to other games, but I would have surely welcomed variations in outcomes depending on my decisions.
All in all, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City became a turning point for the saga and deservedly retains a cult status among fans of the series. If you're able to forgive some of the aspects that have not aged well, such as the clunky mechanics and the blocky character models, you'll certainly appreciate this game for what it was and still is. You can also try the Definitive Edition, with overhauled graphics and physics, as well as other quality-of-life changes.
Have you become Vice City's "crime kingpin" yet? Relate your experience in the commentary box below!
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