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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Grand Theft Auto

I’m sick of playing the hero. I’m tired of being the world’s ultimate savior, the generic super soldier, the unlikely underdog, the sleek ninja dude, and every other video game good guy known to mankind. I want to throw the princess off the highest tower of the nearest castle. The kingdom should go down in a barrage of flames, not prosper under my rule. Rescue missions are horrible; I want to shoot my mission objective in the head and be done with it. Is it too much to ask for a character that doesn’t act righteously, but for his own personal interest and greed? Does he always have to be some kind of sanctimonious killer, annihilating the people he believes are evil for a greater good? Why does the hero always have to save the world, restore peace to some faraway land, and all those other horribly overused gaming plots that we’ve come to know and despise? I want to play a character that doesn’t give a damn about anyone else, focused on his intent and lacks the usual qualities of a gaming hero. All things considered, it’s little wonder why Grand Theft Auto: Vice City appeals to me so much.

This is my favourite screenshot from the game. For no reason in particular.

Meet Tommy Vercetti. For the past few years, he’s been stuck in the prison at Liberty City. Spending time in jail is supposed to make a criminal rethink his errant ways, but for this former Mafia enforcer, old habits die-hard. However, his bosses don’t want him running amuck in Liberty City so soon after his release; given his past track record, Tommy could prove more harmful than beneficial to the Mafia’s business. Instead, he’s sent down to Vice City to oversee some drug trafficking operations and bring back some goods. However, Tommy’s first job proves to be a bit more than anyone expected; at a key moment during a transaction, Tommy gets robbed by some masked gunmen and loses both the drugs and the money to pay for them. Needless to say, the head honchos back in Liberty City weren’t so happy to hear about their guy screwing up so badly. Tommy now owes his bosses several thousands of dollars in cash and all the drugs he lost. This isn’t like repaying a bank loan, either; failing to come up with the money will spell Tommy’s utter demise. It’s up to him to get the money back and get some revenge on the side.

So, how do you make millions of dollars in a very short amount of time? The normal and logical thing would be to get a job, and working in the seedy urban underworld is no different. Tommy will be introduced to a series of characters that act as employers; you’ll start things off by getting to know a sleazy lawyer with plenty of connections to Vice City’s greatest criminal bosses, ranging from the heads of the local crime families to corrupted politicians and everything in between. Doing jobs and missions for these people usually involves assassinating a certain person, overseeing contraband transactions, picking up and dropping off items at various locations, and plenty of the other underhanded aspects of Vice City’s daily beat. Completing these missions not only earns Tommy some potential cash, but also progresses the story and unlocks new areas of the city as well. After enduring so many trials and tribulations, you’ll get to see Tommy change from a low-level Mafia enforcer to one of the city’s most lethal crime kingpins.

Vice City introduced bikes. Brilliant eh?

In case you don’t feel like following the orders of Vice City’s gangsters, there are plenty of other ways to make a living in town. Instead of taking on a mission, you can simply walk down the street, bop a random person in the face, beat them to death, and steal all their cash on the spot. If for some inexplicable reason you feel like doing something good, you can always carjack an n ambulance, drive around the city and deliver patients to the hospital. You can steal a taxi and ride around town, racking up cash from all the fare’s you’ll get. You can even trick people into giving you bus fare if you’ve got the right set of wheels. For those of you that are a bit more daring, you can try stealing a police car and undertake the Vigilante missions, which basically consist you performing some drive-by shootings on some criminals on the run. While these don’t progress the story at all, they still offer something different and unique between each mission.

Of course, doing such activities will eventually turn Tommy into a wanted criminal again. While smacking a random pedestrian into submission may be easy, it can attract plenty of unwanted attention from the authorities. A minor infraction will make Tommy’s wanted level go up a notch, prompting any officer in the area to come with his nightsticks a-swinging. From that point, you have the choice of letting yourself be arrested, or fighting back and murdering the cop. Should you kill enough cops, you’ll find that your wanted level will go up more, making police cars suddenly show up out of nowhere to surround you. Should you get past those, a helicopter will swoop in and try to take you out in a spray of bullets. The struggle between Tommy and the authorities will continue to grow, eventually spreading beyond local interests and prompt SWAT teams, FBI agents, and even the National Guard to descend on the crime scene like a swarm of badge-wearing locusts. From that point, it’s not a matter of how you escape from the law, but how many of its enforcers you take down with you.

Okay, let’s go to work.

Fighting against such superior numbers can prove daunting for anyone. However, Tommy Vercetti can be a very resilient and resourceful man when he has to be. There are a wide variety of weapons strewn throughout Vice City, each of which can prove useful in certain circumstances. Tommy’s bare fists can pack a wallop, but adding some brass knuckles makes them even more dangerous. If close-ranged fighting is your thing, you can wield a baseball bat, golf club, hammer, knives, machetes, katana, and even a chainsaw to get your gore on. You can even pick up Molotov Cocktails, flamethrowers, remote mines, grenades, rocket launchers, and plenty of other fire-inducing weaponry. But if you feel the need to use some more conventional firearms, there are plenty of handguns, semiautomatics, and sniper rifles at your disposal. While having such a massive selection of weapons may seem like overkill (no pun intended), they can prove essential to Tommy’s survival; Vice City’s police chopper can only be taken down with a rocket launcher, guns can damage cars only so quickly, some of the heavier weapons slow down Tommy’s running speed, and nobody should bring a knife (or golf club, for that matter), to a gunfight. The trick is learning which weapons are useful in certain situations, and using them to their fullest extent. And if all else fails, there’s nothing more entertaining than terrorizing Vice City’s common folk with a few well-placed sniper shots or sending a rocket into a crowded intersection. While that may sound a little disturbing on paper, it’s a lot more fun in game.

However, all work and no play can make Tommy a very dull boy. Living the life of a criminal shouldn’t be all about paying your debts and avoiding the authorities, and this game allows you to act accordingly. Should you get tired of raking in the dough and completing objectives, you’ll find that Vice City is an open-ended place for tons of exploration and possibilities. You’ll be able to visit plenty of the city’s more interesting locales, like the boardwalk, downtown, hotels and resorts, a multitude of stores and even Vice City’s massive beach. Of course, you can’t explore such a vast city by just walking around. Thankfully, every single vehicle presented in this game, from the fire trucks to the city buses, luxury boats, helicopters, and everything in between. You can simply walk up to any car, assault the driver, and speed away in your newly acquired vehicle. Assuming that there aren’t any cops trying to chase you down, you can speed your time leisurely cruising through town, even switching through the various rock, pop, and chat stations featured on Vice City’s radio waves. While simply driving around town may not be as intense as shooting people or taking on the police, it’s still a relaxing alternative.

Why hello there…

Vice City isn’t just comprised of a few roads and buildings, either. The place is a truly massive sprawl of concrete, sand and asphalt, ranging for miles in each direction. All of the people, buildings, vehicles, and everything else are depicted perfectly to scale, offering a surprisingly accurate rendition of a structured city. There are stoplights, neon lights, small armies of hookers, businessmen, random goons, and more car models and designs than you can shake a stick at. The weather and lighting are continually changing, offering glimpses of sunny days, dark nights, dangerous hurricanes and some incredibly colored sunsets. Sadly, much of the city’s visuals look muddy and hazy, a far cry from the sharp contrasts and intricate details of other games. All of the people lack any sort of realistic details, comprised of only blocky limbs and limited movements. Even when you shoot people, they just scream, fall back, and (if you’re lucky) briefly spurt out a small fountain of red stuff that is supposed to be blood. But considering the amount of time spent creating all of the buildings, cars and features in Vice City, it’s little wonder that they had to sacrifice some of the game’s finer details.

Of course, such features can be found in any city; what makes this place so great is the emphasis placed on style and presentation. Vice City is modeled after the city of Miami, circa 1986. Every radio station features some of the signature songs of the era, ranging from bands like Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Blondie, and plenty of other bands that were popular at the time. There are plenty of radio commercials and corny dialogue to mix things up. There are tons of Miami Vice references as well, including fancy suits with unbuttoned shirts, glamorized hairdos, and plenty of cheesy dialogue. If hearing a cop scream, “I know Kung Fu!” during a standoff doesn’t make you bust out laughing, I don’t know what will. At least Tommy remains a serious fixture in all of the nonsense; his tough-guy accent, cool attitude, and down to Earth style make him likeable at first sight. Of course, such qualities don’t stop him from being a homicidal criminal; his constant epithets toward his prey and his mocking jokes and death threats to the police add so much more personality to what could have been a stale character. In the end, the awesome music and occasionally funny dialogue balances everything out for a fairly decent presentation.

Say, it’s that chick from the first pic. I think she’s following me!

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a great game. It’s gotten plenty of criticism since its release, be it from special interest groups, parents speaking out against violence in video games, and just about anyone else unwilling to give the game a chance. But once you’ve gotten past the blatant, uncompromising violence, you’ll find out why this entry into the Grand Theft Auto series is so successful. It has the right blend of intense gameplay, an intricate place to explore, several hours of gameplay, a great selection of 80’s era music, a wonderful (if not a little cliched) story, and one of the most memorable antiheroes to ever set foot on the gaming scene. While so many other games eventually die off and fall into obscurity, the appeal of Vice City does not fade away; this is one game that will keep you coming back for more, long after you’ve saved Tommy from his impending doom and taken the city for yourself. Who said that living in the past is a bad thing?

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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