Summary: GTA Vice City. On the PC. Need I say more? I don't, but Brett's self-control lapsed as he hammered out over 3000 words on the subject.
That probably isn’t too surprising, seeing as the guy he’s speaking to is sociopath Tommy Vercetti, a just-paroled thug who’s willing to do anything for a buck. Thanks to my aiding and abetting with mouse and keyboard, he’s already gotten rid of a spend-happy wife, vivisected a snitch with a chainsaw, and driven over a moped-riding delivery boy who must have dropped off one too many cold pizzas at the local Italian Gentlemen’s Club. Being asked to race around town and kill six gang members planning a bank heist in under eight minutes is par for the course.
Ventilating Skulls for Cold, Hard Cash
As is the ensuing action, at least in relation to the rest of the game. After a stop to pick up some stashed weapons, Tommy and I steal a racing bike. Just around the corner is the first victim, working atop on a billboard. He gets his skull ventilated with the sniper rifle. A couple of blocks away is target number two, working as a driver for a security company. We sidle up to where he’s parked and open up with a submachine gun. When he tries to drive away, we shoot up the armored car and kill the driver as he flees on foot. The next two sitting ducks are in front of an apartment building. We dump the bike and steal a car, then floor it into the duo, killing one man on foot. His friend takes off in a truck, but we follow, ramming the vehicle until it explodes. Next up is a trip to the oceanside, where we shoulder the sniper rifle again and clip a gang member on a boat. We swipe another car and chase down the last objective, employing our driveby shooting skills to blast him off his motorcycle. Mission accomplished. Thanks a lot for the four grand, Mr. Anonymous Telephone Guy.
That, in a bloody, morally bankrupt nutshell, is what this game is all about. You steal cars, you kill people, you lead the police on high-speed chases, you build a criminal empire in Vice City (think Miami) circa 1986. Everything is centered around a wanted system where you accumulate stars for every criminal act that you commit in front of a cop. Bump into a police cruiser or kill a pedestrian for her purse in front of a cop, that’s one star. Drive over a patrolman, that’s two stars. Run into a shopping mall and slaughter a few dozen shoppers, cops, and security guards, and you might hit five or six stars. Go that high and you’ll have FBI trucks, police helicopters, and maybe even the National Guard hunting you down. All your sins are washed away if you can get to a Pay and Spray garage and have your vehicle painted and fixed, though, so all is not lost when you get John Law on your tail. Basically, you fight the law and try to win, so there’s no breaking rocks in the hot sun.
SIDEBAR: Anyone remember the panic around the Cop Killer album by Ice T?
Killing on Demand, Game-Saving Every Now and Again
As you’d expect from that description, GTA: Vice City is just as outrageous as the hype would have you believe. Rockstar North hasn’t shied away from the questionable content for the PC port, as this version of the game comes with all of the crooked-cop-killing, pedestrian-running-over goodness that first riled the moral minority last fall. This is exactly the same game as on the PS2, in fact, with just a few minor tweaks and alterations introduced for the sensibilities of PC gamers. At the same time, Rockstar has spruced things up for the new platform, adding support for resolutions up to 1600x1200, pedestrian models that give greater variety to street scenes, the ability to import player skins, and mouse support (although the save system comes over untouched, meaning no save on demand, folks, and there is still no multiplayer mode). There might not be enough here to make veterans of the PS2 version run out and buy the game all over again, but the development team has certainly put in some hard work making the game look and play better than ever on the PC.
Then again, who says that I need an excuse to replay GTA: Vice City? This game is very, very hard to say goodbye to, even after you’ve spent hundreds of hours building a mid-’80s criminal empire, one act of savagery at a time. Even without any substantial changes or additions, this is one of the freshest, most flat-out fun releases to hit the PC this year. It takes the core concepts that made GTA III such a smash and expands them in every direction.
A Problem With Mullets
This starts with the story. Unlike the first game, GTA: Vice City is carefully plotted. You begin at the bottom of the bottom as the aforementioned Tommy Vercetti, a thug who begins life in Vice City as the fall guy in a dope deal gone bad. Opening moves involve placating your mob employers long enough to get back the stolen dope, but you soon realize that the town is there for the taking. The saga plays out something like the 1983 Brian DePalma classic Scarface crossbred with the more violent episodes of Miami Vice, and the amalgam liberally dosed with ’80s pop culture references.
Story is built through a range of missions that build you up as a Wang Chung-era Al Capone by doing the dirty work of bigwigs. There is no straight path from gutter to the coke baron’s mansion. While core missions have to be completed to work your way to the top, you have to complete a lot of side missions along the way. You start off tracking the stolen dope, but soon come to the attention of every shady character in town. Real estate mogul Avery Carrington employs you to blow up buildings and attack Haitian gangs. Black marketeer Colonel Cortez solicits your services in cutting up a rat with a chainsaw and swiping a tank. Heavy metal band Lovefist needs you to secure special drugs for their lead singer and take out a psycho stalker who’s apparently got a problem with mullets. Coke kingpin Ricardo Diaz uses you for hired muscle in drug meets and to wipe out rivals via helicopter gunship. And so forth. You do favors for just about everyone in town who’s ever jaywalked, providing a real sense that you’re sinking into an established underworld, not just connecting the dots to get to a boss showdown.
SIDEBAR: Brett’s Canadian, like Jakub and Marcus. Tom, Brandon, Chris, Pongky and Dan are the American crew.
Getting More Than a Fudgesicle Fix
Eventually, you build such amounts of cash that you can start purchasing real estate. Some are residences that function as added save points, while others are full businesses that can earn you money. Each business comes with both a hefty sticker price and the requirement that you pull off a series of jobs before any moolah is generated. This design allows for a lot of creativity with individual mission design.
Unlike in GTA III, where the jobs consisted of cookie-cutter mob stuff, GTA: Vice City lets you get down and dirty with assignments directly related to what you’re doing at the time. The Pole Position strip club, for example, makes you spend $600 for lap dances before it starts to earn money. Sunshine Autos can only be taken over if you steal 24 different car models for the dealership’s chop shop. Cherry Popper’s Ice Cream is actually a front for selling dope, so you have to drive a truck and attract 50 people who want more than a fudgesicle fix. By the end of the game, you practically own Vice City, from the cab company to the ritziest nightclub.
Missions are more fulfilling individually here, as well. Most of them play out like the “Autocide” example detailed off the top, in that they have multiple objectives and often feature a few nasty surprises along the way. This is especially noticeable in the later missions, where you always have to handle unexpected problems. “Check Out at the Check In” begins with a simple kill-and-grab at the airport, but turns deadly on the drive home when you’re assaulted by armored sedans equipped with federal agents firing submachine guns. The quick pick-up in “Naval Engagement” gets serious when your boat is blown up and you’re stranded amidst Haitian gangbangers. All the bike skills you’re asked to show off at the start of “Hog-Tied” don’t mean much after you’re attacked by gang vans in the middle of the job.
The Low Spark of High-Heeled Congressmen
These surprises can lead to a lot of frustration in spots, although even the hardest missions are do-able with a little experimentation. Being able to complete every mission in the game in multiple ways is the biggest strength of the game design. “Autocide” is one of the best missions here largely because there are so many ways to do it. I’ve completed it at least a couple of dozen times, on both PC and PS2, on a bike, in a car, in a tank, and even mostly on foot once. “Martha’s Mug Shot,” the ridiculous escapade where you take photos of a congressman in drag while in the company of a porn star, can be easy if you fly away from the FBI in a helicopter, or insanely difficult if you leg it out.
Even the early missions give you a lot of choice. You can finish “Riot” on foot with a lot of gunplay, or cut down the opposition in the by plowing into the rioters with a nice, big car. Drive a car up to the clubhouse fence in “Four Iron” and you don’t have to rely on a golf club to assassinate your victim at the driving range. Although you still have to complete many missions in order, few games leave so much up to the player’s discretion.
SIDEBAR: I wonder if the proper plural form of Doberman would be Dobermen, or Dobermans? MS Word seems to think it’s Dobermans. Does that mean boxen is incorrect according to Gates? Yes indeed.
Carl Lewis Cops
As with GTA III, much of the fun here occurs outside of the proper missions. Completing set goals can be satisfying, but not as thrilling as going on a crime spree and trying to evade the cops until you get to a Pay and Spray. Some fine-tuning makes fighting the law more enjoyable this time out, too. Rockstar has made the cops slower on foot, so you can run away when gunfights get a little too hairy. This is a big improvement over GTA III, where the cops had Carl Lewis-like speed and would often end a chase before it really began by putting a few rounds into your back. You can also evade the coppers in a wider variety of vehicles, including small helicopters and a number of boats.
Car and motorcycle tires can be blown out now, lending a new dimension to chases. Get two or more stars and patrolmen will throw down those studded belts that shred tires. Firefights around cars almost always end up with at least one tire being shot out. Of course, trying to steer with one or more flats is nearly impossible, as you careen all over the road. Thankfully, you can dive out of a moving vehicle now. This comes in handy when tires are blown, or a vehicle starts to smoke, warning you of its impending explosion. This ability is also handy in certain missions, or as a fun pastime for sadists who want to roll jacked cars into the drink, along with their screaming passengers.
While on these merry killing sprees, you’re apt to run into some of the game’s hidden objectives. There are checkpoint races, such as PCJ Playground, where you’re given two minutes to hit 24 icons atop a PCJ racing motorcycle. A hundred hidden packages are strewn all over town. Visit the stadium in the evenings and you can race stock cars or get into a demolition derby. Unique stunts let you check out aerial views of the city as you fly off ramps and across rooftops. Rampages challenge you to kill a set number of gang members or vehicles with a specific weapons within a time limit. You’ll be discovering new things about GTA: Vice City long after finishing the core missions.
Bikini Babes and Blutos
Another reason you’ll want to keep playing after Tommy Vercetti’s risen to power is the setting. Rockstar has done an incredible job of bringing Vice City to life. Unlike the concrete canyons of Liberty City in GTA III, GTA: Vice City features a southern sprawl that has a lot of character. Maybe it’s just the difference between urban New York and tropical Miami, but this town has real atmosphere. There are a lot of bridges, a lot of beaches, and the oceanfront strip even has neon signs that light up the pavement at night.
Different neighborhoods have completely different personalities. Haitian and Cuban districts are barrios filled with shacks and rundown stores. Downtown is sterile and all but deserted at night. Warehouses line the dockyards. Starfish Island is the gated home of Vice City’s elite. Pedestrians complete the look. Bikini-clad rollerskaters and fat tourists can be found in Ocean Beach, while power-suit shoppers populate the mall and beefy Blutos wander the industrial zones. Vehicles also vary depending on the neighborhood and time of day. You’ll get snazzy sports cars in the best neighborhoods during the day, and beaters in the slums. At night, the streets practically roll up, unless you’re near the docks, where trucks roll 24-7.
SIDEBAR: Carl Lewis is an unapologetically proud multi-medal Olympian.
Goodfellas and Bad Language
The graphics are just good enough to pull off the illusion of a real city, although they are at least a year behind the current PC state-of-the-art. At least the visuals are improved over the washed-out look of the PS2 version of the game. Adding support for higher resolutions helps a lot, and the power of contemporary video cards adds a richness to color that the PS2 can’t come close to emulating. Otherwise, the graphics are identical—perhaps with the exception of a few added pedestrian models that I don’t recall seeing in the PS2 game.
Last but not least, GTA: Vice City represents something of a landmark achievement when it comes to the use of audio in a game. All of the major characters are voiced by Hollywood talent. Goodfellas’ star Ray Liotta does Tommy Vercetti, Philip Michael Thomas practically reprises his Miami Vice sidekick role as Lance, Burt Reynolds portrays Avery Carrington, Lee Majors voices biker Mitch Baker, Dennis Hopper steps in as porn director Steve Scott, and porn star Jenna Jameson plays porn star Candy Suxx. You’ll recognize everybody, either by name or by voice. All do great work with the material, especially Liotta, who really gets into his role when he cusses out the cops chasing Vercetti. Needless to say, a lot of foul language is used.
Vercetti Killed the Radio Star
Rockstar has taken pains to develop the 1986 setting through the use of seven radio stations that play everything from New Wave to heavy metal. The playlists are so extensive that it’s easy to forget that this is just a game and that it’s 2003. You’ll hear the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” Squeeze’s “Tempted,” Toto’s “Africa,” Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” and even, incredibly, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” There is such a wide range of music here that anyone who grew up during the 1980s can’t help but lapse into nostalgia at the most inopportune moments. I was fleeing from at least six police cruisers and a helicopter when Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” suddenly came on the radio and transported me back to a 1985 high-school dance. On the brighter side of things, I was also introduced to some good music that I’d never heard before. Like Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness” instrumental, which demonstrated that these guys were pretty solid ’70s (the song was released in 1974, so it doesn’t really belong in the game, but I’m not complaining—besides, its synth sound fits in with all the ’80s tracks) funksters before “Celebration” blackened their souls.
Deejays and commercials hit on everything that’s worth making fun of from those long-ago days when Moammar Qaddafi was America’s least favorite Arab. So you get promos for a Rambo takeoff called Exploder, ads for videogame systems that feature red blips firing red blips at red blips, comments about compact discs as cutting-edge technology, and even plugs for a sitcom called Just the Five of Us, centered around a “kid” who’s actually a 40-year-old investment banker with a rare disease. Anyone else humming the theme song for Diff’rent Strokes?
SIDEBAR: He’s an investment banker? Wow. No way.
Anything Goes Attitude
Things a little slow between jobs? Pass the time with high-speed chases
Anything Goes Missions
Assignments include murdering wives, selling dope, and, of course, promoting porn flicks
Vice City is a living, breathing place, with pedestrians who cuss and cops who whine
How can you go wrong with Twisted Sister with Lionel Ritchie on the same soundtrack?
SIDEBAR: GTA3 for the PC is the hot sexy!
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City may be at home on the PS2, but it’s found a nice place to crash for a while on the PC. The port recreates everything about the console original aside from the DualShock vibrations—is anyone ever going to start supporting the Logitech Rumblepad?—and adds higher-res graphics, mouse control, a few more character models, and brighter colors. After you see the cotton-candy glow of the neon signs on Ocean Boulevard, you won’t want to go back to your PS2. Best of all, Vice City isn’t quite what we expect from a PC game today. It doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, so a freshness factor makes hijacking cars and knocking over banks seem even more innovative and new. A lot of bodies have been stacked up in PC action games before, but they've never been counted quite like this, with so much mob-flick elan and fanfare for the common criminal.
SIDEBAR: What did you think of Brett’s first FS article? Oh come on, I shouldn’t be fooling myself, I know you’ll just end up bitter than the best game on PC was a console game! Sound Off! and flame Jakub for that horrible admission!
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