With the success of GTA III, Rockstar Games moved fast and decided to capitalize on its success. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, regarded by many as the best game in the series, and one of the best games on the PS2.
Developed once again by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games, it was released first on PS2 (in 2002), and on Microsoft Windows and Xbox in 2003. The development started in 2001, shortly after the release of GTA III, but according to the producer Sam Houser, it started in early 2002.
GTA: Vice City moves from Liberty City (heavily based on New York City), and moved to the sunny Vice City (based on Miami). The developers intended to create a living, breathing city, with the feeling that life goes on even when the player isn’t around.
The game is set in 1986 and is influenced by numerous movies and TV shows from the period, as well as developers’ familiarity with the era. A huge influence on the game is the movie Scarface and Miami Vice, and the team also went to Miami on field research trips. The result is amazing, as Rockstar North managed to nail the atmosphere of the 80s and never miss a bit. There are plenty of small details in the game, from slang words, fashion, weapons, and all of it manage to make it more believable.
It seems that Rockstar North also followed Sid Meier’s 33% rule (33% new, 33% improved, and 33% what everybody expects to be there).
The game has several new features that improve the gameplay. In GTA: Vice City, you can now ride a motorcycle and pilot a helicopter or a plane. The game offers a good variety of vehicles, and motorcycles are not difficult to control, but crashing them at high speeds will make you lose health points.
You can also now buy property (to collect profits), and safe houses throughout the city. The mini-games and side missions also make a comeback and adding several new ones (like pizza delivery, and toy helicopters). You can also enter buildings, a feature sorely missed in GTA III.
The weapon arsenal has also been expanded, and now you have several new melee weapons and firearms. You can however only carry one type of gun, and they all have their cons and prons. For instance, firing a revolver will make you stop and take aim, but the damage it deals with it is very high. Following the 80s setting, you won’t see any AKs in the game and will use a Ruger or an M4. Naturally, the gunplay is virtually unchanged from GTA III.
The plot follows Tommy Vercetti, who is released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence. One of Forelli’s family bosses, Sonny Forelli sees this as bad for business and sends Tommy to Vice City to oversee a drug deal, alongside a corrupt lawyer Ken Rosenberg. The deal however gets ambushed, and Tommy and Ken barely escape, with the drugs and money stolen. Hearing the news, Sonny orders Tommy to find the drugs and recover the money. With the help of Ken, Tommy starts his investigation and a slow rise to power.
One of the first things that you will notice is that you no longer control, a silent protagonist and that Tommy is now voiced by Ray Liotta. GTA: Vice City also has several well-known actors, voicing plot-important characters, such as Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Louis Guzman, and many others. The game also gives you the option of changing outfits, one of which will make you look straight out of Miami Vice.
Vice City is divided into two large islands connected by several bridges, and similarly to the previous game, the parts of the city are locked, due to a hurricane warning. The weather in the game also follows a cycle from sunny to stormy weather. As you progress, more of the stuff will unlock in the city, offering you a large variety of side missions and activities. You also have the option of robbing businesses, collecting hidden packages, participate in races, etc.
During Tommy’s slowly rise to power, each business that you buy will bring you a unique set of missions, and of course, there is the bank robbery mission.
The wanted mechanic is left unchanged, but instead of five stars wanted level FBI chase, you will be chased by Miami Vice-inspired cops, in fast cars.
Unique stunt jumps can now also be achieved with motorcycles, making for some impressive jumps. Also, you can now jump out of a car, which is extremely helpful when a car catches fire.
The graphics are relatively the same as the ones from GTA III, but the city is now more colorful and vibrant. The soundtrack in the game is composed of numerous hits from the era and is one of the best-licensed video game soundtracks. Everything from pop songs, rock music, glam rock, funk, Latin jazz, and of course electro. There is enough music for everyone, and even the soundtrack was released on 7 extensive CDs. Sadly, over the years (after 10 years) to the legal rights, some of the licenses to the songs have expired and thus removed from the game. Fortunately, there are several ways to restore the music, but the songs are still missing in the re-releases on PS3 and PS4. Also, there are now double the talk show radio time, then in GTA III and commercials still have plenty of humor in them.
One of the minor flaws is that Vice City is relatively flat in comparison to Liberty City, but this is excused since the setting is inspired by Miami. There is so much going on, that this won’t even be noticeable.
Overall, GTA: Vice City does everything that the next game in the series should do. It brought changes, but not enough to change the feel of the game. This game was also one of the main factors for the 80s nostalgia comeback, that is still going on.
Upon its release it was an instant success, getting both critical and audience praise, winning numerous awards. During the first 24-hours, it sold over 500,000 copies, and within two days it sold around 1.5 million copies, making it one of the fastest-selling games. By 2008, it sold around 17.5 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling games on the PS2 as well. A GameCube release was planned but soon canceled.
As with all popular games, there are a ton of mods available for download, all from texture pack and total conversions. Following its tenth anniversary, it also received iOS and Android ports, and an emulated PS2 version was made available on PS4 in 2014. The game was also reversed engineered by six loyal fans, which made it available to port it to Nintendo Switch, PS Vita, and Wii U. Sadly, Take-Two issued a DMCA takedown, shortly after in February 2021.
If you’re looking for a good action, fun, open-world game, you can’t go wrong with GTA: Vice City. It may look primitive now, since the genre evolved vastly, since 2002, but it’s still fun to play. Easily available on Steam, but I would recommend that you get it in a bundle, with GTA III and San Andreas.
Also, one of the games that you can just ride around and listen to music and not get bored. A definite recommend, and every praise and accolade is well earned.
*This review marks the 2nd year anniversary of the Cola Powered Gamer. Although it runs a little late, I appreciate all of you reading and following the blog. In the past year, I did several interview, got published on several websites, and even became a member of a magazine! I want to thank everyone reading the blog, and I will continue to review old, new and even obscure games. Special thanks goes to, Indie Retro News, Zach Murphy, Jake Parr, The Gaming Ground for giving me advice, reading and supporting the blog!*