Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition Review: It’s a Madhouse

by Reads (1,783)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Performance
      • 7
      • Graphics
      • 8
      • Audio
      • 6
      • Value/Replayability
      • 7
      • Fun Factor
      • 8
      • Total Score:
      • 7.20
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Retains the style, humor, and charm of the original version
    • Improved graphics, sound, and customization options
    • Ton of content for $4.99
     
  • Cons

    • Touch controls are imprecise and require practice
    • Mission retry feature doesn’t save unnecessary frustration
    • Vice City hasn’t aged all that well in some areas

Quick Take

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition suffers from sometimes awkward touch controls and aging source material, but is still filled with enough mayhem, style, and content to bring virtual gangsters back down memory lane.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a snapshot in time. Well, two snapshots now.

When it was originally released in 2002 as the follow-up to developer Rockstar’s instant classic, Grand Theft Auto III, it was hailed as a near-perfect sequel to its predecessor’s manically violent, open-world formula. It was at once a solid Scarface-esque tale of one gangster’s rise to power, and a relentless spoof of ’80s Americana.

Its faux-Miami, Vice City, was Miami Vice meets demented funhouse, a neon-lit collection of cokeheads, hair metal rockers, pastel suits, and sun-soaked palm trees. It was dark, with ruthlessly Machiavellian kingpins assigning players to murder and extort their way to success. But it was light, with every strung-out character and piece of beach-front property wittily representing a part of the land once called home. It was fun, in a sick way.

It makes sense then, that Rockstar has given Vice City the same ten-year anniversary re-release treatment that it gave Grand Theft Auto III last year. Now available on a litany of iOS and Android devices, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition doesn’t mess much with the decade-old experience beyond the obvious that comes with shifting from controllers to touchscreens. This is both good and bad. But rest assured, it’s still fun.

Narrative

Vice City marks something of a turning point in Grand Theft Auto’s approach to narrative. GTA III had a handful of rich secondary characters, but featured a more or less throwaway plot, complete with a nameless silent protagonist. That was fine, since people were too busy blowing up city blocks and running over people to care anyways, but Vice City strives to be a little more cinematic in nature. It’s not nearly as nuanced as later entries like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas or Grand Theft Auto IV, but there is a definite focus on story here, and Vice City is ultimately better because of it.

It tells the tale of Tommy Vercetti, a Liberty City mafia man fresh out of prison and sent south to the titular locale to do his boss’ drug dealing. Things go to hell almost immediately, as one coke deal is ambushed, leaving many men dead, and putting Tommy on a track to find out who set him up. From there, players take control of Vercetti and lead him through a series of trademark GTA missions from a cast of well-acted, often ridiculous characters. The year is 1986.

Without ruining how he gets there, Tommy slowly but surely rises to become the crime overlord of Vice City, head of an unstoppable, cocaine-fueled juggernaut. If this is starting to sound like the video game version of Scarface or Carlito’s Way, well, that’s intentional.

The 10th Anniversary Edition makes no changes to Vice City’s violently wild tale, which is an obvious yet wise decision on Rockstar’s part. Tommy’s story is mostly straightforward, but is more than superbly written, managing to wring loads of humor and even a bit of drama out of the mostly stereotypical characters. Almost every aspect of Vice City works toward the overarching goal of lampooning some aspect of ’80s life, whether it’s through Tommy’s pastel blue shirt, the VRock radio station blaring David Lee Roth, or the groups of rollerbladers gliding by the beach in hotpants. The great voice acting from the likes of Ray Liotta, Phillip Michael Thomas (of Miami Vice fame, not coincidentally), Burt Reynolds, Luis Guzman, and others certainly adds to the 80’s feel too.

The whole game is an impressively unified vision — a snapshot, remember. And like any beloved picture in time, it is better off being left alone, as Vice City is here.

Content

Before he gets to the top of Vice City’s food chain, Tommy (and the player) will be hijacking speed boats, raining bullets from a helicopter onto a mansion of thugs, blowing up buildings with a remote-controlled helicopter, and chasing down white-collar property developers in a golf cart, among other ridiculous tasks throughout the game’s 57 story-based missions. Those remain the same too, with the exceptions of a few new features that try to make Vice City friendlier to those who wish to play on the go.

For one, there is now a mission retry option whenever one is failed, which saves players the frustration of having to reload from their latest manual saves whenever they eat it (and they will, by the way, because Vice City can be tough). It’s helpful, but only to an extent, because it always takes players back to a given mission’s opening cut scene. This means that missions will still have to be done in their entirety upon failing, which keeps death frustrating. Considering that some of these missions can get long — Vice City was not originally built as a handheld game, after all — a mid-level checkpoint system would have been nice.

The other inclusion to missions here is an auto save function, which kicks in whenever a mission is completed. It works exactly like it sounds, and is especially useful when there’s not enough time to drive back to Tommy’s safe house and save after gunning down that last enemy.

Alongside the core quests are optional side missions that include delivering pizzas or driving taxis, which also remain in the same place they were all those years ago. Combine those with the wealth of hidden items, rampage missions, and stunt jumps to be found– not to mention the hours that could be spent just causing destruction — and there’s more than enough bang for the five bucks Vice City costs in the App Store or Google Play store.

Controls

But while this Vice City may look like it did before, it doesn’t quite feel like it. Naturally, the shift from standard gameplay controller to tablet or smartphone touchscreen brings its own kind of awkwardness.

It’s important to remember that Vice City did not exactly have the most intuitive controls back in 2002. Its core gameplay hasn’t aged too well with time. Its aiming system would be considered atrocious by today’s standards, careful driving was tough, and Tommy’s movements on foot were generally goofy. The idea of translating these already-stiff controls to touchscreens seems like a bad idea on paper, but Rockstar did a good enough job, all things considered.

Like the mobile version of GTA III before it, Vice City uses a wide array of onscreen touch “buttons” to help players function in the world. Players can move Tommy on foot through a touch-based analog stick by pressing their thumbs down anywhere on the left side of the touchscreen, while the right side houses various commands like running/jumping, carjacking, and firing weapons.

In vehicles, the same analog steering (as well as accelerometer-based control) can be configured in the options menu, but the default is a pair of simple left and right buttons, with drive-by shooting buttons above. Those are used in conjunction with separate icons for braking, accelerating, emergency braking, exiting the car, and honking the car horn on the right side of the screen.

These icons can be rearranged and resized to the player’s content, but they still manage to take up a good amount of on-screen real estate no matter how they’re configured. I played my copy on an iPad 2, which left plenty of room for movement, but on smartphones and smaller tablets, things could get even more crowded (and thus, clumsier) than they already are.

The touch controls will take some time to get used to for anyone that is not used to playing more intensive games like Vice City on mobile devices. Aiming can still be a nightmare at points, seemingly auto-targeting enemies at random whether using the default format or the “tap to shoot” function, which effectively turns any empty space on the right third of the screen into the fire button. Movement, both on foot and in vehicles, sometimes feels sluggish, leading players to waste crucial seconds ensuring that they’re pressing the right icons at the right time. And the camera — which, admittedly, works well with its “free looking” functionality in non-combat situations — can get downright unruly in hectic gunfights, of which there are many throughout the game. Truly precise movements were never really an option in the original Vice City, but the lack of tactile feedback on touchscreen devices makes them all but impossible here.

Then again, loose controls didn’t ruin Vice City the first time around, and they don’t ruin them here. They certainly don’t make the game unplayable by any means, and it’s entirely possible to fool around and play a fair amount of missions without ever noticing the lack of physical buttons.

However, one can’t help but get the feeling that Vice City wasn’t really meant to be played on a touchscreen. Most will be speeding and shooting well enough after spending some time with the new format — and Android users can even hook up a USB controller to avoid the issues entirely — but expect to put in a few hours of practice and customization in order to hopefully hit that sweet spot.

Performance

Thankfully, not all of Vice City’s changes require such dedication to be enjoyed. The graphics behind the 10th Anniversary Edition are pleasantly upgraded, with sharper character models, lighting effects, and overall textures. It’s not a complete overhaul, and characters still keep their blocky, “club-hand” design, but everything here is cleaner, clearer, and more colorful.

The same can mostly be said for the game’s sound quality, which, again, isn’t overhauled so much as it is tidied up for today’s technology. The noise of gunshots or car crashes still sound like ten-year old effects, but are less muddied and more distinguishable on the newer hardware. The game’s lauded soundtrack has been updated too, so cruising to the tunes of Twister Sister, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Michael Jackson evokes even more nostalgia than before. On iOS, players can also import their own soundtracks for added customization.

Performance isn’t perfect, as there is the occasional audio syncing bug or chugging during extremely intense situations, and the 10th Anniversary Edition still suffers from the same environmental “pop-in” effects that the PS2 version had, but on the whole, this Vice City is just fine underneath the hood.

Conclusion

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition is a worthy port of an essential title from the last generation of gaming. Those who missed out or were too young to experience the suntanned mayhem Vice City provided ten years ago would do well to blow up a few cars, start a drug empire or two, and get a history lesson in the process by picking it up.

Be warned, though: Vice City was built well before the advent of iPads and Galaxy S IIIs, and it shows. Acclimating to the touch controls will take some time, the structure of the game isn’t the most receptive to playing on the go, and, as always, the whole thing is only recommended to players mature enough to take in all the violence and vulgarity.

But for those patient players who are willing to sacrifice some initial ease of use in order to experience a better-looking version of a rightfully classic game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition will bring the madness all over again.



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