Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

Does PSP's second GTA game offer anything new?

Rockstar Leeds

By Dominick Hardy

Maybe it's the cynic in me that asks, but can you review the same game twice? How does one go about judging it? What about buying it? These are some of the questions brought to mind by the latest in Rockstar's flagship series: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories for the PSP.

Set in the shadows of a 1984 Vice City, this iteration pre-dates the platform's first GTA title, Liberty City Stories by a good margin as well as its older PS2 namesake by a few years. The two years between this and Vice City means that here you're faced with more of the birth stage of '80s excess, when money was pumping into high rises and hard drugs were spreading through society. Not surprisingly, narcotics play a big role in the game

Despite the new setting and new era, fans will immediately be familiar with the game. The in-game protagonist is recognizable as Victor Vance, the brother of Vice City's Lance Vance, and this tale chronicles their crime fuelled rise up the ranks.

Morally questionable gameplay is abound, not that it matters with the stylish execution Rockstar is renowned for. Should Rockstar have "pulled a Bully" on this one and renamed it 'in foreign', something along the lines of 'Deja Vu' would have been apt, as Vice City Stories is as we were before; different people and places perhaps, but the same game underneath will be all too familiar for seasoned GTA inhabitants.

Victor does have the ability to swim now, though, which opens the world up even more. Still, more of the same is no bad thing, not if a bunch of new features, game mechanics and innovations have been added to the mix.

"Choose the business type to operate, be it a loan sharking, prostitution or some other nefarious activity."

Initially Vic is making an honest living for himself as a soldier in the U.S. Army. However after becoming entangled in some shady deals for his rather unsavoury superior, things rapidly go from bad to worse and Vic is unceremoniously booted out of the service. Left to fend for himself on the sun-drenched mean streets of Vice City, he picks his own meagre scraps by running errands for lowlifes such as the local trailer trash Marty and the drunk gun-runner Phil.

Completing their given tasks results in cash, which initially can only be used to as a bribe to regain your weapons if you're arrested or wasted. In both cases you are transported to the local police station or hospital where your health is restored, but weapons confiscated. You can then retry your current mission or choose another, should that option be open to you.

For the first few hours of gameplay this is all standard fare, but by the time Lance Vance flies into Escobar International airport, things have changed. Vic can now build a business empire by taking over unoccupied and rival properties, and doing so helps you purchase weapons and further improve your businesses. Empty properties can be bought, simply by finding them and purchasing them - if you have the cash.

However in keeping with the general theme of the game, taking over an enemy property requires eliminating all the henchmen inside and outside the building. Once under your control, you can choose the business type to operate, be it a protection racket, loan sharking, prostitution or some other nefarious activity. Each business has its own cost and brings in a certain amount of money on a regular basis. In addition, the business can be built up to a large venture, raising more cash for your coffers, and opening up mission options.

The main gangs Victor has to contend with are the Sharks, the Bikers and the Cholos, and their hate for you grows with your empire as you impede on their territory. As well as the expected quarrels and related missions, this brings a further set of problems as gunfights can often be triggered by your enemies when you least expect it.

Firing back only brings the attention of the law, which results in a vicious cycle; you have to take them out which further increases your wanted status. Often this is to the point of madness, as the local law enforcement acts crazed in their pursuit and desire to beat you into several shades.

The most effective way to alleviative this is to head to the nearest Pay 'n' Spray, where for a small fee they will repaint your vehicle and thus return your wanted status to zero. It's often a challenge to make it there though, thanks to police cars appearing out of nowhere and trying to ram you off the road.

One of the core features in Vice City Stories is how open the world is to exploration. Not long after playing the game you'll find yourself commandeering boats and other watercraft, and you'll take to the air after a time too.

As in all GTAs, virtually any vehicle you can find is available to drive, pilot or fly. Driving mechanics haven't changed much since GTA3, engaging with nicely tuned, light control but becoming destroyed way too easily, encouragincg players to stay on the move. Fortunately, on missions requiring a lengthy chase down a street packed full of pedestrians and other vehicles, the damage system is a lot more forgiving, but don't expect to get to your target unscathed. Prolonged play of the driving missions can become repetitive, but there's still time to build up speed and have fun with the driving mechanics throughout.

Reckless driving also attracts the attention of the law, resulting in your quick arrest. A shot in the arm for this part of the game is surely what is needed. Whilst it's possible to perform unique stunts and jumps outside of the missions, regular yet skillful driving from A to B goes unrewarded. Earning kudos for power slides, wrong way driving and close scrapes would be a worthy addition to the gameplay, keeping players entertained on the many backwards and forwards missions that are a staple part of the game.

"Earning kudos for power slides, wrong way driving and close scrapes would be a worthy addition to the gameplay."

Hidden extras such as rampage bonuses, extra clothing and red balloons are also abound, as regular players have come to expect. All of this and more is helpfully tracked in the comprehensive statistics screen. Handy, should you ever want to know how many tyres you have popped, boats destroyed, bullets fired or necks snapped.

The likes of neck snapping is now possible, thanks to a significant overhaul to the combat controls. The usual targeting and attacking mode a la LCS has now been complemented with some nifty new attacks, which can be performed and combined, such as two-move combos, grabs and throws. Unfortunately they can be a little clumsy to implement and get the hang of, especially when under attack from multiple enemies. Something to be tweaked in future perhaps. Conversely though, the lock-on targeting and easy switching through enemies is an essential aid when under fire from all directions.

There's no doubt that this is a huge and accomplished title, with visuals also benefitting from some serious tweaks since LCS. Despite the size, load times are thankfully kept to a minimum due to Rockstar's mastery of streaming. But while new gameplay elements improve the game, are they enough to justify the release of a game so similar to LCS? Since the best just got marginally better - go be the judge.

Graphics Sound Gameplay Depth Presentation OVERALL
7.5 9.0 8.5 9.0 8.0 8.5

If you can't get enough GTA then you won't be let down, but if you're not a fan then there is nothing new here to tempt you. Those trying it out for the first time or who don't already have LCS will love this Vice City revisit most. While Rockstar tides us over till GTA IV, Vice City Stories is another great addition to the series.

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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
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