Vice City is the sixth game in the GTA series, and the second in 3D. Released in 2002, this sandbox game successfully captured the 80’s movies and TV shows environment, allowing you to control a low-life wise guy in his path to achieve a powerful position in the city’s crime scene.
Following the “three-dimensional direction” which began with GTA III, Vice City is still to this day considered the favorite GTA game to many players, myself included, who remember the violence mixed with the neon colors with a smile on their faces and a melancholic tear on their eyes. OK, maybe not the tear.
How I got it
Ok, so I only bought the PS2 game recently. I played Vice City in my computer in 2002. But recently, I found a bargain on this game for PS2, and I really wanted to make this post about it. So it was the universe who wanted me to have this on my consoles’ games’ collection. I could not challenge the universe. Now if only the universe could want my wife to agree with me spending more money on the collection…
Talking about the game, I must say, as a guy who was born in 1984, that what I remember best about the 80’s, was walking the streets with a colorful shirt, surrounded by hookers and gay guys roller-skating, then stealing some fast car and running over some gangster. The 80’s man, I will never forget the (virtual) 80’s.
GTA Vice City was released one year after GTA III, in what were the two first installments of this series in 3D, and I must say these two brothers were a bad company for me: they came to the shops in the finals’ season in college. It was hard to study when they were always screaming “Play meeeeee”. I remember thinking I was going to play just one mission. I also remember how one mission turned to 6 hours’ sessions. I also remember failing in a few disciplines because of these games. Why did I let that happen with both GTA III and GTA Vice City? Well, you know what they say: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, it means the second game is better than the first”.
In fact, GTA Vice City is my favorite game (so far) of all the series. And I can’t quite explain why. It has an acceptable story, cool characters, a big city, multiple weapons and cars, different missions, the best radio stations ever, etc. But again, so do other GTA Games. I think that what really works on Vice City for me is the choice of the time. Playing Vice City is like being inside something like “Miami Vice meets Scarface meets GoodFellas meets Baywatch meets Dallas meets Magnum, P.I., meets Porky’s, meets Saturday Night Fever, meets Dirty Dancing, meets Beverly Cops, meets Police Academy, meets every other 80’s movie or series or soap opera (good or bad), with all their typical archetypes”. And this is noticeable from the cars to what plays on the radio, from the neon signs to the story and the people you talk to. Vice City is not “on” the 80’s, Vice City IS the 80’s. And playing Vice City, besides the great game it is, always felt like returning “not so long ago”, and noticing everything was exactly like I remembered.
Condition and Description
The old owner took care of it, like if he knew someday his old game’s pictures would be in display on a geeky website!
Video games taught us that Italians are great plumbers and mobsters. And GTA introduced us to the greatest on this second category: Tommy Vercetty. Vercetty is the ultimate wiseguy, clearly inspired by the character the actor who voices him – Ray Liotta – plays in the movie GoodFellas. He is not “Don material” like Al Pacino in The Godfather. He is a low-life, freshly out of jail hitman, sent to Vice City, that the player controls from mission to mission until becoming the kingpin. That is pretty much “Vice City in one sentence”. But there is a lot more in this game.
Vice City is an open-world action-adventure game released in 2002, being the sixth GTA title, and the second in 3D. Using a tweaked version of its predecessor GTA III, Vice City successfully captures the looks, characters and histories of pop culture from the 80’s in a city clearly inspired by Miami. Like in other games from this franchise, the game has elements of driving games and third-person shooters.
The game is set on a huge city, initially not completely accessible, but eventually getting fully available as the player completes more missions. The extent of the city, together with the freedom the player has to do whatever he wants while not on a mission, and to accept some “side-missions/challenges” triggered by some action (like stealing a special type of vehicles), gives a false sense of open-ended game, even if the player must complete the missions in order to advance (he can, at most, and not always, choose the order on which the missions will be played). The greatness of the city, with its different habitants, the different vehicles and weaponry, different (and distinguishable) zones also contribute to a rich, complex environment, becoming a great example of how to create a “Pretended Reality” in a game.
In the game, the player can steal and control vehicles like cars, motorcycles, boats or helicopters, and buy/steal/find a myriad of weapons, used in missions, drive-bys or simply to raise hell on the streets, which inevitably will end in a great police pursuit. Vice City also introduced the possibility for the player to buy different properties in the game, which may be used as a hideout, or (if they are a commercial property) open a new branch of missions related with that activity. And, as mentioned previously, there are some missions associated with some vehicles, like taxis or police cars.
Another point worth mentioning in GTA is its soundtrack. Filled with real-artists from the 80’s, the 6 radio stations which can be heard in the vehicles’ radios, with fictional adds and conversations, related with the “real” 80’s, and what happens in the game, are an amazing addiction to the Game World. A personal confession: sometimes I took a break in the gameplay, parked my car in a beach by the sunset, and simply listened the music from one of the game’s radio stations, like it was real life. It is sad, I know, but it could be worse. I could have been a boy scout!
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was a success, unanimously acclaimed by the critics and fans, scoring high in the best game magazines. By March, 26, 2008, the game has sold 17,5 million units, being the fourth highest selling video game for PS2. The game was highly awarded both for its design as for more technical aspects, being considered by many the best game of the year of its release, and being easily found in some lists of best games of all times. Later, this game had a “prequel”, Vice City Stories on PSP and PS2.
Unique and Notorious
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a great game overall, which works pretty well as a whole, and is one of my very own personal favorites of all time. Next, I will try to introduce some of the reasons why still today I like to return to Vice City, even if it is for some brief hours:
Pretended Reality – In my opinion, what really makes this game outstanding is how easily it makes you forget you are playing a video game and enter the Game World. And this didn’t happen by luck. There are no anachronisms in this game. You are in a city clearly in the 80’s, populated by “typical” people from the 80’s, with cars from the 80’s, playing music from the 80’s and commercials from the 80’s. And for those paying attention, it’s easy to see that “everything is connected”. For instance, the radio announces that a rock band named “Love Fist” is coming to Vice City, and later you have to drive them around. Another example of this happens when the fictional console Degenatron (by the way: check this site) is being advertised on the radio, the billboards on the city, and on stores. But there are a lot of other cases. GTA: Vice City is an amazing display of World Creation Skills, content generation, and creative writing. If there really was a God creating the Universe, then the development team of this game has a few demigods, at least.
The Missions – This game is a long run! With lots of “contractors” wanting your “special” services, lots of optional “jobs”, and “entrepreneurial actions” related to some commercial properties you buy, there’s a lot that needs to be done in the city. However, when you finally finish all missions, you still crave for more. This happens because of the imaginative, varied missions. Some of them are typical in the games of the series, like driving someone somewhere, killing someone (or loads of people), while others are more imaginative (controlling a RC helicopter to destroy a building, for instance), they all interconnect perfectly, with each other and with the reality of the game, helping in the creation of the suspension of disbelief, always desirable in any game. The interconnection and variety of missions avoids dull moments, and always makes you want to play just a little more.
A (sand)box of fun – When you’re not on a mission, or after you’ve finished them all, there is still a lot to do on the city. And worth doing! The gigantic city is full of different areas, where the developers created activities, which will add a few extra hours to the game. Among other possible ways to spend your time, destruction and Nascar races, collecting hidden packages for rewards, drive a taxi and transporting passengers through the city, and LOTS of Easter Eggs were created to reward the player willing to spend some time just cruising around, and trying something new. I may say that about 50% of the time spent on this game was like this (I already told the story about going to a pier to listen some music). But it was not only procrastination which lead me to spend my time: Rockstar really made a game “just asking” the players to do this type of things. And then there was the typical GTA humor, pretty much everywhere, for the sharp eyes and ears (and sometimes for the masters of trivia). For those who never played the game: spend some time reading about the extras, cheats and Easter Eggs in this game (the references will lead you to some sites, but there are more), and you will see the extent of the geniality in the creative minds responsible for this blockbuster.
The acting – The characters in this game were already described by looking and acting as if they were kidnapped from some series or movie from the 80’s (and some of them clearly were). That really helps in setting the environment, like I said when I talked about the ‘Pretended Reality’. But there is one thing making the characters credible: the actors voicing them (and also being an inspiration in their design). Ray Liotta as Tommy, Burt Reynolds as Avery Carrington, Danny Trejo as Umberto Robina, Jenna Jameson as (the porn star) Candy Suxxx (GREAT name by the way) among others, gave the game that extra credibility. Go see the IMDB’s page (again, in the references), and imagine what an excellent movie you could do with this cast. Who’s into flooding Tarantino with mails asking him to do a GTA Vice City adaptation to the big screen? Or organize a petition? Facebook group? Anything? Anyone?
The habitants’ reaction – On a “negative note”, and assuming myself as an “autonomous agents’ guy”, I must point out the “non-evolving” habitants. Rockstar had such and attention to detail while composing the story and the environment, that I cannot understand how the development team let this happen, especially when they already had the “know how” to avoid this (in my opinion) fail. Let me explain: you begin the game as a lowlife. You finish the game as the kingpin of the city. NOBODY notices it! Nobody acts differently. This may be a conscientious design decision, but in my opinion the experience’s quality would increase with a real response from the habitants to your evolution (like in Infamous). And it would be easy to do. In Vice City, the different gangs act differently according to your past actions (attacking or helping you). It would just be a matter of “twisting” algorithms. It would be cool to have 3 or 4 guys teaming up like vigilantes trying to catch Tommy after a particularly violent mission, or people bowing and saying “how are you, Don Vercetty” after all the missions’ completion.
I can’t swim – I include (another) negative aspect of the game, mainly to express a game design issue, sometimes hard to deal with: the player expectation on something that looks real. Vice City seems alive. The people seem real. There’s the beach. And there is Tommy. And after Tommy survives a few shots from the cops, while killing some law enforcers and some gang members, he deserves a little rest. So he goes for a swim. And dies… Albeit there’s no “perfect” way to deal with such issues, I do not believe this is not the better way. For instance, in GTA III, at some point, the player is informed that there is a rule which temporarily (for the entire game) forbids motorcycles in the city. It’s a way of dealing with the problem. Another way to deal with the pointed issue would be to have Tommy totally frightened of water, always stopping when the player tried to make him dive. It’s not a big deal, but there’s an advice for the Game Designers out there: never forget to address these types of problems… and good luck, for there is no ‘right way’.
Formal Elements (as defined by T. Fullerton)
Players: Single player.
Objective: Start as a recently released from jail hitman, and become the kingpin of the city. There are several optional “mini-objectives”.
Procedures: The player can walk, run, catch and use different weapons, steal cars, drive multiple vehicles, change clothes, buy properties, select radio stations, buy weapons and armor, paint the car, among other (not so common) actions.
Distinctive Rules: The player can walk freely in any accessible part of the city. There are no maximum attempts of passing a mission. There are some mandatory missions, following the narrative, and others, which are optional. The player has an associated health, which he loses when hit or after falling from big heights. The player loses all his health when he falls into water, falls from really big heights or is inside a vehicle which explodes. When the player loses all his health, he does not die, simply goes to hospital, losing all his weapons and some money. Some actions from the player originate a police pursuit. If the police bust the player, he pays a fee, and is set free without weapons. (Note: this “almost no penalties” ’ politics is an excellent design decision to motivate the player’s “wild style” ‘gamming). Some missions are only achievable when a player buys a property or steals a vehicle. A player can steal vehicles in traffic, and some parked (others have closed doors). Different vehicles have different speed and resistance, and have distinctive driving feel. The gangs in the city act differently according to past actions from the player. Some parts of the city are unachievable before the player succeeds in some missions. Some player missions, when completed, create subtle changes in the World.
Resources: Player’s health, armor and ammo. Money. Vehicles. Properties.
Conflict: Initially, the player is simply trying to get some money. Eventually, he will try to get revenge from some backstabbing, and dominate the crime in the city. In the missions, the player will have to face time constraints, enemies, win races, the police, etc.
Boundaries: The player’s movement is limited by the city limits, and (except for some special buildings) only occurs in the street level, and some roofs. Also, when in a boat, the player may transverse the water. There is also a helicopter and aircrafts which the player may use. Some areas of the city are limited to the player while some missions are not completed.
Outcome: The player does not “lose”. After losing all its health, simply appears in front of the hospital. When he is arrested, simply appears in front of jail. So, the outcome is simply related with finishing the main mission, becoming the kingpin, and finishing the non-mandatory missions, each with different rewards.
Name: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Open world action-adventure, with elements of driving and third-person shooting games.
Company: Rockstar North
Game Designer: Leslie Benzies, Aaron Garbut, Obbe Vermeij and Adam Fowler (Rockstar North). Sam and Dan Houser (Rockstar Games).
Fullerton, Tracy, Game Design Workshop, 2nd Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. Morgan Kaufmann, February 2008.