Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

As the best-selling game for the platform, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories shattered expectations on PlayStation Portable with incredible graphics and free-roaming gameplay for which the series has been famous. With Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, Rockstar promises a follow up that intends to outshine its predecessor with bigger gameplay and better graphics. The 1980s flashback that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories provides is a wonderful action-packed romp that tops the PlayStation Portable library; however, it doesn’t fully deliver on its promises. Imperfect graphics and more of the same gameplay we’ve already experienced make Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories a worthy, if not familiar purchase.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories returns to the titular metropolis before the events of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. You take the role of Victor Vance, a soldier in the army that unwittingly gets involved in some shady business with his military supervisor. Dishonorably discharged from service, Vic is left with nothing better to do than follow a life of crime. Together with his brother Lance, Vic hesitantly decides to build an empire in the burgeoning tropical city. Vice City Stories serves as a sort of prequel, developing several characters and setting the stage for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Unlike the previous PlayStation Portable spin-off, Vice City Stories maintains a tighter narrative and features a much more engaging storyline. There’s plenty to see and do in the game, but the story is interesting enough that you’ll likely be compelled to play through the required story missions.

Gameplay involves a combination of missions and general exploration of Vice City. The cityscape feels familiar, but since the game takes place a few years before the events of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City there are noticeable differences: new indoor locales have been added, several structures functional in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City are under construction, and a few areas have simply been rearranged. Interestingly, you’ll start the game near Vice City’s downtown area on the west island and work toward opening up the eastern island with the strip featured at the start of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. New hideouts have been created in each part of the city; additionally, weapons, rampages, and police bribes for reducing your wanted rating have all been relocated. Enough has been changed to make it worthwhile to rediscover Vice City, while at the same time keeping a sense of familiarity.
Missions retain the same structure as previous installments, albeit shortened to accommodate the portable platform. Objectives vary from delivering important packages to taking out Cuban gang bangers to winning ATV races. Compared with previous iterations of the series, the missions are much simpler and shorter; however, you’ll still find a few interesting additions. New empire missions enable you to take over local businesses and develop them into brothels, drug houses, or racketeering bases. Building up your empire with new ventures requires some money, as well as taking out gang members who oppose your rise to power. Empire missions are pretty basic, usually tasking you with destroying merchandise in a retail store to intimidate its owner or dispatching a bunch of gang bangers. Success means an expansion of your empire and more money.
There isn’t anything revolutionary to be found here; in fact, if you’ve played any of the other Grand Theft Auto games, you’ll receive a similar experience, albeit compressed for PlayStation Portable. This certainly doesn’t prevent Vice City Stories from being fun, but it is a limiting factor if you’re looking for something new. Even if the missions are lacking depth, they’re perfectly suited for quick play sessions; moreover, there are countless missions so you’ll be keeping Vice City Stories in your hands for months to come.
Like Grand Theft Auto: Liberty Cities Stories, Vice City Stories suffers from two drawbacks: constrained controls and significant graphical pop-up. The controls mirror those used in the previous game, which are limited with only a single analog stick and two shoulder buttons to work with. Movements with the analog stick can be difficult, as turning is incredibly sensitive both on foot and while driving. Without a second analog stick, Vice City Stories possesses a somewhat unpredictable camera. Tapping L centers the camera behind Vic, but sometimes the freedom to direct the camera would have made play less frustrating. Neither the controls nor camera are enough to warrant avoiding Vice City Stories, but it will take a bit of patience to get used to them.
Rockstar pledged to fix pop-up widely criticized of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but it’s difficult to tell if much has been done to alleviate the problem. In some areas, pop-up isn’t an issue whatsoever, but several key thoroughfares suffer from major pop-up. For example, several early missions take place within a trailer park surrounded by a chain link fence that often doesn’t appear until well after you’ve crashed into it. This becomes a problem when you’re in the middle of a race and get stuck on a fence or random object that suddenly pops-up out of nowhere. While not a deal-breaker, the massive amount of pop-up is incredibly annoying.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is totally enjoyable when you adjust to these flaws. The soundtrack far exceeds that of Liberty City Stories and the amount of gameplay is simply staggering. Even though the price rests slightly higher than other PlayStation Portable titles, you will get your money’s worth. Set your expectations accordingly and you’ll have fun.

Overall: 8.0
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is a fun, action-packed extension of Rockstar’s lauded series that deserves play. Even though it possesses graphical shortcomings and tried-and-true gameplay, it’s still enjoyable and worth picking up.

- Tracy Erickson