Today, I’m going to share my thoughts on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. But, let me start this review with a statement. No. The recent release of the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy: The Definitive Edition was not a factor in how long it took me to finish my playthrough for this game. In fact, by the time GTA Trilogy hit the store shelves, I was practically done my playthrough. Still, I did consider delaying my review so that I could experience the new version. But as you may have heard, the feedback from the fanbase on GTA Trilogy has been extremely negative. After reading about all of the problems with the reissue, I’ve decided to stick with the legacy versions of these three games. I’m sure at some point in the future I will check out the remaster and share my thoughts on it. But for now, I’m sticking with the retro experience. Back to my point, the reason it took such a long time to get this review out is because Vice City is a very immersive game and I wanted to take my time and explore it fully.
GTA: Vice City was originally released for the PS2. When I made my review for Grand Theft Auto III, I first started out by playing the PS2 version on my PS4 (via Playstation Network). I learned pretty quickly that the PSN port had a number of issues. So I ended up shifting over to the PC. For Vice City, I went straight to the PC version of the game instead of even messing around with the PSN port. Interestingly enough, today the PSN port is no longer available. In fact, neither is the original PC version. It seems that with the release of GTA Trilogy, Rockstar Games has demanded that digital storefronts remove all of the legacy versions of these games. This means, at the time of this writing, only the GTA Trilogy versions of GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas are available for purchase. Allow me to deviate for a moment and say something on the record: THIS SUCKS. New players coming to these games for the first time no longer have the ability to digitally purchase them in their original form. It’s now the new “remasters” or nothing at all. This is something I disagree with. Now, I’m not bashing remakes or remasters. In fact, I encourage them. But I don’t condone limiting the availability of older versions. Doing so is never a winning formula for game developers. In fact, it only encourages piracy.
With that in mind, even though the old version of the game is no longer available on Steam and other platforms, I’m still going to take a moment to discuss how best to get the PC version up and running on modern systems. Like many older games, especially ports, getting them to work properly on modern PCs isn’t always easy. Sure, simply installing the Steam version of Vice City will get you a “working game”. But it’s going to look absolutely horrific. Thankfully, there’s a number of fan-patches out there to help get the game looking good on the PCs of today. There’s also a ton of mods that restore parts of the game that were removed when it was ported from the PS2 to the PC. When I did my review for GTA III, I mentioned a mod called Updated Classic. That mod is also available for Vice City. But in the last year, an even better solution has become available. I’m talking about the GTA Definitive Edition Project. Like the Updated Classic mod, the DEP is a collection of the best mods for each game in the GTA trilogy. It includes upscaled textures, improved UI elements, widescreen support, and even restores all of the missing features from the PC versions. To be candid, it arguably makes the PC releases of these games even better than what you get with new GTA Trilogy. If you’re going to play the legacy versions on PC. This is the way to go. Or… you could dust off the PS2 and play the game the way it was meant to be played.
It is important to note that GTA Vice City is not really the fourth installment in the GTA series (that honor goes to the aptly named Grand Theft Auto IV). Instead, it’s best to think of this as more of a companion to GTA III. However, this time around instead of taking place in the early 2000’s, this chapter is set in 1986. Also, the setting moves from Liberty City (a fictional city based on New York) to Vice City (which is based on Miami). Being set in the 80’s, this game has a very different look and feel than the previous chapter. It’s a throwback complete with classic cars, glam fashion, and of course, retro music.
The game focuses on the character of Tommy Vercetti. Tommy is a mobster from Liberty City who has just finished serving out a fifteen year sentence. Upon his release, he is eager to get back into his former life of crime. For his first job, Tommy is sent by his boss to Vice City to oversee a major drug deal. However, the deal goes bad when an unknown party ambushes the exchange and makes off with both the drugs and the money. In order to avoid retribution from his boss, Tommy sets out on a quest to recover what was stolen from him. During this mission, Tommy becomes entrenched in the criminal underworld of Vice City.
All of the elements that made Grand Theft Auto III so popular are still present in this installment. Once the opening cutscene is complete, players are given a task to complete. Once this is finished, additional tasks are unlocked. The missions given to player usually involve some sort of criminal activity. For example, stealing a car or carrying out a contract killing. Completing these progress the story further and unlock new elements of gameplay. Of course, when in between missions players are not bound to any specific schedule so they are free to drive around and explore the city at will. And there’s plenty for players to discover. There’s no shortage of vehicles or questionable characters for players to interact with. As was the case in the last game, each vehicle has its own feel and playcontrol. Some cars handle better than others and some are capable of greater speeds. This time around there’s even the ability to zip around on motorcycles. But the action doesn’t stop with street vehicles. Players can also control boats and aircraft.
One of best parts about driving around in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is playing with the radio. Since this game is set in the 80’s, all of the music is era-appropriate. And there’s some really good stuff on the game’s soundtrack! No matter what genre of music you’re into, there’s something for everyone here; classic rap (Grand Master Flash, 2 Live Crew, etc), 80’s pop (Hall & Oates, Bryan Adams, etc), classic rock (Judas Priest, Quiet Riot, etc), and more. Sadly, over the years as newer editions of the game have been released more and more of the original soundtrack has been removed due to licensing issues. Thankfully, if you’re a PC player using the DEP mod that I recommended, all of this cut content is restored.
One of the biggest differences in this installment is the ability to purchase property. As players progress through the game they will have opportunities to obtain various businesses (dance clubs, strip clubs, porn studio, just to name a few). Aside from driving the story, owning businesses also gives the player a steady stream of income. There’s also the added benefits of… let’s say… some special VIP treatment.
It should go without saying, but just like every other installment in the GTA series, this is certainly not a game for children. The sticker on the box say “M” for Mature and you should take that at face value. To be honest, I’m not sure that a game like this could even be made today. Woke Culture has reached nearly every aspect of society and there’s plenty in this game for people to be offended about. Still, it’s important to remember that games like these are intended as cultural parodies. That “M” label expects that only adults are going to be exposed to the contents of this game and adults should be intelligent enough to know that nothing found in Vice City is supposed to be taken seriously.
Personally, I found this game to be quite enjoyable. The humor is ridiculous, the gameplay is fun, and the music and voice acting are top notch. There’s nothing in this installment that’s particularly groundbreaking when compared to GTA III. But I don’t think that was really the point with this game. As I said before, GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas should really be considered three unique chapters of one single experience. That being the case, this chapter was an absolute blast. I loved experiencing Liberty City when I played GTA III. But thanks to the retro aesthetic, I think Vice City might be my favorite locale so far.
One final note, if you’re a new player looking to experience these games for the first time, you have an important choice to make. You can play the new (but currently buggy) remasters, or you can play the original versions. If the latter is your pick, you’re going to get the most complete experience by playing the original PS2 versions. If that’s not an option for you, I’d recommend doing your best to find the PC ports and enhance them using the mod I recommend at the beginning of this review. Any other version is not going to provide you with the same experience that players had when this game first hit the shelves almost twenty years ago.
Version Reviewed: PC
Difficulty: Hard – Many players enjoy this game simply for the open-world experience. But for those who aim to actually complete the storyline from start to finish, they are going to be in for a rough time. As was the case with GTA III, some of these missions are downright brutal. Failing a mission means having to start it over again from the very beginning. Sometimes this isn’t really a big deal, other times it can be a major pain. Thankfully, many of the really difficult ones are sidequests that are not required to complete the game. Still, if you’re one of those players that likes to 100% everything, you’re going to be in for a quite a challenge.
Story: There’s a lot more to the storyline for this game than people might think. Players who take the time to seek out all of the optional quests and pay attention to all of the various cutscenes will be rewarded with a pretty amazing story.
Originality: Nearly every aspect of this game was seen previously in GTA III. The only real new thing on the table is the ability to purchase various businesses while building your crime syndicate. But to be fair, the idea behind this game wasn’t to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the goal was to take GTA III and put it in a completely different setting.
Soundtrack: The majority of the music found in this game comes from the in-car radio stations. These stations play host to everything from retro rap to classic rock. The music played on these radio stations are straight out of the 80’s and for old timers like myself, they are an instant blast of nostalgia. Sadly, newer versions of the game have a significant number of songs removed due to licensing issues. Thankfully, for PC players, there’s a number of ways to restore this cut content.
Fun: These 3D GTA games are a blast. You know a game is good if after you complete it, you still find yourself starting it up again because you don’t want to stop playing. This was true for me in this case.
Graphics: These days, the graphics in this game look pretty dated. But at the time the game was released they were top of the line. The character models are blocky, but way better than what most games were doing at the time. Plus, the fog and lighting effects in the game were pretty cutting edge. It still looks decent today. Of course, I’m only talking about the original version. I’ll save my thoughts on the recent remaster for another post.
Playcontrol : The playcontrol is this game can be a little wonky at times. When on foot, especially when firing a weapon, the controls don’t feel particularly intuitive. But, its still manageable. It seems that most of the focus went into the driving aspect of the game. Each car has its own handling and quirks. Some cars are tougher to drive than others – but that’s actually by design. This game is made for a controller and the use of one is highly recommended, even for PC players.
Downloadable Content: N/A
Mature Content: Violence, Language, Sexual themes
Value: At the time I’m writing this, the original release of this game is not available digitally. Unless you purchased this game in the past, the only version you’re going to find on any digital store is the new remastered trilogy (which currently sells for $60). At this time, I can’t really recommend the remaster for a number of reasons. But, I suppose if there’s no other option, the $60 is a pretty good value for three games. When I bought this game on Steam it only cost me $10 and for that price it was an absolutely steal. If you’re looking for a copy of the original PS2 release, prices can ranger anywhere from $20-$60.
Overall score (1-100): 90 – Like GTA III, this is an excellent representation of what the PS2 had to offer gamers. Yes, it’s really nothing more than a new take on something that’s come before. But it really does have its own charm and personality. If you enjoyed GTA III, this is a must play.
Original System: PS2
Available today on: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox X/S, Nintendo Switch – (List updated as of Fall 2021)
Best Modern Experience: PC (original version) – (As of Fall 2021)
Other Reviews In This Series:
Liberty City Stories – Vice City Stories – Chinatown Wars
Grand Theft Auto Trilogy – The Definitive Edition