First Impressions: Don Johnson not included.
Last fall, Grand Theft Auto 3 took the PlayStation 2 by storm ? beating out heavily hyped Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Solid 2 in sales, popularity, and praise; racking up 7 million copies sold worldwide through August of 2002. Looking back though, it's no wonder GTA 3 was such a hit ? why, with such educational lessons as teaching loyalty to bosses, the pride and honor of working hard every day for your valuable money, proper driving skills and ability to obey traffic signals, and, of course, the gentlemanly way of picking up a female to take as your own. No wonder that such a wonderfully educational game sold ? every parent in America bought GTA 3 to show their children the proper way to exist as a citizen.
Grand Theft Auto 3 couldn't be further from educational, unless using it as an educational video to join the mob. The tale of mob betrayal, greed, corruption, and of course, driving a taxi around town for some extra money on the side was movie-like in its grittiness, serving up a mob thriller in the mold of The Godfather or Goodfellas. The open-ended, do anything gameplay style of GTA 3 is what made Rockstar and DMA (now Rockstar North) household names, and the adult-tone of the game created a title that didn't use violence to make it a very adult video game. Now, there was plenty of violence in GTA 3, but not once was it used to get across the adult themes that Grand Theft Auto 3 exemplifies.
Now nearly a year later, Rockstar is back to work on the ?sequel? to GTA 3 ? Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Not really a sequel, not really a prequel, not really relevant to the previous game at all, Vice City is a brand new game that takes advantage of one of the most frequently laughed at eras ? the 1980's. Ever since the game was leaked as a pre-ordered item at Gamestop.com, leading up to the official announcement of the game at E3, GTA:VC has been shrouded in secrecy, with absolutely zero information released on the game, leaving many to wonder if the game would ever make its October release date. Yet right out of nowhere, Rockstar Games finally unveiled Vice City to the masses ? just in the nick of time to increase the hype towards the game tenfold. Given the popularity of GTA 3, it shouldn't be a surprise that Vice City is one of the most anticipated video games ever (4 million pre-orders should give that away) ? and one that should have quality to match the unsurpassed hype.
The changes in Vice City start right off with the main character. Instead of a nameless, voiceless character that you played as in GTA 3 (I named him Voiceless Vinnie, because he doesn't talk and everything), the main character in Vice City is no longer a mute John Doe. His name is Tommy Vercetti, former mob employee up in Liberty City (of course, the setting for GTA 3, which was in the present day, so don't get any funny ideas). After a bit of time in prison, his boss Sonny gives him a vacation down to Vice City (essentially Miami, but that should be apparent?Vice City, Miami Vice?work with me here), as an invitation to relax. Thing is, Tommy (voiced by famous actor of psychopath characters, Ray Liotta) is not well-received in Vice City, and everyone in the organized crime world wants his candy ass dead. Thus, Tommy must make like Rambo and destroy everything in town related to the local mob, and take over Vice City all by himself.
Vice City is a gigantic city ? 2 times as large as the already huge Liberty City. Like GTA 3, Vice City is split into multiple areas that unlock as you progress through the story. Within the city you'll find hundreds of thousands of citizens doing their thing ? walking around town, driving to and fro, and rollerskating, among other activities that beach bums might do. There's also well over 100 different vehicles to?borrow?in Vice City to boot ? including the much requested motorcycle, and the oddly placed golf cart (oh no, it was a drive by golf ball pelting! Catch them!!). Given that GTA 3 had about 65 different cars, the more the merrier. Expect to see vehicles of the era, like boxy sports cars and cheesy hatchbacks to the huge boats called luxury sedans (remember, this is Florida, and there's a ton of old people who like to drive big fat-ass boats around). There are even real boats too, and traveling by them through the city is a necessity at times. No word on being able to fly the Dodo again, however.
Not only will the city be bigger, you'll finally be able to actually go inside buildings. While it most likely will be limited in terms of different buildings you can enter, it is a real change. The buildings will be fully rendered like the rest of the game, so if you walk into a hotel room, you'll see all the things that make a hotel room ? probably without a bible in the nightstand though.
In one of the most important improvements, the law enforcement of Vice City actually does other things besides hunting you down. Now the po-lice will hunt down other crime in the city ? so if some fool ?jacks your ride with a cop nearby, they'll chase after him, leaving you free to steal another car, or just start a Vice City Survivor game. Gang shootouts will also erupt and the cops will run to make arrests and/or just kill all the friggin' morons. With all that in mind, it's nice to know that you aren't the only person being attacked by the law.
The side-jobs are back ? most likely the taxi, ambulance, cop, and fire truck missions will return (with the rumor of being part of a SWAT team banded about). The only addition we know of is being able to be a pizza delivery boy ? and since this is the 80's, most likely the old Domino's ?30 minutes or less or it's free? rule will be in effect, so you might have to?err?eliminate some members of the possibly overcrowded city along your way. All we need now is a garbageman mode and we'll be all set.
The mission structure will most likely be arranged like GTA 3, with main missions that you need to beat in order to progress through the game, and the various side missions that aren't necessary, but just amusing to do (Thick N Veiny was one of the more interesting ones from the last game). Hopefully some of the more fun missions such as the Import/Export garage and EV Crane will make a return for those who like to collect the various cars ? which would be double the fun given the mass amount of cars on the roads of Vice City.
There are around 30 different weapons in Vice City, including a new sniper rifle that can shoot out tires, causing a car to fly way out of control. Also, the weapon targeting system, once the biggest pain in the ass of GTA 3, is enhanced to be much more user friendly. So now you have no excuse if you get punked out by an opposing gang.
As you might expect, the graphics have taken a major overhaul. GTA 3's were not really that great, but the sheer size of the city made up for it. Now, not only is the city bigger, but also the graphics are improved to match. The people themselves are much better designed, with varying heights and weights along with some different animations to separate them from other people. The framerate, which had an occasional snag before, has also been improved, and the city looks much more colorful with much better textures and lighting. The huge amount of cars, people, and events on the streets of Vice City is a real testament to Rockstar North's programming prowess, as well as living proof that the PS2 has quite a bit more left under its hood.
One of the strongest points of GTA 3 was the excellent voices and excellent sound and music. Vice City will only improve on that. GTA 3 had about 2,000 voiceovers ? VC will have 8,000. More famous celebrities will most likely want a part of the action, joining Liotta as one of the best acting corps in a video game. Expect a movie-quality feel to the acting and story, made even better by an all-star cast.
As for the soundtrack, well c'mon, it's the 80's! Everyone likes to laugh at 80's music, so Rockstar made sure to load up the soundtrack with some of the best (worst?) of the decade of hair metal, Madonna, and the era when Michael Jackson was still a black man instead of a white woman. Vice City promises up to 9 hours of classic(?) 80's tunes, from Metal monsters as Judas Priest (NOT hair metal, though), rap pioneers Grand Master Flash & Kool And The Gang (this game is begging for some NWA ? F*ck The Police would fit perfectly), and, for some insane reason, if only to drive you completely insane, Hall & Oates and Cutting Crew have been mixed in as well. This is just the early word ? expect more cheesy 80's music to be included, hopefully with a ton of hair bands. GTA 3 missed the rock bandwagon, so they best make up for it here with some good stuff; from cheeseball (but remember, cheeseball doesn't necessarily mean bad) Gods like Whitesnake, Poison, and Def Leppard. Oh yeah, Lazlow is possibly going to make a return (oh, I bruise easily, don't throw any tofu or bean curds at me), so expect plenty of jabs at a decade that 95% of the population makes fun of on a daily basis.
Fact is, we could talk about Vice City all day, but it won't matter. You'll buy it. Almost everyone who owns a PS2 will buy it. They could call it Grand Theft Auto: We're Just Gonna Put GTA 3 In This Box To See If It Sells and it would sell out the first day. Yet Rockstar isn't doing that ? instead Vice City is going to be a game that completely shatters GTA 3 in terms of gaming goodness. When October comes, PS2 owners best set aside a few weeks, or even months, because Vice City is coming, and it ain't gonna stop until David Coverdale reunites Whitesnake.