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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
PS2 / PC / Xbox / October 2002
All of which brings us to 2002 and to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. A prequel story-wise, rather than a sequel, this is GTA III with tubular bells on. Yes, it bore all the now-familiar gameplay elements, but it streaked up in its tasseled slip-ons with a ton of extra content and an irresistible 80s kick that takes its cues from (among others) Miami Vice, Goodfellas and Scarface. Not simply a game, Vice City offers you 1980s themed, ‘Greed is Good’ digital role-playing. It polishes GTA III’s best bits and then adds even more to the mix - such as the ability to own property and make money from businesses. As our wise friends on the Official PlayStation 2 Magazine suggested at the time, this is a game that: "doesn’t just blur the boundaries between video games and popular culture, it decimates them.”
You may have forgotten just how much stuff Vice City added, especially in the wake of San Andreas. It was a long way from being just a pinked-out GTA III with bikes. Trust us. Need convincing? To get into some cold, hard numbers for a second, at over a hundred vehicles, Vice City had two and a half times as many as GTA III. It also had 40 weapons as opposed to 11; more than 60 internal locations instead of, well, none; and was at least twice the size of Liberty City. You had to contend with a brief, postcard-style loading screen every now and then, but only when crossing the bridges between the islands. It wasn’t too great a price to pay. Want more of those devastating digits? OK.
Vice City had eight hours of scripted speech, nine hours of radio, 80 types of pedestrian (including rollerbladers and people who looked suspiciously like Michael Jackson and David Hasselhoff), 8000 pedestrian comments and one targeting reticule. The last may not sound like much, but VC’s lock-on was a huge improvement over the haphazard shooting of old - though it still didn’t totally fix the awkward combat.
Vice City offered many more minor, yet equally welcome tweaks. For instance, you could now fire weapons forward from bikes and boats instead of just out to one side, you could kneel behind cover (though not move once you’d done it), shoot people through car windows, snipe vehicle tires and - most usefully - leap from moving cars. This was particularly handy if you were being shunted sideways along the speeding highway by a phalanx of angry SWAT vans, burning furiously and about to blow at any second, or slithering horribly toward one of Vice’s lovely, sparkly bodies of water. No, you still couldn’t swim, but previously you could only sit in the car and await your doom - you had to be stationary to get out. At least now you could leap out when things got too hot and wet and take your chances.
This edition also upped the city simulation, too, bringing us pedestrians - and police - who interacted with each other to a far greater degree, rather than wandering around being a simple background for our idiocy. Watch and the pedestrians don’t simply wander up and down but sit and laze on benches, chat to each other, read papers, rollerblade, fight with one another, have accidents, commit serious crimes and get chased down (and often run over) by the cops. There’s a much greater sense of a city living around you, and the technical improvements - such as better textures, smoother animations and even quicker streaming - means it pretty much keeps up even as you scream down its seafronts, flat out and wheelying on a stolen PCJ. Go back to GTA III now and you’ll be surprised by how basic it was in comparison - and especially by how much the camera has improved. Go back to Vice City, however, and you’ll be surprised by how much fun it remains.
A car thief in the US state of Pennsylvania was caught after he left a rental receipt for GTA III inside one of the vehicles he had stolen. Police were able to nab Jabari Wallace, 24, of Warrington (Penn) using the receipt from Blockbuster Video, which helpfully detailed both Wallace’s name and his home address. “He did this because he wanted to be a big man in the neighborhood,” said the right honorable Judge Kenneth Biehn at Wallace’s trial. “Well, now he can be a big man in the state prison system.”
“I’m for freedom of speech but... Grand Theft Auto is heinous.” So ranted Washington Post columnist Mike Wilbon on ESPN’s commentary show, Pardon the Interruption. “The people who put it together should be stoned in the street.” Yes, that’ll stamp out street violence.