Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is an important game. Rockstar North proved they weren’t just a one trick pony with 3D open-world games after Grand Theft Auto 3. Lest we forget, Rockstar basically invented the 3D open world genre with GTA3. Moving the game from a fictionalized New York to a fictionalized Miami was a bold move. It’s not as well known a city, but they improved on the old game in almost every way.
It’s a bigger world. You spend much of the game on one island, only to realize there’s an equally large island right next to it, just one bridge away. The story is better, often thought to be inspired by the movie Scarface. There is better voice acting. They’ve done away with the silent protagonist. Now you’re Tommy Vercetti, a henchman for a number of mobsters, only to become a mob boss one day yourself. There’s more licensed music. Set in the 80’s, it’s a lot of glam rock, and Phil Collins makes a guest appearance. You can ride a motorcycle and pilot a helicopter. The list just keeps going.
At the same time, the game is showing its age in some ways. The biggest shortcoming of Vice City is that, toward the latter half of the game, you are required to go on a ton of side missions. The main story starts to get really interesting, and then it just drops off, because you have to do so many missions that aren’t related to your main missions. By the time you get back to the main missions (of being a mob boss), it feels unrelated to all the odd jobs you are required to do first.
The technical rundown isn’t that different from GTA3. The engine is the same, although it looks like the draw distance has been improved. The PC port I played isn’t especially better or worse, but there are some neat mods. I found one that let me use an Xbox 360 controller, and the button prompts matched the controller buttons. Yes, you can play in high-def and widescreen, but it’s still an engine made for PS2, and this game has some blocky polygons of that era.
As a big fan of GTA4, I found it interesting to play Vice City for some perspective on how 4 came to be. There was still a sequel prior to 4, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and critics still enjoyed it. That said, Vice City is too long, and San Andreas is supposedly all the longer. With a chance to make a GTA on a new engine (I suppose their third, seeing there were top-down GTA games on a different engine first), GTA4 improves on story and character development all the more. Vice City is a proud sequel to 3, but it’s not perfect.