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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Turns 20



Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Turns 20

Revisiting Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released on October 29, 2002, only a year after Grand Theft Auto: III. As hard as it is to imagine in an era that sees a decade go between releases, GTA games used to drop annually. GTA III was a game-changer, setting a new standard for open worlds in gaming. Somehow, Rockstar Games raised the unbelievable bar it had set just one year earlier.

Vice City completed the series’ transition from a game about jacking cars and driving them into a world in which the main character could do almost anything. There for the vehicles? There were four different types of motorcycles and stunt jumps to challenge how well the player could ride them. Helicopters and boats were available, and it was both challenging and fun to acquire them all. Once the player gets a helicopter, they can see so many ramps, shortcuts, and other detours, it is like unlocking an entirely different map. A stacked list of side quests included taxi driving, paramedic missions, and running import garage players needed to – ahem, acquire cars for. This paved the way for the now-common phenomenon of being so engrossed in side quests that the main objective falls by the wayside. The trilogy of GTA IIIVice City, and GTA: San Andreas ushered in a brand new world of sandboxes. Since then, open-world games have been constantly described as “Grand Theft Auto clones.”

How about running a criminal empire? After doing a bunch of revenge missions, the main character Tommy Vercetti got enough of the largely thankless henchman life and went full Scarface, taking over Vice City one racket at a time. The Al Pacino classic is one of the most influential mobster flicks of all time, and thus a perfect inspiration. Its “The World Is Yours” mantra resonated with generations of rappers, athletes, and more than a few game designers, including the ones at Rockstar. Tommy’s battle against Sonny Forelli’s army is essentially a redo of Tony Montana’s mansion battle, only this time the main character survives. There are quite a few other nods including an apartment containing a chainsaw and a blood-soaked bathroom. Vivendi Games would later publish its own GTA-inspired title using the actual Scarface license and it managed to sell two million copies.

The rags-to-riches story of Vice City is filled with instantly memorable characters voiced by an all-star cast. Burt Reynolds portrays sleazy real estate mogul Avery Carrington, who isn’t above any crime as long as it expands his empire. Porn legend Jenna Jameson is Candy Suxxx, an adult actress having an affair with family values-espousing senator Alex Shrub. Ray Liotta gave the main character Tommy Vercetti instant mafia cred. As he did with Goodfellas’ Henry Hill, Liotta’s performance made a man whose day job was unrepentant killing into somebody an audience gleefully cheered for. It felt so good to be this bad. This was another huge step up from GTA III. Claude was a named protagonist, but only just barely. Now it is simply accepted that a GTA offering will have a top-notch cast of voice actors bringing its psychotic but lovable criminals to life.

Image: Rockstar Games

The 80s are everywhere in entertainment right now, but Vice City was there when lampooning this old decade was still fresh and new. Those that lived through the Reagan era will remember the excess represented by big hair, big suits, and big dreams. Whether the 80s in question are the 1980s or 1880s, nobody takes players to a different time period better than Rockstar. Batman writers often refer to Gotham City itself as a character, and the same certainly applies here. Vice City is 80s’ Miami through a cocaine-fueled, neon-clad lens and while much of it is satire, there’s more truth to it than 80s clubgoers would like to admit.

Rumors have the series returning to this locale for the much-anticipated Grand Theft Auto 6. The fourth installment prominently featured Liberty City, and GTA V did the same for San Andreas so this theory isn’t out of line.

PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium gamers can relive the experience right now, as Vice City Definitive Edition is now available to download for free. The new version adds some exciting features. There is a weapon and radio wheel now, preventing the player from having to scroll through all the options to change guns or radio stations. The PS2 era control scheme has received an upgrade bringing it more in line with the modern series installments.

But due to various licensing issues, 22 tracks from the original’s incredible soundtrack are now missing. Those still fortunate enough to have a working PlayStation 2 and the original might want to fire that one up instead. There’s simply nothing like mowing down civilians while trying to lose the police with Lionel Richie’s Running with the Night playing at full blast.

Brian Allen has been sharing his love of pop culture since he could pick up a pencil. Reviews in his school paper blossomed into a career covering TV, movies and games for b5 Media and the TechnologyTell network among others. He now co-hosts the Color of Magic podcast championing diversity in gaming and media. You can read more of his thoughts on Twitter @BrianPsionic.