This time last year: Grand Theft Auto 3 emerged with virtually no fanfare, no PR stunts, no reviews even. But what happened over the next 12 months was nothing short of a phenomenon. For the first time in many years, the power of word of mouth became hugely apparent as people realised just how good the game was.
It hardly needs us to remind you why it was so good, but we will anyway: it was simply a landmark. Even without the 70 odd missions, their foundations were incredibly solid. Here was a game that you didn't even have to play with any serious intention and still have more fun with than just about any other game out there. But of course, progression through the missions brought huge rewards in terms of new islands to explore, new vehicles, weapons and the fact that the mission were almost uniformly brilliantly conceived.
Feverish playground behaviour
Throw in more secrets than you could know what to do with, a genius radio system and you had the game of the year - by a mile. Going into work would inevitably result in a feverish playground huddle as grown men compared notes on what they had discovered. Sure, people get excited about videogames from time to time, but this was different. GTA 3 had tapped into something no other game has ever managed, and 1.2 million sales to date in the UK tells its own story, and in our opinion was a key reason why the PS2 has dominated to the extent it has.
And here we are, just twelve months down the line and Vice City has emerged, except this time Rockstar has realised it could do with some advance publicity. Or at least anything released has been jumped upon by the print mags, running frankly hysterical coverage of the year's biggest and most important release.
Naturally, Eurogamer has been champing at the bit, hopeful for a chance to play the game for itself, albeit slightly annoyed that it already has to contend with 10 out of 10 reviews emerging from the print press. Suffice to say, it's easier to form an opinion when you know nothing about the game, but we'll try our best.
No doubt, if you're reading this, you're already pretty well up on the background, but to sum up, it's effectively GTA set in Miami in 1986, with a dude by the name of Tommy Vercetti playing the lead, meaning this time we get all the clothes, the tunes and the attitude of the era.
The time that taste forgot
What that means to you will largely depend on your age. For the majority of the scamps here at Eurogamer, this means they'll be experiencing the 80s for pretty much the first time. But for Krudster, your faithful correspondent, the decade that fashion forgot was an experience indelibly etched in the memory.
So when the loading screen simulates the loading of a Commodore 64, you know these guys are on your wavelength, and the nostalgia blasts away at you at every opportunity. The aural reminders of the era hit you every few minutes, thanks to the most incredibly comprehensive music licensing deal in the history of entertainment.
With over 80 incredibly well known tracks from 1980 to 1986 featured, it transforms the feeling of playing a game. From merely driving around some fictional interpretation of Miami, you're suddenly part of some retro nostalgia experience, voiced by some of the most well known Hollywood actors (Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, even Debbie Harry for Chrissakes). What the hell's going on? [There's also a bit of Jenna Jameson in there, not that we'd know anything about her work. -Ed]
The early missions prove just as much a training ground as previous GTAs. Simple taxi missions, clothing pick ups, combat trainers and the like - nothing too taxing, and enough to ease you back into the proceedings.
But what these early forays demonstrate with aplomb is that almost every element of GTA 3 has been refined over last year's effort. Firstly the cut scenes have been dramatically improved, and now come complete with far better animation, and genuinely witty scripts. And refreshingly your character, Tommy, actually speaks, so there's no more of this pensive, moody stuff of old - it's now full on wise cracks, and it's all the better for it, although thankfully it never tries too hard in this department.
Frankie goes to the Golf course
The game's littered with new vehicles to try out - the most obvious new entrants being the motorcycles; particularly the scooter which allow you to cruise around pulling wheelies, while engaging in a golf cart chase to the strains of 'Two Tribes' is simply gameplay genius.
Frame rates have been improved dramatically, and the speed is now at Burnout 2 levels, although the sight of palm trees drawing up suddenly is hardly what we expected. Clearly this is pretty much the same engine as before, and as such there's a massive sense of déjà vu when you first play the game. In certain respects, the engine's beginning to show its age these days, with pretty ropey plant scenery spoiling an otherwise smart look, while the camera angle issues still bedevil at regular intervals.
You will have no life. Resistance is futile
However, the ability to go indoors makes things far more varied, and where Vice City will kick in, we hope, is in the characterisations, the variety of missions, the numerous secrets, and all the associated freedom. This is, no doubt about it, a stop gap release before we get an overhauled GTA 4. But it's possibly the most feature packed stop gap you'll ever lay your hands on, so there's barely any point thinking about not playing the game. It will rob your life - we're already resigned to that fact, but just don't expect to be wowed by a fresh new gameplay experience. Vice City is a crowd pleaser - a case of giving the people what they want.
Check out our full review on launch day, November 8.