Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories Review

It’s hard to complain about a fun game that offers a lengthy experience, especially when it’s at the bargain bin price of $20, as GTA: Vice City Stories is. VCS offers a new single player experience (albeit on the same two islands as in Vice City) that is, as per the norm, packed with plenty of GTA goodness. But for all of its car jackin’, street racin’, and prostitute transportin’ fun, it just seems all too familiar.

There have been countless numbers of GTA knockoffs since GTA III hit it big. What the game created was basically a genre; the open-world action sandbox. While most of the subsequent releases in the genre failed to innovate upon GTA, recent outings have made tremendous strides. Crackdown, while clearly not cut from quite the same mold, offered an extremely entertaining online co-op. Saints Row improved upon nearly every fault and nuance of GTA, including targeting and character customization, and also offered online multiplayer.

Of course, those were both fully-fledged titles that retailed for $60 a pop. If you go into VCS expecting that sort of experience, you’ll come out very disappointed.

Taking on the role of Vic Vance (brother of Vice City‘s Lance Vance), you’ll attempt to conquer that same faux Miami city; albeit this time around there’s a lot less inspiration from Scarface. Lance needs money, so Vic joins the army in order to get rich — but he is promptly kicked out. You’ll set up your own gang to fight rivals and create a business empire, consisting of various (illegal) business ventures that can be established, ranging from loan sharks to prostitution rings. It’s nothing new or innovative, and lacks the layer of depth that could have made these components so much more meaningful.

While we’ve entered a new generation of systems — meaning much improved graphics — you can still have a solid experience with a game, regardless of visual quality. Rarely, if ever, do poor graphics drag down an otherwise good game. But it’s hard to excuse VCS. Blocky character model and insipid vehicles and buildings, combined with terrible animations, headline the laundry list of graphical issues.

The neon light effects that looked beautiful when Vice City was released now look messy and dated. Trees, plants and other wildlife look completely lifeless, and most of it — and, indeed, everything in the environment — lacks any depth, and suffers from 2D syndrome, where things are noticeably flat images.

Draw distance isn’t very distant at all, resulting in severe pop-up. Basic geometry is usually (but not always) in place for buildings as you approach, but details aren’t in place until you get much closer. Pedestrians don’t appear until you’re quite close them, and cars are just as bad, appearing and disappearing when they should be visible. Having cars suddenly appear can be a significant problem, especially if you have the habit, as I do, of driving on the wrong side of the road.

This isn’t just comparing it to gen-now outings like Saints Row, either. While VCS graphically sufficed as a PSP title, it has to face off against games such as the incredible-looking God of War 2 on PS2. In every facet, VCS fails to impress graphically.

But as I said, graphics aren’t what break a game. There are plenty of other complaints regarding fundamental issues to be found with VCS. The most prevalent is the terrible targeting system, which is still essentially the same one that has been used since GTA III — and it isn’t because it works well. It’s very ineffective, opting to aim at enemies that aren’t an immediate threat, or at ones that can’t be shot from your current position. More times than I wish to recall, my character aimed over his shoulder at awkward angles, causing the camera to jut around and look at an enemy behind me. It causes plenty of confusion and the lack of any way to manually aim makes this even more of an intolerable problem.

Saints Row, The Godfather and Crackdown each sported a more effective targeting system, allowing for specific body parts to be shot. But here, we’re forced to use a featureless, and sometimes broken, system. Obviously, with a dreadful targeting system gunfights are consequently not nearly as much fun as they could be. But when you factor in explosives and the unlimited swarms of enemies you’ll face at times, these shortcomings will become less and less of an annoyance — although they’ll still cause plenty of problems. The hand-to-hand and melee combat doesn’t compensate, as its piss-poor quality and complete lack of intuitiveness makes it only worth using when you’re out of ammo. Basic punching and kicking are what populate the majority of melee combat, rendering it so plain that it’s not fun to use at all.

None of this is new to GTA, though. These problems have been excused, to a degree, in the past. But some of the issues encountered are inexcusable. At one point, I escorted an NPC and tried to find a way to get away from the police. I ran down a narrow alleyway, my ally a few feet behind me. The end of the alley was blocked by a car, which I couldn’t jump over. After finding out I couldn’t enter the car or jump over the hood, I turned around to find another way out. I found that my NPC friend had lodged himself right up next to me, meaning that I was stuck between the car and the NPC. Despite attempts at jumping over him or the car, running by him, swings at him with a baseball bat (which had no effect) and a myriad of other things, I found that I was stuck. The police eventually came along and proceeded to kill me. Wasted.

It’s an infuriating experience to die when you’re in mid-mission, and that feeling is only exacerbated when your death comes as a result of a glitch. Another example that is as prevalent as ever is the fact that NPCs you’re driving refuse to get out of the vehicle when it’s on fire, earning you an unavoidable ‘Mission Failed’ message.

On the bright side, VCS still has a very fun underlying game, despite its many technical problems. While the game engine is really showing its age and the concept isn’t the novel idea it once was, that doesn’t discount the fact that for $20 you’re getting a solid, fairly long-lasting single player experience. (Sure, you lost the PSP version’s ad-hoc multiplayer, but honestly, who cares about ad-hoc multiplayer?) There are some additions from the PSP game, including new unique jumps and rampages, vehicle-specific missions, and technical improvements. Maybe Rockstar should have a spent a little more time on that last part.

Missions are still fairly creative and enjoyable, even if you’ve played every GTA game before VCS. While all of the action does take place in a familiar setting, you begin your adventure on the western island, and enough has changed to keep the fact that you’re in Vice City a minor annoyance at most.

The standard fare for your typical GTA is all here; Pay ‘N Spray, Ammunation, shooting ranges, rampages, and so on. A storm is coming, so you’ve been sealed on the first island until it passes (read: until you advance far enough) and, of course, there are the fantastic characters and plot — an area where GTA still dominates the competition. Cutscenes are the predominant method for advancing the plot. It really seems like an antiquated notion when it could have worked so much better had it been done through gameplay, Half-Life style.

The game’s strongest point is the soundtrack. Phil Collins, Duran Duran, KISS, Dio, Motley Crue and The Pretenders are just a choice few of the many phenomenal groups featured. This is by far the best soundtrack in any GTA game, even if the talk radio isn’t quite as good as it once was. If you like 80s music, it’s arguably worth picking up VCS just to hop into a car and listen to the radio.

Your thoughts on Vice City Stories are likely to be drastically different depending on what you play it for. If you’re the type who likes to just wander around, driving and killing aimlessly, there’s really no need to opt for VCS over another GTA title. GTA fans just looking for a new title that doesn’t do much to alter the now-classic formula will be very pleased. But casual gamers that have played a few GTA games might be disappointed to see that there isn’t anything revolutionary here. If that’s what you’re looking for, wait for GTA IV.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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