Graphics: Visually, very little has changed from the days of Grand Theft Auto 3, as the engine and system are the same this time around. Vice City offers more variety than before in the form of bikes and an increased number of specialty craft, like the helicopters, pizza delivery scooters and ice cream vans that relate to various missions. Players familiar with the previous release will recognize similarities in presentation, like the ubiquitous motion blur and the cinematics placed at the start and end of each mission. As per the last installment, everything is rendered with the game engine, and it manages to swap between introductions, cinematics, casual driving and intense firefights with considerable ease. The one factor that sets Vice City apart from its younger cousin is a greater sense of “identity” in each area. If you’re in the affluent market area of town, you really notice it, while the smaller gang-dominated burbs are filled with tiny houses, loaded with more trash and generally grungier than the corporate neighbors down the block. All this to say, essentially, that Vice City looks as good as Grand Theft Auto 3, just with period costumes, cars and the like. It’s not as fresh and innovative as the first time out of the gate, but it’s still gorgeous to behold.
Interface: Perhaps the most telling thing to note about the interface in Vice City is that it feels a bit tiny. Not exactly too small to read, just a bit cramped from time to time, especially when dealing with the maps and objectives. The problem is a double-edged sword, however, in that the maps and so forth are fairly crowded because they’re so very useful. Keeping track of all the hideouts, outfit changes and businesses available in Vice City would be next to impossible without its handy display, and the mini-map is dedicated to showing you the direction to only the closest item of each class. From a hardware perspective, Vice City continues the tradition of excellent force feedback and small saves, so there’s little to raise any eyebrows in that field.
Gameplay: On one hand, it’s tempting to describe Vice City as more of the same, and in a very real way, that’s the absolute truth. What that pat description fails to capture, however, is the monumental achievement in making a game that’ll have you glued to your PS2 for as long as the original. As much as things have remained the same, they’ve been refined to a razor edge for this installment, making it easier to enjoy the freeform gameplay and take it as you deem appropriate. The bonuses once associated with finding packages have largely been subsumed as rewards for success in your cover businesses, while the package hunt has become ten times as devious as a result. Estimates would rate Vice City at an easy 40 hours, though completists will have enough on their hands to lock them into their living rooms for 60 to 80 hours, at least.
Some of the old problems have resurfaced, with the shooting mechanics standing as the prime culprit. Locking onto targets can still be a bear, and it’s not uncommon to require full health and armor before engaging in a protracted firefight, since a bad target lock will seem to take a few desperate moments to undo. There’s also the old memory issue that causes countless numbers of whatever car you’re driving to appear on the roads, though that’s only an aesthetic issue unless you’re running a car collection for this game’s equivalent of the import and export business.
Those issues aside, this is mint Grand Theft Auto. You always have a choice of missions to undertake, you have plenty of freedom to explore, and many rewards that can only be found by leaving the beaten path. In fact, when you get down to it, Vice City is just another Grand Theft Auto, and that’s still an amazing thing.
Multiplayer: Vice City doesn’t have a multiplayer mode.
SoundFX: On the strength of its talk radio programs alone I would rate the voice acting in Vice City as stellar. Tack on brilliant work in the cinematics and stellar integration into the world and its ambient sounds, and you have a complete package. What’s more, different areas of the city don’t merely look different, they sound different. People will tell you off if you ram into them no matter where you are, but do it in Little Havana, and you can expect a much different response than if you shoulder aside a beach bunny on her roller skates. Gunfire and the resultant explosions sound virtually identical to the last outing, meaning they come complete with ricochets or grunts of pain as appropriate, and the various heavy munitions unleash a solid cataclysm of sound.
Musical Score: Licensed tracks plumb the depths of the eighties; could there be any sweeter accompaniment to a period piece like Vice City? The sound team deserves extra credit for seeing past the pop and new wave of the decade and pulling in classic rock and Latin tunes to round out the ensemble. Over time, you’ll start to hear repetition across the stations as the tracks loop, but there’s such a plethora of songs, it’ll be hours of hardcore gameplay before you feel that the music is repetitive in the least.
Intelligence & Difficulty: Just as before, there are missions in Vice City that will test a wide array of skills. Some will require you to race with precision on both land and sea. Others demand a steady trigger finger, and perhaps even some heavy hardware like a sniper rifle. Still more simply demand precise driving, whether you’re running down a foe or trying to beat the clock. With such a variety, and a mission structure that never pins you to a single task, it’s not hard to navigate this game, and yet it requires considerable skill. The open-ended design lets you choose your own path, developing skills as you see fit, and thus creates the illusion of a title that’s much harder than it seems. This, of course, keeps it accessible to all.
Overall: Vice City doesn’t deviate too far from the award-winning formula set out by Grand Theft Auto 3, but it introduces enough extra features to keep things fresh. Better yet, the seamless amalgamation of all things ’80s into the mix lets the creative team go wild with the vocal work and provide an outstanding retro soundtrack. As with the last outing, there’s lots to do in Vice City, and if you decide to purchase an extensive network of cover businesses, there’s easily as much content here as when you explored Liberty City. Overall, the changes haven’t revolutionized the series or introduced entirely different concepts, but they have opened up new options and new vehicle types, and Vice City still manages to capture the magic of Grand Theft Auto 3. Chock up another PS2 must-have for Rockstar.