Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2)

Grand Theft Auto:  Vice City is the sequel to Grand Theft Auto III, set in the 1980s and in the fictional Vice City.  Vice City makes numerous improvements to the previous game.  However, the camera is still automatic unless you go into first-person.  This makes it annoying when camera angles get in the way, especially after some cutscenes.  You can press the left shoulder button to recenter the camera to wherever the character is facing, but this doesn't work well when you need to face another direction quickly during shootouts.  Vice City itself is big and comprised of several islands.  Initially, you can only explore the west island but more is unlocked as the game progresses.  The game gives the player heaps of freedom after the opening cutscene.  It carries all the gameplay from III such as carjacking any car to drive it.  The car handling is still the same lightweight feel of III, as if you are driving on ice swerving like crazy whenever you so much as touch a pole.  Vehicles love to flip over if you don't release the accelerator 2 seconds before turning.

The problem with vehicle handling is that it seems the developer knew this was an issue since during certain missions where you can steal an opponent's vehicle, their vehicle handling is so much better and stable.  However, at least vehicles are a little more durable and can sustain more than a few hits before exploding.  One of the most touted additions to vehicles is bikes.  They are faster but they are also harder to handle at high speed and the slightest touch will fling you off the bike.  Another addition is that you can now accelerate a vehicle and then jump out with the vehicle keeping momentum to smash into things in front; this is very awesome and fun to do.  Lastly, there are flying vehicles in the game which is fun but creates massive lag in the game.  Getting into a car will play one of various radio stations (which you can toggle and change), complete with "ads" and talk shows, which can get extremely humorous.  Vice City nails the 1980s atmosphere, right down to the neon lights, sunset on the beach and the music (a lot of which are licensed songs).  The day/night cycle makes each location feel different, while there are different weather patterns such as rain and cloudy days.

The player can obtain various weapons.  You press the shoulder button to auto-aim against an enemy and then the circle button to shoot.  With certain guns such as sniper rifles, you can aim with the right stick.  Combat remains clunky and extremely frustrating when you are surrounded by enemies shooting at you, the PC version with mouse aiming is far superior in this aspect.  If you feel evil, you can go on a rampage destroying vehicles and killing bystanders.  However, performing crime in front of police will increase your Wanted Level.  This level can go up to six stars and each additional star will cause the police to use more resources in order to capture you.  If caught, you lose some money and the weapons you had on hand so the penalty isn't too big.  It's just more of an annoyance when they chase you when you wanted to do something else.  As expected, Vice City has heaps of collectibles and sidequests to encourage exploring the city.  There are 100 Hidden Packages which gives you tangible benefits once you finish it.  It's the same with sidequests which gives you bonuses if you fully complete them.  Most of the sidequests involve vehicles such as delivering pizza, carrying passengers in a taxi and quickly saving patients in an ambulance.

The story follows Tommy who has been released from jail after serving a 15 year sentence.  He travels to Vice City where he climbs from the bottom to the top, with him ending up taking over Vice City at the end of the game (not really a spoiler since you expect that to happen).  It is your typical Grand Theft Auto story.  The characters that Tommy meets can feel random and the way that he meets them is weak and contrived.  Then for no reason at all they immediately go ahead and give Tommy some errands to do.  The story is progressed via short-ish missions which are marked on the map.  A full sized map can be pulled from the Start Menu which is a fantastic addition.  Heading to the marked area will begin the mission.  There are usually more than one mission available at any point in time giving you some freedom to choose which one you want to do first.  Missions have cutscenes in front.  If you fail a mission's objectives, you have to travel all the way back to the location to restart it, which is annoying.  However, if you failed by dying, then a taxi appears when you respawn which takes you back to the starting point which is welcome.  At least you can skip most of the cutscenes.

There are a variety of missions from races, deliveries, shootouts, sniping and placing bombs.  Nearly all missions will involve driving of some sort.  However, Vice City has disgusting mission designs.  It's like the developers didn't test play their own designs.  Some missions are so frustrating with no checkpoints resulting in you having to start it again and again, toughing through it each time.  Not only is there a friggin short time limit to kill everyone quickly, then you have to race to a destination using the terrible vehicle controls, WITH five cars smashing into you all at once and exploding your car, WTH.  It is one of the most frustrating pieces of gaming ever and the fact is, it feels cheap.  Vice City is hard because it is cheap.  There are plenty of missions where you are always put on a handicap such as you having to get into a race but you start with a slow crappy car while the opponent has one of the fastest cars.  Therefore you have to replay the mission a few times, pre-plan ahead by getting a nice car and parking it in such a way that it is close to the starting point but doesn't disappear when the mission loads and then quickly swap and catch up.

In other missions, you will then have a checkpoint race using a boat but the boat is designed for high speed at straight lines yet the checkpoints are planted in twists and turns.  Finally, the final story mission is also a frustrating mission due to the clunky controls and overwhelming disadvantage.  Tommy has to face off against unlimited spawning enemies toting machine guns firing away at him.  Tommy himself dies easily, there is no easy way to take cover, no checkpoints so that you have to repeat the early sections again and again and again (which aren't easy), it's complete bullshit.  The fact is, when a game has such a reliance on arbitrary time limits with terrible controls, then it is no fun at all.

You can only save at specific locations.  There is initially only one save point but you can eventually purchase property which can also generate periodic income.  Unfortunately, if you are playing the PSN version on PS3, it is prone to frequent crashing which will literally kill your PS3 requiring a reboot of the machine, hope you saved!  It seems to be caused by driving fast, and the game can't load it quick enough.  Overall, Grand Theft Auto:  Vice City has improved on a lot of aspects from Grand Theft Auto III.  However, just like III though, time has not been kind to Vice City and it has not aged well at all.  The game has clunky controls, terrible vehicle handling, repetitive mission designs too reliant on arbitrary conditions and frustrating difficulty that feels cheap.  Vice City was ambitious in its day and did a lot of stuff, but many games since has improved upon the formula and improved on the style of gameplay such that going back to Vice City can be tough.  It's still worth a play and roaming around the map is fun, just maybe not so much with the missions and getting 100% completion.


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