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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Action / Adventure

 

Publisher

Take 2 / Rockstar

 

Developer

Rockstar North

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

March 2007

 

 

- The empire building concepts are cool

- Brand new awesome soundtrack

- Only $20US new

 

 

- Downgraded graphics

- Terrible writing and plot

- Wonky controls

- Little more than a retread

 

 

Review: Bully (PS2)

Review: GTA: San Andreas (PC)

Review: Scarface: The World is Yours (PS2)

 

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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

Score: 5.5 / 10

 

On the PSP, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories was a pretty good idea. Rather than simply doing a straight port, Rockstar added a whole new story, complete with brand new missions. So not only did you have a miniature version of Vice City that you could take anywhere, but you were also getting a slightly different experience than the console version. But Rockstar also needs money, and like the previous PSP release of Liberty City Stories, they've ported Vice City Stories to the Playstation 2.

 

vice city stories          vice city stories

 

Unfortunately, it loses a lot of its significance on the trip to a full sized game system. The real appeal of any Grand Theft Auto game is being able to explore a new city but this is just Vice City all over again. Sure, it may have been a few years since you've experienced it last, and it starts you off in a different part of the city, but it feels too familiar for comfort. Unfortunately, the storyline does little to make itself worthwhile to explore again. You play as Vic Vance, a young military man who has his heart in the right place, but ends up getting involved in all kinds of crime, because...well, that's just what protagonists do in Grand Theft Auto games. Although he begins the life of a military man, he smuggles drugs for his corrupt officer and ends up getting kicked out of the military. From there, Vance gets involved with every kind of low life imaginable and just kind of does whatever they say. But Vic keeps reminding himself that, hey, it's okay, because he's doing

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it all to raise money for his sick brother.  The stories in the GTA games have never been particularly great, but at least they were handled respectably, with some decent writing and top voice talent. Here, the writing and dialogue is excruciatingly bad, to the point where it's just better to skip all the cutscenes and let the in-game explanations fill you in on mission objectives.

 

The whole thing looks pretty pitiful too.

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Instead of just using the engine from the PS2 Vice City and implementing new missions, it looks like they just ported the whole thing straight from the PSP, resulting in a game that looks significantly worse than any of its predecessors. (There’s not even any widescreen support, which is a little strange considering the screen dimensions of the PSP.) The downgraded visuals are particularly evident in the cutscenes, which use low quality, poorly animated characters models. Not that they’re worth watching anyway, but they look completely embarrassing next to recent PS2 titles like Rockstar's own Bully.  Graphics notwithstanding, the gameplay engine is still ancient, complete with draw-in, a wildly inconsistent frame rate, an impossibly awkward targeting system, and terrible fighting controls.  These were annoying years ago, but now they just border on unacceptable.

 

In general, missions themselves aren't anything different from the fetch quests of the other games – go here, murder this guy, maybe participate in a few races or drive-by shootings. And there are still no mid-mission checkpoints, or the ability to quick restart when you fail. The only real “new” additions are the ability to swim and pilot aircraft – both taken from San Andreas – but these are hardly major.

 

vice city stories          vice city stories

 

However, the big addition to Vice City Stories is the Empire Building system, which expands on some aspects introduced in Vice City and San Andreas.  Partway through game, you can take over certain properties, turn them into various businesses, and rake in the profits. There are a number of empty buildings, but you can barge into rival gang business, smash them up and take them for your own. Your choice of trades includes drug running, prostitution and protection rackets, but they’re all mostly the same. You can choose how much money to invest initially, but you also need to run various little missions to build up each of the business’ reputation. For example, if you choose a prostitution ring, you need to ferry your ladies from job to job, occasionally running down deadbeats. Every once in awhile, your business will get attacked by rival gangs, meaning you’ll need to zip over to defend it. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice, it’s really just tedious, and the only real payoff is more cash. It’d be great to see the Empire building fleshed out and put in a better title.

 

Otherwise, the only real standout aspect of Vice City Stories in the soundtrack, which is almost completely different from the original Vice City and contains a new selection of classic ‘80s music, along with a whole bunch of new talk radio clips. Unlike the rest of the writing, these are just as over-the-top and amusingly hilarious as the old games.

 

The saving grace of Vice City Stories is that it's only $20US. At that price, it's hard to complain that you're barely getting more than a neutered expansion pack. But just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's really worth revisiting unless you desperately need something to hold you over until GTA4. Just pop in one of the old games – or any one of their numerous clones from the past few years – and it’ll probably be more worthwhile.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(June 26, 2007)

 

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