Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2) / Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – Definitive Edition (PS4) Review

Continuing my nostalgic tour through my late teens with the PS2 era GTA games as well as playing through the recently released “Definitive Editions”, it’s time for Vice City! Steeped in 80s culture and films (especially Scarface…) Vice City also saw several firsts for the franchise, including a fully voiced main protagonist! Let’s take a look at both versions and see how they either stand up today, or if they’re actually any good to begin with…

Background:

Tommy takes aim as the setting sun drips the scenery in red… not bad for the PS2!

GTA Vice City was released on the PS2 on October 29th 2002 in the US, with a European release happening a week later on November 8th that year. Releasing just a year after GTA III, Vice City was originally conceived as an add-on but it soon became clear it could be so much more, and frankly it’s amazing how much more improved it is over its predecessor given how little time there was between the two.

As with all PS2 era GTAs it’s been ported all over the place; for PC in May 2003 worldwide, on the original XBOX in October 2003 in the US and January 2004 in the UK, for mobile devices in December 2012 and finally versions of the mobile ports were made available on the PS3 and PS4 digital store but were of extremely poor quality. As for the Definitive Edition, that was released on PS4, PS5, XBOX One, XBOX Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC on November 11th 2021. It’s safe to say the Definitive Edition launch was rough, though I am happy to report that I once again didn’t encounter any issues with my play through of Vice City’s Definitive Edition, so I guess the main kinks had been ironed out by patches (or they’re mainly focused on San Andreas…)

Gameplay:

Open world golfing, truly what every GTA player was looking for!

Goes without saying really but Vice City is an open world action game, allowing you to roam its large (for the time) city and do whatever you want while also having a core storyline to follow that’s moved forward by playing linear missions that appear on the map. As the lead character, Tommy Vercetti, you can walk, run, jump and travel in vehicles ranging from cars and boats to newly added bikes and helicopters. While falling in water still means instant death there were some steps forward in the gameplay, most notably the ability to dive out of your car / off your bike at any time rather than having to wait and stop and get out like GTA III, which is very handy when your car suddenly catches fire; plus there are a lot more locations indoors with minimal load time and the load between islands isn’t as bad either (obviously there are no load times on the Definitive Edition…)

As for combat? Well, it’s much the same as GTA III, no cover system still feels weird in the modern day and the aiming system is clunky, though a little smoother at least thanks to a rudimentary auto aim system. The Definitive Edition once again fixes the aiming system with its more modern “snap aiming” though it may have slightly broke some missions as even though I couldn’t take cover it was extremely easy to swap between enemies and gun them down in quick succession. While hand to hand combat hasn’t changed much the variety of weapons on offer is greatly expanded: from melee weapons like hammers, screw drivers, katanas (that actually decapitate people…) and even chainsaws; to guns ranging from regular handguns and machineguns to flamethrowers and rocket launchers, and powerful magnum handguns (which are extremely fun to use) along with the always hard to aim throwable weapons like grenades and molotovs. Actually speaking of hard to aim, the heavy machineguns are FPS free aim only and don’t lock on at all which makes it very awkward to aim as it sways all the time. Made me stick to the light machineguns and handguns because at least I could aim with those…

Open world … giving someone a right good (sadly blurry) kicking. More likely what people were looking for from GTA!

Driving is perfectly fine, though turning and drifting isn’t exactly smooth but again that’s more a limit of hardware at the time because I didn’t notice at all in 2002, it’s only playing it now and comparing it to the likes of GTA V that it becomes clear how rough it is. That being said the helicopter controls are pretty much the same here as they are for the rest of the series and work perfectly fine. The rest of the gameplay remains the same: health and armour pick-ups to keep you from dying, a star-based wanted level that gets more attention on you the higher it goes up (which is does as you commit crimes!), if you do die you respawn at a hospital with all your guns and a chunk of money gone from your inventory, and thankfully the gang system which in GTAIII saw you being unable to avoid being immediately killed in most areas of the game has been reduced here, as although gangs that become your enemies do still attack you it’ll only be light guns or melee and often there is a gang you befriend nearby to take the brunt of the damage. At the very least you don’t get instantly exploded by a passing mafia thug with a shotgun now…

The missions have good variety and include a planned bank heist set up through recruiting crew members in various missions and then the heist itself, very reminiscent of some of the more popular heists seen in IV and V, and all the side activities return, including vigilante, paramedic, firefighter and taxi missions that see you act as a cop, ambulance driver, fireman and taxi driver respectively, as well as the “here is a list of cars to bring to this garage” missions which I always love doing and hidden collectable packages are tucked away all over the place. New in Vice City is the ability to buy properties, from new houses to save at to properties that will generate you money throughout the game.

Overall it’s a really fun package now, and back in 2002 it absolutely blew my mind…

Graphics and Sound:

A good example of the lighting… and the music, I guess?

The graphics were great at the time, nice textures on the cars, really nice lighting both natural light and neon signs and such and more detail on the character models, but obviously now the flaws are extremely obvious, with poor draw distance and, well, PS2 era models and lighting. The Definitive Edition looks very nice, clear 16:9 picture, great lighting effects and textures, plus once again they kept the over-the-top cartoonish aspects of the character visuals. It has to be said though that both versions have a rather janky and weird looking running animation that never fails to make me laugh…

Sound is great across the board. Voice acting by a selection of known and talented unknown actors with a great script to read, sound effects are top notch and the radio stations? Pure 80s bliss, from cheesy pop and synth to rock, plus the talk radio stations are still hilarious. Given its specifically set in a past decade at the time combined with Rockstar’s great writing means GTA Vice City’s soundtrack and script aren’t even going to age.

Story:

I was going to screenshot a cutscene but I forgot, so… here’s a screenshot from the middle of a mission, at least!

The story focuses on Tommy Vercetti, a mobster from Liberty City who was put in prison for fifteen years when he was ambushed during a job and killed a whole bunch of people in defence. Finally free his boss Sonny Forelli sends him to establish a branch of the Forelli family in the South, specifically Vice City (the Rockstar version of Miami). Tommy arrives and attends a planned drug deal but the deal goes south and he loses the money he was given to make the deal, so Sonny gives Tommy a short time to get his money back. That’s the basic non-spoiler premise, you spend half of the game finding out who set you up and the other half creating you own empire, including owning what is pretty much just the mansion from Scarface. As for a more detailed look at the story…

*SPOILERS BELOW*

After befriending corrupt lawyers, local thugs, shady British music producers and a man named Lance Vance (whose brother was killed in the same drug deal gone wrong) you eventually track down a man named Diaz who was responsible and kill him, taking over his mansion and forcing local businesses to bend to your will. Right at the end Sonny arrives to take what’s his, reveals Lance Vance had betrayed Tommy and sided with him, and that he was actually responsible for what was supposed to be Tommy’s death 15 years ago. Suffice it to say Tommy kills Lance and Sonny and solidifies his Vice City criminal empire…

Thoughts Then:

Look at those water effects! … What do you mean its too blurry? (Seriously though, they were impressive water effects at the time…)

As much as I played GTA III for the year I had it, Vice City was something else. Not only did I play it the whole way through with countless hours of free roaming laughs with friends and family in between, but me and my friend found all 100 hidden packages, did all the side quests and still played it all the time up until San Andreas’ release in 2004, which supplanted it and made sure I never really returned to Vice City until now, for this review! Still, as for a score then it has to be a 5, no doubt.

Thoughts Now:

Running over chubby people on the beach at sunset, the only way to relax in Vice City!

I really enjoyed playing through the Definitive Edition. Sure, the map seems so small now, the combat isn’t exactly exciting and the animations are, um, off, but the story is still great, the locations are still fun to drive around in and the soundtrack is very much “chef’s kiss good”. I completed it so quickly though, I guess because there was no incentive to free roam and mess about because of the old-fashioned controls and structure so I just did the main missions and a few of the more fun side activities. Still, a very fun game to play through, with the little modern touches to the controls and visuals helping to make up for a few of the game’s 20-year old design.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s