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Grand Theft Auto Vice City Stories


It's amazing isn't it? Who would have thought back when Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto III that the franchise would have taken the world by storm such as it did. Since then the consoles have seen many sequels and a lot of televised debate as to whether or not the games damage America's youth. I could stand on a soap box and preach about the freedoms that the constitution gives Americans and what happens when the government steps in to censor forms of art but I won't. Instead I'll just talk about the latest game in the GTA series; Vice City Stories.

The first time Rockstar brought the series to the Sony PSP, Liberty City Stories provided gamers with a solid experience. It was on a much smaller scale than they may have enjoyed on the PS2 in the past but the fact remained that it was a new GTA. Just like Liberty City, Vice City Stories is a prequel to the prior game of the same name. It is also bigger in scope than Liberty City Stories was so in that regard PSP gamers will be decidedly pleased.

You may recall, if you played Vice City that is, the character of Lance Vance. Well, in Stories you take control of his brother Victor as you try to do right by your family and keep your nose out of trouble. Well, you know the old saying, "life happens", and aspirations have a way of changing. A lot happens to Victor in this game and you can kind of empathize with the character. Together you and he worked towards the ultimate goal of toppling Vice City and basically becoming a crime lord. So much for morality. It's nothing that we haven't really seen before with this franchise, but it's also one of the reasons we keep coming back.

Gameplay:


If you have played a GTA game in recent years then you have essentially played Vice City Stories. The gameplay mechanics haven't changed very much and while this game may not be as in depth as San Andreas was it offers minuscule improvements that make it better than Liberty City Stories.

The same basic concept of gameplay is here in spades. You are given a lot of freedom to do what you want when you want though in between there are missions to fulfill and various things to achieve. The game does a decent job of keeping you on task while not appearing to be linear. That sandbox element has been the feather in the cap of the GTA franchise for a long time and it's just as fun here. Unfortunately as fun as it is, you can only take so much of it before it becomes a little dry. At least in that regard there's always a mission for you to seek out.

Admittedly the game starts out very slowly with little to do and little to see. Gradually as you progress through the story more venues open up and more action hits the table. It takes a pretty long time to get to that point but once you do you'll feel comfortable once again with the franchise's formula. Stealing a bike, driving off in a hot sports car, and even riding above town in a helicopter are a few of the things that you'll be doing, but let's not discount the senseless killing of pedestrian and cops. Yes, this is GTA and though it may not be at its finest (due to limitations of the PSP) it is still the best option on the handheld market.

One of the biggest differences between Vice City Stories and its console brethren is the fact that the PSP only has one analog stick. This changes the way that you control the game and the way that the camera operates. Now if you want to look around you have to press the shoulder button and move the analog stick. Otherwise it moves with your character and for the most part it's actually pretty functional. I've seen so many games get frustrating because of the PSP's limitations but fortunately this title doesn't suffer that fate.

As far as what Vice City Stories brings to the PSP for improvements over the system's last outing? Well, for starters the lock-on system is better for combat and there are more melee moves that you can perform. There isn't a lot of depth in that department but it is noticeably richer in terms of what you can do. The taxi system is available to make getting back to the start of your mission a lot simpler should you find yourself in prison or at the hospital. If you have some green you can also bribe your way into getting your weapons back. That alone makes Vice City Stories better than Liberty because now you don't have limp back to the start of a mission completely unarmed.

As far as that improved lock-on system is concerned the game basically targets the closest threat to you when the bullets start to fly. It's not entirely fool-proof but it certainly helps when you're under fire and you have to fight your way out. Occasionally innocent bystanders will be targeted instead and at other points the mechanic doesn't work as solidly as it should but overall it's a nice improvement. Despite this there are still many cheap deaths abound. Close proximity doesn't work well with guns so you have to swap to a melee weapon or simply run away to assert yourself better. Don't be surprised if you find yourself visiting the hospital many times because the game pickled you into a corner before you could react quickly enough.

Taking over businesses is another aspect to Vice City Stories that adds depth to the experience. During the game you'll have the opportunity to become a manager of certain establishments and through the course of the game you can increase their productivity. This gets you some serious cash and really helps to flesh out the world that you find yourself in. Compared to the regular missions these get a little tedious after a while despite the fact that the outcome justifies the means.

While Vice City Stories doesn't bring a whole lot of innovation to the table it does bring a great experience. This is still a GTA game and therefore it is something to be reckoned with. The core gameplay structure is so enjoyable that gripes and repetitive concepts are easy to overlook. This is still a must have title for the PSP but if you've strictly played the console versions and are looking for the next big thing you will probably just want to wait for the next big GTA. This is more of a diversion in the meantime, though it's a fun diversion at that.

Graphics:


Compared to Liberty City Stories this game is a big step in terms of graphics. There is much less slowdown, less pop-up and more draw distance throughout the cityscape. The game may not be as dynamic as the current generation of GTA games on home consoles but it certainly makes an impression for being a PSP title. For a handheld title Vice City Stories offers a huge world to explore and it is one that is vibrant and personable the entire way through.

Audio:


Aside from stealing cars the GTA series has become renowned for its audio content. Driving around town allows you to listen to a plethora of great songs from the 80's and the voice acting is good quality with notable names such as Luis Guzman, Gary Busey, and Philip Michael Thomas leading the way. The game sounds decent even through the PSP's speakers but it sounds even better with the headphones handy. I found myself getting into the music every time I stepped into a car and it definitely helped break the monotony of driving from mission to mission.

Conclusion:


If you're a PSP owner and you like GTA then by all means go get this game now. It may not be as big, as diverse or as impressive as the console franchise but it's still a solid experience that you can take with you on the go. Hour upon hour will be dropped into this title and for the most part that will be time well spent. Vice City Stories is definitely an improvement over Liberty City Stories in every way; even if it's only a slightly improvement.