Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories Reader Review
I'd better start this by saying I'm a huge GTA fan, I've played all the GTA games (including the Gameboy colour versions), if this review is slightly imbalanced that's why. I won't bore you all with a long intro, you should all know what its about by now! For those who don't, the basic idea is to build up your crime empire and become the big cheese in town by running missions for various influential characters. Vice City Stories doesn't deviate too far from the traditional GTA template, but it does have a few new tricks up its sleeve.
VCS is set 2 years before the events of Vice City, there are a few changes, but Vice City veterans will recognize most of the city. The game sets you up as Victor Vance, the older brother of Lance from the original Vice City game, and a soldier based in Fort Baxter. Starting off as a courier for your crooked base commander things progress slowly until the arrival of your brother. Lance soon has you roped into his crazy money making schemes, and this sees you running around town working for a varied bunch of villains and weirdos. The missions, delivered by short cut scenes, will be familiar to anyone who's played any recent GTA game. The addition of a new empire building system is good, and the missions for your empire can provide a nice little distraction every now and then. The story missions are fairly basic, but there were a few that stood out, mostly for the film studio, that mixed in something new or different, with the recreation of a famous old advert bringing a smile to my face.
The side missions are excellent, and I found myself spending more time doing one of these then the main story missions. Like the empire building missions these usually are fairly basic, but good fun. To go along with the old traditional side missions like Taxi Driver, ambulance, fire, and vigilante, there are beach rescue, air ambulance and helicopter fire service, as well as a tourist helicopter mission and some new races involving changing vehicles halfway through. Plenty to make this game last a very long time.
Unfortunately though the laughs are few and far between in this GTA, the classic GTA humour has definitely taken a turn for the worse. Out goes subtlety and well thought out jokes, in comes extreme stereotypes and swearing. None of the new characters are especially memorable, and the early part of the game becomes a bit tedious because of them. Even characters you may recognize from previous GTA games don't escape from the poor script. The radio station chatter and adverts have lost most of their charm too. This is a shame considering the high standards set by the previous games, and significantly reduces the appeal of the game. Fortunately the music remains excellent, and adds significantly the 80's atmosphere, there is a surprising amount packed into the game too.
Complimenting the music are the quite frankly stunning visuals, Rockstar has done an excellent job on the graphics, and definitely know how to push the machine to the limit. The city looks great from the ground, and it looks amazing when flying around in one of the planes, you can see for miles! There are a few places where I noticed some slow down while playing though, most notably while attacking rival gang sites, and also when looking out over the Fair Ground from the nearby safe house. Generally though the game play is good, the controls suit the PSP well, except when it comes to doing drive by shootings, then things get a little tricky. Walking, driving and flying are all good, but the new swimming ability caught me out once or twice as its a little different to the San Andreas mechanics.
There are also a few bugs that slipped through testing, most importantly the fact that cars stored in your garage disappear when you save elsewhere in the city! The pop up issue that has effect all the GTA games also seems to still be with us, and is quite annoying when zooming along at high speeds.
I'm glad I waited a while before writing this, at first I was disappointed with the new GTA, the laughs had gone, the new characters were annoying, and I was left fearing that this might be the beginning of the end for GTA. Fortunately things picked up, and the new bits and pieces are plentiful enough to keep you entertained for a long time, and I'm really hoping they expand on the empire building parts in future games. Existing GTA fans are likely to enjoy VCS, the new features are good, but only if they can get over the poor characters and story, and the loss of the traditional GTA humour, which does detract from the magic of the game. To new players I'd recommend they play the original Vice City first, or Liberty City Stories if they needed a PSP GTA, they are both much more well rounded games.
Overall: Some nice new features and solid game play, but the GTA magic is fading. Its definitely one of the better PSP games out there, and there are many hours worth of fun to be had wondering the streets within, providing you aren't too interested in the characters or story. For a score, 7 compared to the other GTAs, 8 compared to the other PSP games.
7 / 10