Someone once said that you can never really go home. Nothingâs like you remember it. The landscape changes, the local hangouts are gone, and youâve grown apart from old friends. Well (get ready for a faux New York-Italian accent), âforgedda âbout itâ. Godfathers of gaming Rockstar have come up with an offer that nobody should refuse: a budget priced trip back to where the open 3D environment, pop culture references, humour and violence of GTA got dressed up in pastels and partied all night to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Wang Chung and the rustle and hum of neon lights and palm trees.
A couple of years before mafioso Tommy Vercetti, the psychopathic hero of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, butchered his way to the top, soldier Vic Vance lets morality get in the way of getting rich and consequently finds himself on the streets with a bad attitude and bills to pay. He has one brother in serious need of expensive medical help and a drug addict for a mother. His other brother is Lance Vance, sometime associate of Tommy Vercetti, a self styled player, and to put it bluntly: a complete tosser.
The game plays the same as all the other PlayStation 2-era Grand Theft Auto games. You, as Vic, run, drive and fly around a complex and detailed 3D environment, committing petty - and not so petty - crimes. Along the way you hook up with various characters that give you more complex missions to move the story along. Typical missions involve heading to a specific location on the map, sometimes stopping to pick up guns or muscle, and then killing someone, blowing something up or stealing something. Often the mission includes all three tasks. Then, thereâs a mad dash for safety while all hell breaks loose around you.
But Vic Vance is a cool guy, and all hell breaking loose is nothing he canât cope with. In fact he flourishes. Before too long he is building a criminal empire that runs the gamut from prostitutes to protection. This is the main tweak that separates Vice City Stories from the previous Grand Theft Auto games. Vic recruits gang members by targeting them and clicking R3. He can then take over rival gang buildings by killing everyone inside. Then, buying the vacated property, he can set up his own business. Setting up a business means cash deposited into Vicâs account at four every afternoon.
In Vice City Stories empire building means money is never an issue. The cash simply pours in. The trick is the time and effort it takes maintaining your empire. Businesses are constantly under attack and often in need of repair. Rival gangs are always after you, often with AK-47s that will rip through armour like a samurai sword through a Cholo (apologies to samurais and Cholos but if youâve played the game youâll understand). Doing empire missions mean raising your reputation in a particular endeavour. So smuggler missions take you from Mule to Pirate Captain while prostitute missions get you the rank of Mack Daddy; the higher the rank the bigger the payday.
Along with watching your back and maintaining your assets there are a few other new, and not so new, tricks to the game. Swimming is again possible. There are quad bikes and jet skis. The hidden packages are now red balloons, so youâll need to get a sniper rifle early if you want to pick these off for the rewards. The other rewards of Vice City Stories are of course the humor, again the main reason for the gameâs R18 rating, and the music. Often the big hair and big rock ballads on the soundtrack lend the death and destruction a surreal cinematic feel.
There is no doubt that we have all seen it before, be it a riding shotgun for Lance in an early rail gun mission or targeting the local cops with their own helicopter, but there are some nice variations. Vic finds time to take part in a zombie movie in North Point Mall and there are plenty of intense moments where your wanted level tops out and Feds start dropping from the sky. Donât forget, itâs the fifth Grand Theft Auto game on the PlayStation 2, so the fact that there is anything interesting left in the game may be a minor miracle.
With the release of Grand Theft Auto IV penciled in for the end of 2007, the goodfellas at Rockstar games have thrown their fans a bone. While there may be a case for cynicism, with Rockstar simply moving the PSP title across to the PlayStation 2, adding nothing and dropping the gameâs multiplayer functionality, the truth is it still works. Itâs still as fun, uncouth and smart as all the Grand Theft Auto games before it and, hopefully, the few more yet to come.