When it came to pushing
the Sony PSP hardware to the limit, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
did just that when it brought its free-roaming action game to a portable
medium. Yes, the same impressive game design Rockstar brought to its now
legendary Grand Theft Auto III title was shrunk down to a portable
package that made one of the PSP’s biggest blockbusters. Just like the first
portable outing was set in GTA III’s Liberty City, Grand Theft Auto:
Vice City Stories is set in the PS2 sequel’s Miami-like Vice City setting.
It’s time to revisit our old stomping grounds in a sequel that is sure to be a
fan’s new favorite on the PSP.
The game revolves around
Vic Vance (brother of GTA: Vice City’s Lance Vance) who happens to be a
soldier stationed in the military base in a pre-Tommy Vercetti owned Vice City
during the mid 1980s. As fate would have it, Vic is convinced by his crazy CO,
Jerry Martinez, to break a few rules for cash including smuggling drugs into the
barracks. Unfortunately, the drugs are discovered and Vic Vance is dishonorably
discharged from the military and thus forcing him to work for the criminal
underground in the city. We follow Vic as he climbs the crime ladder, making
allies and enemies along the way.
While Liberty City
Stories was impressive in its attempt to cram in all the series usual
elements and does so successfully, Vice City Stories slightly improves
upon them. For example, moving Vic around feels a bit more like the console
games this time around without having to really wrestle with the camera. This
makes fighting a tad better, although the targeting reticule can still be a bit
funky when it comes to targeting the nearest threat. Driving is still somewhat
awkward, making some vehicles seem a bit clunky at times. Yet then again all it
takes is a lot of practice and you’ll be use to the driving controls in no time.
Even when you finally get to climb into a helicopter you’ll find the flying can
get fun the more you take to the skies.
The Vice City we remember
so fondly in the console game is all there, although you start the game in the
airport district where you’ll find Little Havana, the Downtown area and the
port. Like the majority of GTA games, each major area is closed off until
you complete the story missions. You will, for example, perform tasks for one
character and get a page to perform a few other tasks for another character. The
missions themselves will give you a lot to do and they’re actually quite fun.
Whether you’re chasing a Latino gang out of a neighborhood or attempting to
complete a very difficult delivery.
GTA: Vice City
introduced business fronts the main character can purchase that actually
generates money when you complete a few front missions and
Vice City Stories does the same with
its Empire Building feature. There are Empire missions that aren’t as fun as the main
missions but they do prove to be good distractions. The game also takes a page
out of San Andreas, allowing you to recruit gangs to aid you in a mission
or take over a rival gang’s territory. This also means that rival gangs can
attack your territory, forcing you to defend the territory.
Multiplayer was also a
nice addition to the series and I’m happy to report that it makes a return in
this game. With ten multiplayer modes played through an Ad Hoc connection, up to
six players in total can join in some wireless multiplayer fun. There is the fun
deathmatch mode Vice City Survivor as well as a game that has you attempting to
destroy the other team’s vehicle (called Protection Racket). Some games have you
attempting to take control of a vehicle such as a tank (Tanks for the Memories)
or helicopter (the new Might of the Hunter mode). The multiplayer mode runs
smoothly and each mode is downright fun.
Vice City Stories
also looks a lot better than
Liberty City Stories … but then again, not by very much. That’s not to say
the first PSP GTA game was not lovely to look at because it was
definitely a visually impressive game but this one offers more detail and better
effects. Head to the beach and you’ll be impressed by the water effects, for
instance, and the grocery stores in the city are just filled with detailed
items. The character models are a slight improvement as well, especially when it
comes to the cut scenes throughout the game. As I mentioned above, this is the
Vice City we remember fondly and it still looks good. Unfortunately there are
some graphical glitches mainly due to the hardware’s limitations. Cars appear
out of thin air and disappear … as do entire buildings!
The game’s soundtrack is
pure 80s gold and you’ll find a number of familiar tunes that make the radio
stations such a joy to listen to while driving around the city. Many of Vice
City’s radio stations are present and the disc jockeys and commercials add
some truly hilarious moments throughout so expect the same witty banter the
series is known for in this game. The voice acting is also handled beautifully,
mainly because this time many of the familiar characters are voiced by the same
voice actors from the console game. You’ll find Gary Busey reprising his role as
Phil Cassidy as well as Luis Guzman as Ricardo Diaz and Phillip Michael Hall as
Lance Vance. Even the pedestrian comments are done right.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice
City Stories doesn’t do anything
completely new for the franchise but it is one of the most addictive PSP games
you will want to buy right away. Still just as impressive as the series first
attempt on Sony’s handheld, this game will keep you entertained with its great
story, fun missions and awesome open-world environments. Hopefully next time the
series will be just as deep as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but until
then this one will keep you very busy.
The game’s targeting feature can be
a bit of a pain but aside from that the controls work wonderfully throughout the
game. Both the on-foot and driving mechanics feel right and Vic can actually
swim. The missions are familiar GTA fare but they are actually pretty fun.
Finally, we get to pilot helicopters.
Vice City Stories
is also a major improvement visually over
Liberty City Stories in many respects. Aside from some great character
models, the Miami-inspired city just looks amazing. While pedestrians do
disappear if you turn around, the city does look alive.
GTA: Vice City
introduced a soundtrack packed with familiar
tunes from the 80s and Vice City Stories just does the same. The
soundtrack offers up an impressive dose of rock tunes from the likes of Quiet
Riot, rap from Run D.M.C. and Latin jazz from the likes of Tito Puente. The
sound effects are stellar but it’s the great voice acting that stands out.
Like most Grand Theft Auto
games, some missions are easy to complete while others will offer up quite a
challenge. Those familiar with the series know that the missions with multiple
objectives can be completed through trial-and-error so don’t expect any mission
to really stump you.
It’s great to be back to a familiar
stomping ground especially since the locale itself contains enough areas to
explore and revisit. Vic Vance is a great character and watching him try to make
a name for himself is a real treat. For a PSP game, there is certainly a lot to
see and do in this game and the multiplayer mode just adds more replay value to
a game that will keep you very busy for a long time.
The multiplayer modes introduced in
Liberty City Stories are present here but there are some new game modes
that make this an even better multiplayer experience. Again there’s no online
multiplayer through Infrastructure mode but the Ad Hoc multiplayer runs at a
very steady framerate and there’s very little to complain about when modes like
Empire Takedown or The Hit List are just way too fun.
If Liberty City Stories was
the reason you should buy a PSP, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
is the reason you need a PSP. Sure it’s not a major step in a new
direction for the series but just like Vice City on the PS2, it raises
the bar just a little and does not fail to show us a fun time in a world worth
visiting. Come for the entertaining missions and open world but stay for the
colorful characters and dozens of things to do.