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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

Writing about Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories on PlayStation 2 would have been a lot easier two days ago. Trying to talk about what makes this port worthwhile is pretty difficult with the guise of Grand Theft Auto IV on the horizon, taunting with its superb visuals and promise of new gameplay. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories simply can’t hold up to those standards, being little more than an underwhelming port. Saved only by its budget price, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is a decent game worth tiding the time until the big one hits in October.
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 vary from delivering important packages to taking out Cuban gang bangers to winning ATV races. There isn’t anything revolutionary to be found here, particularly if you’ve already played it on PlayStation Portable. Originally designed with that system in mind, the missions are noticeably shorter than those of the main series; as a result, there’s a sense that this PlayStation 2 version lacks depth. This certainly doesn’t prevent Vice City Stories from being fun, but it is a limiting factor if you’re looking for something new.
Empire missions attempt to expand on the experience, enabling 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. Even on PlayStation Portable these missions didn’t add much, making that fact ever more clear in this port.
The lack of a second analog stick and two additional shoulder buttons on PlayStation Portable brought up issues in playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. Bringing the game to PlayStation 2 addresses these problems much like it did with the Liberty City Stories port. With a Dual Shock 2, the right analog stick can be used to rotate the camera; additionally, L2 and R2 can be used to look left and right while driving, as well as behind when pressed simultaneously. Since the analog sticks can be pressed in, L3 and R3 are utilized for honking a vehicle’s horn and activating special missions. These additions may seem trivial, but they are the only advantage this PlayStation 2 port has over its handheld predecessor.
Without question, the biggest shortcoming Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories suffers in making its way onto PlayStation 2 regards its presentation. Scaling up the visuals from a handheld to a full television just doesn’t work. What appeared detailed on PlayStation Portable now looks murky; what slightly popped up on the handheld bursts onto the screen. Lighting is a real problem, causing the screen to go dark with the sunset and excruciatingly bright when it rises. At least you have some good tunes to listen to whenever the lightning prevents a good view of the screen, as the same fantastic soundtrack makes its way untouched to PlayStation 2.
Really, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories isn’t that awful of a game; in fact, it’ll whittle away your time if you can put up with the flaws of this port. There’s a lot of gameplay to be had here, as anyone who has played the game on PlayStation Portable already knows. Too bad it just isn’t as fun on PlayStation 2.

Overall: 7.0
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories marks the end of an era on PlayStation 2. What was once so amazing barely conjures excitement on PlayStation 2. The budget price makes this a great option if you haven’t already played the game on PlayStation Portable, especially if you’re anticipating the new next-generation installment this autumn.

— Tracy Erickson

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