Sex, drugs, money, rock & roll and complete freedom to do as you please – that pretty much sums up the 80s era for you. It was a unique period; one that had a very particular style and feel attached it. It’s with this era that Rockstar North cemented themselves as a developer that had a great understanding of popular culture.
It’s hard not to look at GTA: Vice City without one particular movie coming to mind – Scarface. The influence is painted all over it. From the setting in Miami, through to the protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, who has a similar ‘rags to riches’ story as you might have witnessed with Tony Montana. There’s a mixture of cultures that will see you mixing it up with Cubans, Haitian and various biker gangs. Drugs are celebrated in neon lit nightclubs as the inhabitants walk around on the gold, sandy beaches in Hawaiian shirts that flutter in the wind. Oh yes, it’s a celebration of the 80s, and you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Rush Rush Get The Yayo
The story revolves around a typical cliché 80s narrative whereby Tommy (voiced by Ray Liotta) has just been released from jail after serving for 15 years. As he exits, his mob boss sends him to Miami to do a Cocaine deal. Things go pear shaped and before you know it, he’s running for cover as masked men ambush the deal and take all that’s there. Your job is quite simple – track down the people who did this and make them a promise they can’t refuse.
Vice City introduced many firsts for the series. Gone are the in-house music production and in its place you’ll find several radio stations each with a particular theme and style playing 80s licensed music. V-Rock plays very different to Flash FM, each with its own DJ hosting it in their own unique way. When you start your first mission with Billie Jean playing in the background you can’t help but be transported back to the 80s. The licensed music stations are what makes this game feel like an instant 80s experience and the advertisements in-between will have you on the floor with laughter at times. They really ‘get it’ as they (Rockstar) go about mocking popular 80s culture. There are also other firsts.
For the first time bikes were introduced, as well as helicopters. It might sound like a small addition in this day and age, but it was a big deal back then. Unfortunately, it took the introduction of GTA: San Andreas to have CJ not drown when he touches water. Poor Tommy still can’t swim to save his life, which makes traversing using a boat quite a dangerous feat. The move over from GTA 3 was a big one. Everything was bigger, better and an overall improvement. By standards set today, you wouldn’t say that though.
I always tell the truth. Even when I lie… but sadly this is not a lie
The controls for the GTA franchise have come a long way since we played it on the PS2. The right analogue switch has no use and won’t pan the camera around your character or when in a vehicle. There’s also no using the right analogue stick to aim as you would in any current third-person shooter. Press and hold R1 to auto-aim and press circle to shoot. It’s exceptionally clunky and very close to unplayable these days. The number of times that I had Tommy running in the direction of any particular area with the camera facing the wrong way drove me up the wall. The camera system has aged very, very poorly. Get past the camera issues and it’s as exciting and fun as it was back in 2002.
Your task is to complete various missions set out by people Tommy gets to meet in the game. As you complete a mission you get money that allows you to buy weapons and, for the first time in the series, property and clothing. As with GTA 3, it still made use of the 5-star wanted level system. A quick visit to a Pay ‘n’ Spray shop and you could escape the law or you were on the hunt for gold stars to drop your wanted level by one star at a time. L2 and R2 will still have Tommy sticking his gun out the window for a drive by shooting session once he’s hijacked a vehicle off some unsuspecting victim. It’s the 80s – it’s a free-for-all. If you want to do a flying kick and land perfectly on the seat of the bike you’re hijacking from someone, you can do just that. The developers had a great sense of humour.
The world is yours… if you want it
The area that’s perhaps aged the worst is in the graphics department. Switch it on now and it looks a little horrifying when compared to GTA V. The world, which in your mind was once a bustling city surrounded with life and action around each corner, now feels a little pale by comparison. The draw distance is horrendous, though it’s at least got wide-screen support for your modern HD television. Through all that, GTA: Vice City is still an enormous amount of fun to play. Most the fun comes from not taking part in missions and simply causing your own form of chaos and trying to see how far you can take your own form of destruction – it’s a recipe that’s never disappeared from the franchise.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is nowhere near as wonderful as you remember it being 15 years ago, but there’s still just something about it. Whether it’s the 80s soundtrack, the missions that made you relive Scarface or if it’s you looking like a cheesy moron walking through the streets of Miami in your Hawaiian shirt – they captured the era perfectly. You can grab the upscaled version on the PS4, though we wouldn’t mind a remake… Rockstar?