Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories Review

Title: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Developer: Rockstar Games
Game Type: PlayStation Portable
Download: 1.5 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download, Direct Download
EU Availability: Digital Download, Direct Download

When you look at a PlayStation console, whether it is a home console or a handheld console, there are certain types of game to look for on those consoles.  When the PlayStation Portable came out, it was the same.  You had people wondering when/if the system would get games like Gran Turismo, Ratchet and Clank, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, God of War, and many other franchises.  The question is the same with the PS Vita, with the franchises we haven’t gotten thus far.

One of the biggest franchises that people have been itching for on the Vita  is a series that has recently made its home on home consoles, as well as Mobile devices.  It’s been around since the original PlayStation consoles and has nearly ten entries already.  Whether it’s trekking through the streets of Liberty City or San Andreas, this series can only be Rockstar Games’ flagship series, Grand Theft Auto.

There are a lot of people going around, speaking about how they wish there was a Grand Theft Auto for the Vita, and about how great the series would be for the Vita’s future.  Others are worried that, with the recent Mobile release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar isn’t going to develop for the Vita.  Taking the PSP into account, people are wondering why there isn’t one on the Vita.  The PSP had two Grand Theft Auto games on it by the end of its second year.  That is precisely the point that the Vita does have a Grand Theft Auto to play on it.  In fact, it has three.

The PlayStation Portable received three Grand Theft Auto games in its time.  It got Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, a prequel to GTA III, in 2005, and got a prequel to Vice City, called Vice City Stories, the next year.  Years down the road, it got a retro-style game called Chinatown Wars.  It is the main consensus, though, that the better of the three is Vice City Stories.  Here is our coverage of the PlayStation Portable game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.

Story

The story of these games can be big on the enjoyment of the game.  While a lot of the fun of Grand Theft Auto comes from the sandbox-style of world you’re in, the storylines are interesting to follow.  The story of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories follows the character Victor Vance, brother to Lance Vance, whom anyone who has played GTA: Vice City may know rather well.  He arrives in Vice City as a soldier in the army, and in trying to raise money to help a sick family member, gets into a lot of shady groups of people and trouble.

The story actually takes place before the events of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.  This is explained in further detail that Victor Vance was in one scene from Vice City, details of which I may not explain here to avoid spoilers for both that game and this one.  Being a prequel, Vice City is laid out a little different, as are some of the characters you interact with in the game.

As far as characters go, there are a lot of cameos from characters from the original Vice City.  From Phil Cassidy to Ricardo Diaz, there are a lot of familiar faces that you will both meet and receive missions from.  I find this to be one of the good aspects of the story, as the player will already have a bit of background information, and can see what they were like before the events of the original Vice City.

Other than that, the story is very much like one you would expect of the series.  Despite Victor’s initial good nature, he gets involved with a lot of questionable things, from laundering drugs to prostitution to murdering and stealing money.  Outside of this, there is an interesting story to follow, as you see Victor’s outlook on life slowly changing over the course of the game.

The story isn’t a fantastic novel, but it is entertaining and the constantly-changing characters help that development.

Gameplay


Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is a 3D Sandbox-style Action game.  Sandbox means that the entire city is one giant map that you can run through in any way you wish.  It is very much like being placed inside a small city and let run anywhere you wish.  This is definitely one of the most fun aspects of the series.  You have the free roam to go wherever you wish, and just have fun exploring the city if you don’t want to progress the story.  So, there are two ways of playing the game.  Story Missions and Exploring.

Story Missions are done through certain people, and can have a variety of different scenes and tasks involved with them.  These tasks can range from an off-road vehicle race with your neighbors to kicking gang members out of a friend’s house to collecting money for shipments of drugs.  They mostly involve scenes and after you finish each one, certain elements of the game can unlock as well as getting paid for each one that is finished.

Throughout the city, there will be places on your map that are marked for missions or other service buildings.  There are missions to take part in, shops to go to and buy weapons, garages where you can change the paint color of your vehicles, and more.  Only missions will be labeled on your map, by default.  To get those other locations on the map, you need to discover them by finding them and entering them.

To get to these locations, you will need to either walk or get a vehicle to take you where you need to go.  You can man any boat, car, helicopter, and plane that you come across that has a door on it.  You need only walk up to it and press the button to enter the vehicle and kick anyone else out of it.  Yes, you are stealing their car, hence the series title, Grand Theft Auto.

You just need to be careful, as police roam the city.  If you steal a car around a police officer or cruiser, hurt a civilian, or run into a police cruiser, you will initiate a police chase.  This is ranked in stars, from one to five.  The more stars you have, the more you have after you.  It starts out with just officers and cruisers, but can escalate into helicopters, SWAT teams, and even tanks.  To get the rank down, you need to find Wanted Star item around the city and it removes those stars.

The twist is that you can’t only do the free roam aspect.  Many things do not become available once you start finishing Story Missions, which includes the second half of the city.  The bridges connecting one half to the other is blocked due to a hurricane and will only become unblocked after you finish a certain Story Mission.  So, while you can just run around the city and have fun, you will eventually need to do Story Missions to get access to everything.

Around the city, also unlocked by doing Story Missions, are safehouses.  These are basically where you live.  The first one is a barracks building in the Army Base, and it eventually evolves into apartments, houses, and more.  You start with only one, but gain more as the game progresses.  This is where you can store weapons, vehicles, as well as save game data.  Note that a safehouse is the only place you can save your game, so if you finish a mission and want to quit, you need to go back and save before closing out the game or you will lose your progress.

The biggest feature that makes Vice City Stories unique is the ability to buy buildings and start businesses.  There are dozens of buildings across the city that you can buy and turn into various businesses.  These can be a variety of things, from brothels, to loan sharks, to drug launderers.  Once you buy them, you can perform missions for each one of these for some extra cash and more unlockable content.  The catch is that they can be attacked by nearby gangs.  If a business is attacked, you need to hustle to it and defend it or you’ll lose it.

To conclude this lengthy section, I will say that the game will last a very long time.  I would say the game takes at least 10-20 hours to complete, from start to finish.  It is a big time-sink as any Grand Theft Auto game is.

Controls

The controls of Vice City Stories are not hard to remember, but at the same time, they’re not simple or basic.  Almost every button on the Vita will be used while playing the game.  The layout isn’t hard to get used to, but the complexity doesn’t come from that.  The complexity comes from the fact that there is a control layout for walking, and for manning vehicles.  Essentially, the game has two layouts at the same time to get used to and know what to press when.

When running, movement is controlled with the Left Analog Stick.  Camera control, which is normally controlled on the Vita with the Right Analog Stick, is controlled with the L Button.  This centers the camera behind your character.  The Square Button is used to Jump, X is used to dash, Circle is used to attack/fire a weapon, and Triangle is used with zooming with sniper rifles.  The R button lets you lock onto a target or enemy, and the d-pad handles cycling through your weapons and starting/ending optional missions, if you’re in a vehicle that offers them.

When you’re in a vehicle, some things are the same.  The Left Analog Stick still controls your movement and the L button still resets the camera.  You can also hold down the L button and press left or right on the Analog stick in mid-drive to let you look to the sides.  If you have a small sidearm, like an Uzi gun, you can fire out your side windows with the Circle button.  The X Button lets you accelerate.  The Square button applies the brakes and reverse.  The Circle button allows firing from the sides, or the front if you’re on a bike, and the D-Pad lets you cycle radio stations.

While the controls aren’t immensely hard to remember, you still have to remember two different control schemes, which can take some getting used to.  It also is a little awkward trying to fire out the side of your car without being able to use the Right Analog Stick for looking out that window.

Presentation

Being an early title for the PSP, Vice City Stories did not make the best use out of its hardware and graphical capabilities.  While it did accomplish the feat of bringing a huge city the likes of which Grand Theft Auto is known for to life in a small package, the visuals, themselves, weren’t especially outstanding.  If you look at screenshots, you will see a lot of jagged edges all over the place, and mouths and lips do not move in synch with the dialogue that goes with it.

Now that point brings us to a good point of the presentation.  The game is fully voiced from Victor speaking to others in scenes to random civilians and policemen talking in the streets as you explore the city.  The selection of music is very well done and the radio talk shows are sure to ruffle feathers and bring you to tears with its comedy.  They did a really nice job with this, and made the stations sound like real, legit stations.

The one part of the game that can struggle is the smoothness of how the game plays.  The communities know well that the digital editions of both this game and Liberty City Stories suffered from some lag and framerate issues.  While the Vita has helped this issue, it has not prevented it.  When you get to a point where there are a lot of enemies (Specifically enemies.  NPCs don’t seem to affect this at all) on-screen at once, like during a car chase or in a big gundown sequence in a mission, the game starts to experience slowdown, where it doesn’t run smoothly.

This doesn’t happen often and the lag isn’t game-breaking, but it is there and is an annoyance every time it pops up.

Overall

GTA: Vice City Stories successfully breaks the entirety of Vice City’s layout in a portable package and brings with it more content than you will know what to do with.  It’s exciting, funny, and there is a lot to explore.  Despite this, frame-rate issues bring the game down when there is a lot going on at once.  This is definitely an experience you want for your Vita, with its own set of feats and problems.

The PlayStation Vita Review Network rates Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories a 7/10

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