Too much neon and loading screens, but good.

User Rating: 8.6 | Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories PS2
When Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories was announced and then released for the PSP late last year; many PS2 GTA fans (including myself) patiently bided time for the inevitable port to the more popular system. When the blurb surfaced from the exec at R* saying no port was planned; we rolled our eyes and patiently waited. In February, the port was announced (soon after a telltale leak at the ESRB), and realistically surprised almost no one. The question then turned to this: would a revisit to Vice City be a huge mistake on R*'s part? Last year's port of Liberty City Stories has had a polarizing effect in that it seems gamers either love it (myself included) or hate it. In this case, my verdict is in: this game is stellar.

Gameplay: A few not so subtle differences between VCS and earlier GTA games. Tired of exchanging blows with a ped who won't give up the cash? Grab and pummel him, a la Bully. Still not satisfied? Sneak up behind him and snap his neck. As far as driving is concerned, I am not seeing a marked improvement over earlier games (and I don't think that one is warranted). The cars all handle differently; and some are painfully slow (Mule), while some flat out fly (Infernus- this game has the best handling version of this car; it is awesome- although it doesn't look as cool as in games past). The best improvement over earlier GTA games is the targeting system, which is much more user-friendly that versions past. No more shooting up at the sky (like CJ) or targeting everyone in a crowd except the dude shooting at you (like Toni C) . Score: 9/10.

Graphics: Here we go. The graphics are really improved, and while not perfect, are actually pretty good (by GTA standards). Cutscene visuals are still the biggest flaw: although the paw hands issue is improving (differentiated fingers!). Other issues include: changes in character expression are nonexistent, and some of the cars appear boring looking and sloppily done (even the Infernus!). Store and building fronts are much more detailed than in the original. Draw distance is much improved over San Andreas and Liberty City Stories, but I've seen several patches of blue hell… Score: 8/10.

Sound: Awesome music, and you knew it would be! Many of our favorite stations from Vice City return; from VRock (Dio, Kiss, Dokken, etc) to Emotion (Toto, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Phil Collins, etc). Notable is a far less is heard from GTA series favorite Lazlow (although he once again serves behind the scenes as the producer for all the music), who serves as an intern to the borderline annoying Couzin Ed on VRock. I am a little less than thrilled that VCS aligns itself more with San Andreas than the original Vice as far as coarse language is concerned. I have no problem with f-bombs; but it can be a bit overdone here. Score: 12/10 for the soundtrack, which may be better than the original, 10/10 overall.

Challenge: Another big plus here. This game has some very tough missions, and one or two that almost left me bald from yanking chunks of my hair out of my head (damn you Boomshine Blowout!!). The missions here follow a less linear path compared to earlier GTA games. Whereas in the past you would drive from point A to point B, kill people, then drive back to point A; many of the missions in VCS require driving from A to B, performing a task (which could include killing people), then driving to C for another task, a police chase, then returning to A. That is the long way of saying that there are more multipart missions that will actually take some time to accomplish. Score: 9/10.

Story: You are Victor Vance, brother to the infamous Lance Q. Vance (who plays a main role in the game as well). We start the game with Vic on the base as active Army. Due to circumstances beyond his control (and a few of his doing), he is soon in a world of trouble with crooked cops, drug lords, a sissy Cuban gang leader we all know and love, and partnered with his pain-in-the-ass brother Lance. The main focus of the story is the Vance boys' brother; who is very sick and needs money for his meds. Vic must reconcile himself to a life of drug crime to get ahead in Vice City. Diversions exist, though: Vic will build a criminal empire (somewhat similar to the Gang Wars feature of SA), he will spend time as a stuntman for a transsexual director (IMO some of the best missions in the game), and will of course collect packages (in this case red ballons), drive a taxi/ambulance/etc, and attend a concert from a very famous 80's musician. Score: 10/10.

Replay: No different from any other GTA (which is a good thing). As mentioned above, when the storyline is completed, there is still a ton of stuff to do in Vice- unique jumps, rampages, impound lot (for boats too!), gang territory and business takeovers, shooting range challenges, races, etc etc etc. This game is successful is continuing what made the original so great- not only is there a ton to do; but there is also a great playlist to just cruise to (while running over peds, of course). This is destined to be one of the most underrated games of the year, since it carries the ‘port' and ‘expansion pack' stigmas. Score: 9/10.

Overall: 9/10.

Ladies and gentlemen: this game is $20 new. It is easily worth double that. I try to stay as objective as possible, but it is hard to not get excited about this addition to the GTA family: there is NO reason that any GTA fan should not own this game. Game of the year for PS2 so far this year.