After the massive success of Grand Theft Auto III, gamers all over the world were ready for the next installment of the franchise. Released in 2002, Grand Theft Auto Vice City immediately became a blockbuster. It was based on the same game engine as its predecessor and it shared many of the same features that had made the series great, but GTA Vice City still had a lot to offer in the way of ingenuity and new content.
Rockstar had already shown us that they liked to take their games back in time and give us a big dose of nostalgia, so it was no surprise to see the latest game set somewhere other than the present day. Vice City truly was a blast from the past and an authentic, albeit satirical, representation of the era in which it was set. That scene was 1980s Miami, and the main protagonist found himself engaged in countless scenarios that mirrored film and television from that time. The references to Miami Vice, Scarface, Carlito’s Way, and many other 1980s institutions are rife in the game. Rockstar had, once again, created an immersive and engaging experience and that meant that the depth of Vice City was truly amazing.
The ambience of the game was something that subconsciously permeated the psyche as you played. The brightness of hot sun accentuated the brightness of the clothes that the pedestrians were wearing. The light bounced off the shimmering green of the palm trees, the turquoise blue of the sea, the brilliant white of the sand, and the panoply of colors that the houses on Ocean Drive wore. It was almost tangible; an amazing achievement in video game graphics of the time, and something that all graphics designers strive for.
To augment the visual aspect of the environment, we were treated to a carefully selected and deftly presented playlist of music and chat that filled the nine radio stations that were on offer. The music, while not exclusively from the era, perfectly matched it, and when the ambience was taken as a whole, it gelled together seamlessly.
The game play didn’t change much from GTA III but minor changes were implemented. The ability to buy properties was included, and extra missions became available once the player had done so. Building upon the courier type missions in GTA III, Vice City added pizza delivery missions and vigilante missions. Reaching certain levels of proficiency in such missions gave the player bonuses on top of the largely insignificant cash rewards. Other additions to the game included motorcycles and helicopters. Helicopters gave the player the ability to travel large distances around the map with greater speed and freedom.
In Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar had used established actors to voice many of the main characters, and while the names were by no means A-List, they were successful enough to lend another layer of credibility and depth to the game. GTA Vice City’s cast was yet another step up in quality from previous installments and it included some very well known actors and stars. The main character of Tommy Vercetti was played by Goodfellas star Ray Liotta and other major names included Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Gary Busey, Lee Majors, Lawrence Taylor, Jenna Jameson, Debbie Harry, and many more. The inclusion of so many famous names from stage and screen once again reinforced the notion that video games were becoming big business. GTA III had already outsold many of the movies that were released at the same time, and by the time Vice City’s sales had started to cool off, it too had shown its self to be a rival to Hollywood.
Left to Right: Ray Liotta (Tommy Vercetti), Dennis Hopper (Steve Scott), Burt Reynolds (Avery Carrington), Gary Busey (Phil Cassidy), Deborah Harry (Delores).
Vice City was a critics’ favorite at the time of release and even now it continues to draw praise whenever it is talked about. It won various awards, and it is still rated as one of the greatest Playstation games of all time. As the Grand Theft Auto franchise moves forward, and as other titles are released, we can see that Vice City was more or less an expansion based upon the GTA III engine. Other expansions, while entertaining and consistently of a high standard, do not get the same level of respect. Vice City’s lovingly rendered world, augmented by its nostalgic and engaging storyline, make it a classic piece of gaming culture. For fans of the franchise, Grand Theft Auto Vice City is yet another title that must be enjoyed. Those unfortunate gamers that didn’t get to experience it when it was released more than a decade ago can still get a copy. The Legacy lives on.