See it in Action!
Rockstar suspected that it had something special on its hands when it took its long-running freestyle crime series, Grand Theft Auto, into the third dimension. While the formula used throughout the GTA series didn't really change all that much, the graphical overhaul brought a level of realism to the series' tried-and-true action that the overhead 2D stylings of the previous games simply couldn't match. Consumers and critics alike flocked to the new game, quickly making it one of the best-selling games in the PlayStation 2's short history. Not content to sit back and watch the success of Grand Theft Auto III run its course, Rockstar is currently in the home stretch of the development cycle for the latest game in the series, GTA: Vice City. From what we've seen so far, Vice City takes an award-winning concept in a slightly new direction, adding a host of new items and things to do along the way.
The new GTA game takes place in the sun-drenched beachfront town of Vice City, which is based on Miami in much the same way that GTAIII's Liberty City is based on New York City. The game takes place in the 1980s, an era when glamorous excess was the order of the day. Taking its cues from a wide range of inspirations, from the Reverend Jim Bakker to Miami Vice to Scarface, Vice City keeps the humorous tongue-in-cheek nature of the GTA series alive by referencing its inspirations without directly lifting them.
The game's story puts you in the role of Tommy Vercetti, a seasoned Liberty City gangster who's just been released from a 15-year stretch in prison. There's just a little too much going on Liberty City--and a few too many people keeping an eye on him--for Tommy to continue his criminal lifestyle, so the family sends him south to Vice City, hoping to expand the Forelli family's influence in the process. Tommy's first deal in Vice City puts him at an extreme disadvantage--a cocaine deal gone horribly wrong has left Tommy without the money the Forelli family set aside for the Vice City operation. Your first mission introduces you to a lawyer-type who is friendly to the Forelli family. He'll get you an invite to a boat party attended by most of Vice City's big-time criminal element, and your rise to the top starts from there.
Though it was previously reported elsewhere that all of Vice City's land would be available right from the start, Rockstar has recently changed this and moved back to the traditional GTA format, which keeps certain sections of the city locked until you accomplish specific tasks. These tasks will still be set up by cutscenes, and in all, Vice City's cutscenes will clock in at around 120 minutes. The game's missions should be a little more involved this time around, sticking closer to the couple of multipart missions found in GTAIII instead of sticking to the one-dimensional, courier-like tasks found in the last game. The final product will have hundreds of activities in it, though we were unable to pin Rockstar down to an exact mission count beyond that it will have "more than GTAIII." At least one new side activity has been included: the ability to steal a pizza delivery vehicle and deliver pizzas for extra money.
While most of Vice City's control scheme and gameplay appear to be taken directly from GTAIII, the game will have a lot of new things for you to do, as well as other improvements. Motorcycles were one of the things that the team wanted to include in GTAIII but didn't have time to finish. They'll play a good-sized role in Vice City, and the development process has included the addition of a lot of motorcycle-based physics to ensure that the game's different bikes all handle differently, from juiced-up hogs to sluggish mopeds. New motion-captured animation makes all the character movement on bikes look quite realistic, including putting a foot out to make sharp turns and the ability to stand up on the bike or pop wheelies. Wrecking on a motorcycle--or wrecking into one--really sends the riders flying in a sickeningly satisfying way. You'll also be able to shoot weapons while riding the bike--while cars only let you shoot out of the side windows, you'll be able to shoot directly forward while riding a motorcycle.
Other control additions include the ability to duck, which will add a new element to gunfights by allowing you to seek cover and pop up to take a few shots. You'll be able to abandon moving vehicles very quickly this time around, as well. Drivers are no longer safe inside cars, as you can now shoot out windows and shoot drivers while they are behind the wheel. You can also do damage to cars with melee weapons now, so the dream of beating a car with a baseball bat is finally a reality. Tires are also another soft spot on cars, and they can be shot out. Police officers will also deploy spike strips in an attempt to disable your car. Obviously, a car with flat tires won't handle terribly well.
AI improvements have been made to make both police and pedestrian response more realistic. Pathfinding has been improved, so pedestrians will walk around you if you're blocking their way. Characters will also be able to work together more effectively. This was most noticeable by the inclusion of gangs in Vice City, but it will also probably come into play a bit when battling the police. There will also be instances when the police will be chasing nonplayer characters around, and pedestrians will also interact with one another, opening up the potential for nonplayer character gang wars, fist fights, muggings, and the like.
Vice City appears to have a cast of colorful characters that runs at least as deep as GTAIII's. You'll encounter heads of gangs, such as the Vietnam-vet-turned-biker, Big Mitch Baker. Other major characters include the corrupt preacher, Pastor Richards, a hillbilly arms dealer named Phil Cassidy, and a wide array of characters that will help, harm, or double-cross you along the way.
Sound was an important part of GTAIII. Between the fantastic voice work, multiple radio stations, and realistic sound effects, the game simply sounded great. The "bigger, better, more" approach is being taken in Vice City's sound department, as well. The game is said to feature a total of nine hours of audio, and the cast of voice actors working on the game should be rather impressive. Many rumors about the voice cast have been floating around, pinning people like Luis Guzman, Jenna Jameson, and Phillip Michael Thomas to the project, but the only officially confirmed voice in the game is that of Ray Liotta (Blow, Turbulence, Goodfellas), who will provide the voice for Tommy Vercetti. The multiple-radio-station concept that has been included in every single GTA game to date will also be included here. Station genres will include heavy metal, rap, soul, pop, power ballads, and the ever-popular talk radio station. No word on whether the talk show station will include the return of Lazlow Jones. Artists on the game's soundtrack include Judas Priest, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Hall & Oates, Kool & the Gang, A Flock of Seagulls, and many more. Each station will, as before, feature its own DJ, and a healthy number of funny, fake commercials are scheduled to be included as well.
It's Your Town, Pal
The GTAIII engine has been expanded to allow for more-impressive graphics. Radiosity lighting is used throughout the game for most of the game's nighttime effects, such as neon that realistically splashes colored lighting around it, car headlights, and so on. Improved disc-streaming techniques allow the game to have a longer draw distance, though the frame rate doesn't seem to have taken any sort of performance hit in the process. The game features fewer flat-shaded objects and more fully textured surfaces than GTAIII, including the pattern on Tommy's Hawaiian shirt, among others. You'll see quite a few costume changes for Tommy as the game progresses, as well--the first mission forces him to change out of his favorite attire in favor of a Miami Vice-like pastel suit. Also, as seen in some of the game's early screenshots, fish and other ambient wildlife will be found throughout Vice City. There's no word yet on whether or not you can shoot fish out of the water.
Cars of the '80s simply look different from the cars of today, and Vice City will reflect that fact with a wide array of sedans, Italian-styled sports cars, motorcycles, trucks, and vans. Since Vice City is a seaside locale, boats will play a significantly larger role here than they did in GTAIII. To facilitate this, there is a fairly large variety of different boats in the game, including speedboats and sailboats. You'll need a boat to reach certain areas of the game, as your main character still dies upon contact with the water. Finally, flight is another aspect that has been expanded in the form of a flyable helicopter. While the version we saw still needed some optimization, flying high above Vice City is definitely an amazing addition to the series. You'll be able to land your chopper on top of skyscrapers and snipe victims from a high position. Of course, police helicopters are still a nuisance, and now officers can actually rappel out of helicopters to come after you.
Outside of cutscenes, there were very few instances of going indoors in GTAIII. That's been changed in Vice City. While you won't be able to go into every single building in the game, a significant number of buildings will have fully furnished interiors. One scenario we were given was that you could be running away from the cops, then head into a pizza shop and duck behind the counter to find cover. We don't know if you'll actually be able to lose cops (and thus stars on your wanted meter) this way, or if it's just a good way to take shelter from gunfire.
Of course, if you're going to be a big-time criminal, you're going to need some weaponry. Early reports had Vice City's weapon list featuring more than 40 different ways to do damage, but Rockstar has recently scaled that number back a bit. While we were unable to get an exact figure out of the company's representatives, the game will at least feature all the weapons from GTAIII plus a decent number of new weapons, including an M60 machine gun, a Mac 10 submachine gun, a Colt Python revolver, and a Ruger rifle. The melee weaponry is the most visible enhancement at this time. Instead of just having your fists or a bat at your disposal, you'll now be able to get knives, machetes, chain saws, and more. The weapons in Vice City work on a class-based system, so you'll be able to hold only one melee weapon at a time. So if you really want that chain saw, you may have to give up a bat or a knife to wield it. Other weapons may be classed together in much the same way. The auto-targeting system found in GTAIII has been given a bit of an overhaul, mostly in the camera department. When you lock onto a target, the camera will shift into an over-the-shoulder perspective that gives you a clear view of the action. The targeting reticle has also been made much more pronounced and easier to see. Finally, a new array of hand-to-hand combat animations have been added to the game--you'll still only attack with one button, but you'll see various combo animations as you beat people up.
While much of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City's nuances have yet to be revealed, it definitely looks like Rockstar is on track to repeat the success of last year's Grand Theft Auto III. Vice City sticks close to the standard GTA formula while adding a handful of new objects and options that should freshen up the experience considerably. Combining that with the storyline gold mine that is a cocaine-filled 1980s Miami--so it makes sense that Vice City is one of the year's most anticipated releases.