Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for the PC needs no introduction. Not only is this game in many ways better than its amazing predecessor Grand Theft Auto III, but it's also technically superior to the original version of Vice City that was released on the PlayStation 2 a number of months ago. Like GTAIII for the PC, Vice City is identical to the original PS2 version in terms of content, so if you've already played that version to death, you won't find the PC version to be much different. However, the PC version of Vice City does offer enhanced visuals and controls, improved loading times, and a few extra frills. More importantly, it offers the same refreshingly open-ended gaming experience, which has occasionally been reviled for its controversial subject matter, but has far more often elicited much-deserved praise. Simply put, if by some chance you've put off playing Vice City up till now, don't wait any longer.
To be clear, Vice City is an extension of Grand Theft Auto III, rather than a completely overhauled sequel. That's definitely a good thing, because GTAIII's freestyle gameplay was extremely entertaining and offered tremendous replay value, yet still had more potential. Vice City fulfills a lot of that potential, as it features improved production values (including over eight hours of licensed music and plenty of Hollywood voice actors), new types of drivable vehicles (motorcycles, helicopters, and golf carts), new weapons, better vehicle damage modeling, indoor environments, and more.
Yet the most obvious difference between GTAIII and Vice City is that in the new game, you're in a brand-new setting, a sprawling city styled after Miami, Florida, circa 1986. Laced with neon and featuring miles of beachfront property, Vice City simply looks a lot more pleasant than GTAIII's oppressive New York City-inspired Liberty City. Nevertheless, like Liberty City, Vice City is actually a den of corruption and evil. And it's your playground. You're free to roam Vice City on foot or in any manner of vehicle you can get your hands on, and you can undertake a wide variety of action-packed missions, explore the town, wreak havoc, or whatever. The game's convincing physics and terrific atmosphere make any of the huge variety of activities available in Vice City enjoyable in themselves, and even greater than the sum of their parts when you put them all together. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single-player action game with more variety than this one, and Vice City will more than likely surprise and impress you even if you've already played GTAIII to death.
Rather than put you in the role of a nameless, voiceless antihero like GTAIII, Vice City lets you assume the role of Tommy Vercetti, a tough guy who has just gotten out of the slammer. He gets himself back into trouble fast when a drug deal goes bad and he barely makes it out alive, so the basic plot of the game is to get the drug money back and take out the double-crossers. In so doing, you'll get to kill all your enemies, buy up the town's priciest hot spots, and eventually become Vice City's resident crime lord. Vercetti, who is expertly voiced by Ray Liotta, is a likable and memorable protagonist, and many of the other characters he'll meet, like a crooked lawyer and a South American crime boss with an explosive temper, are also well done.
Vice City pays closer attention to its characters, making the proceedings seem more cinematic and more story-driven than GTAIII, which was criticized in the mainstream media for letting people live out their sociopathic fantasies. Regardless, if you were surprised by GTAIII's unflinching portrayal of mature content, be advised that Vice City doesn't pull any punches either. And, like GTAIII, Vice City somehow brings to bear a truly inspired dark sense of humor amid all its violence and chaos. Smartly written dialogue, scathing social critique and caricatures, and a remarkably well-done depiction of '80s excess make Grand Theft Auto: Vice City far more than just a game about causing mayhem.
The story missions in Vice City are generally more complex and often more entertaining than those of GTAIII. They're multiple-stage affairs, often requiring you to take out various targets, make deliveries to key areas, drop someone off in exchange for something, and so on. They're fun, and they also do a great job of introducing you to Vice City's gameplay and new features. You usually have multiple missions to choose from at any given moment, and, true to the game's open-ended nature, many of the missions play out quite differently if you attempt them multiple times. Like in GTAIII, you can also steal squad cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and now even pizza-delivery mopeds and take on various peripheral missions in them, all of which make for fun diversions. The game's save system, which requires you to constantly return to a specific save point, is identical to that of GTAIII, so it might slightly frustrate those accustomed to being able to save anywhere and at any time. But since the missions aren't that long, being able to save your progress only in between missions simply helps maintain the game's pacing, forcing you to accomplish each of your objectives in one, dramatic take.
Of all the additions to the gameplay, the new vehicles are the highlight. Various types of motorcycles and helicopters join a huge variety of cars, trucks, vans, boats, planes, and more, letting you get around Vice City however you wish. Just like the cars, the motorcycles and choppers handle convincingly, and the motorcycles in particular allow you to reach some ridiculously high speeds and pull off some truly insane stunts, if you so choose. The game's vehicle physics are realistic only for the sake of fun and visual authenticity. The vehicles handle very well even when they've been beaten up front and back.
Like in GTAIII, some of the best moments in Vice City are when the cops are hot on your trail. They won't go after you if you run a red light, but if you commit a serious crime in front of them, they'll give chase. The more mayhem you cause, the more serious the opposition will get, and soon enough the cops will be setting up roadblocks and calling for reinforcements from police choppers, the FBI, and eventually the National Guard. You'll even come up against undercover vice squads, in their fancy sports cars and pastel suits. The enemy AI isn't quite perfect, as you'll notice when your foes try in vain to shoot you through solid walls when indoors. But Vice City's few minor blemishes are easily forgivable, since they don't get in the way of the action.
The PC version of Vice City, like GTAIII before it, features a default mouse-and-keyboard control scheme that works great. Using it, you can easily control any of the game's vehicles, and on foot, the mouse allows you to aim your weapons as in a first-person shooter. You can also opt to play with a gamepad, to mimic the PS2 version's controls and its auto-aim feature.
Vice City looks better on the PC than on the PlayStation 2 thanks to sharpened textures and higher resolutions. You can also adjust the draw distance either to improve your frame rate or be able to see much farther toward the horizon on higher-end machines. The game runs smoothly on systems that exceed its minimum requirements, though you might spot an occasional hiccup in the frame rate when the play disc is being accessed. The artistry of Vice City's graphics and the realistic physics of its vehicles do much to compensate for what's an otherwise technically unremarkable presentation. No, these aren't the sharpest textures in the world, and the vehicles and characters aren't made up of an obscene number of pixel-shaded polygons or anything, but Vice City's graphics have a great amount of style and a good level of detail. Fans of GTAIII will love how many of Vice City's vehicles are earlier models of the vehicles from that game, and how they're clearly inspired by real-world '80s autos. Also, the stylized characters featured in the game's well-choreographed and entertaining cutscenes use convincing facial expressions and lip-synching, which helps the story sequences a lot.
Despite all its other great qualities, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City's audio turns out to be one of the best things about it. Like all the other GTA games before it, Vice City features a soundtrack that consists of the various radio stations you'll be listening to as you drive around in stolen vehicles. These are themed after the sorts of stations you'd expect to hear in '80s-era Miami: There's a new-wave station, a rock station, a rap station, a metal station, and even a Spanish-language station, plus a couple of talk-radio stations for good measure. Suffice it to say that there are hours upon hours of recognizable radio hits from all genres of '80s music on this soundtrack, so even if you never touched the game's controls, you'd practically be getting your money's worth out of this game just by virtue of its being an excellent compilation of '80s tunes. The radio stations all have their own DJs, many of whom are very well written characters in their own right, and you'll even hear radio spots that cleverly mock the sorts of products that made the rounds in that era. Vice City's audio ultimately deserves most of the credit for establishing the game's atmosphere, and other than the soundtrack and voice acting, the sound effects for all the various vehicles and weapons are spot on.
Like GTAIII for the PC, Vice City offers an instant-replay feature that you can use whenever you manage to pull off a truly one-of-a-kind stunt, escape, or killing spree. You can even save your replays if you want. You can also create new skins for Tommy, if you want to change his appearance for some reason (though you'll see him wearing a variety of outfits over the course of the game anyway). And, if all the '80s music isn't good enough for you, you can load up a bunch of MP3 files and listen to those on the radio instead. All this is icing on the cake.
After the incredible success of GTAIII, it was difficult to imagine Scotland-based developer Rockstar North following up with a comparably outstanding game, especially after just one year. But that's what Vice City is. It's similar to GTAIII only as much as necessary, and it boasts so much new content and so many new types of vehicles to drive and exciting missions to experience that it is certainly not just an attempt to further cash in on GTAIII's success. No, this is an exceptionally good action game, whether you consider it on its own merits, or measure it against the incredibly high standards of its predecessor.