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10 years on… a Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Retrospective

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City comes to iOS and Android for the first time this week to celebrate ten years since the game was first released on Playstation 2. Even after all this time the game is still talked about and considered by many to be the best Grand Theft Auto game to date. But what made this game an instant classic? Why not take a trip down memory lane with me and relive all the reasons that make this game one of the best of any generation.

The first thing people think about when they think of Vice City is without a doubt its licensed soundtrack, and what a soundtrack it is. Perfectly encapsulating the 80's across all different genres is has to go down as one of the best in video game history. Everyone has a different song or radio station they think of when discussing which songs they loved, whether it was listening to "Dance Hall Days" in the Malibu Club, massacring police whilst head-banging to "I Wanna Rock" or partaking in street races whilst "Japanese Boy" blasted thought the speakers. The quirkiness of the tracks suited the style and tone of the game so well you have to wonder how big a part of the experience just the soundtrack alone played. I would say a very big part.

Along with the soundtrack, the overall aesthetic of the game with its bright colors, larger than life personalities and 80's humor all went together in creating such a realistic setting and world, you really felt like you were in the 1980's whilst playing the game. The island itself may have been smaller than the other GTA's but the level of detail crammed in is still a sight to behold, even if the visuals don't do the world justice anymore. After the dark, grayish brown world of Grand Theft Auto IV, from early impressions you can see Grand Theft Auto V already looks filled with colors once again. Not as bright as the neon pinks of Vice City, but the impression the style of this game left on people is still prevalent today in what they crave in a GTA world.

Whilst the game only came out a year after Grand Theft Auto III the leap between games was nowhere near the level seen previously. The world is the smallest of any GTA and San Andreas improved upon the formula in almost every way with a huge map, insane missions and a ton of sandbox toys. This shows the level of charm that Vice City has when, arguably, content wise it is the least ambitious GTA game but still one of the most popular. Rockstar should take note of this in the future and it goes to show you don't have to be technically impressive to make a good game. I'm looking at you, Grand Theft Auto IV. Having character over content is what makes a game special.

The story of the game is a very nice one that doesn't take itself too seriously whilst also being meaningful, which is a hard line to balance. It is primarily based on Scarface but tells a more vibrant, comedic story through its supporting cast and the situations which arise from them. Lance Vance provides a lot of laughs whilst also playing a huge role in the plot with some good character development. Other memorable faces include Ken Rosenberg, Sonny Forelli, and Avery Carrington all making the experience a wonderful one which can be replayed many times over.

The voice work is also a huge step up from the previous game. Names such as Danny Trejo, Burt Reynolds, and Dennis Hopper immediately add personality to the characters on screen and make the experience all the more engrossing with the funny one-liners and smooth delivery. Of course it would be criminal to talk about characters and voice work without mentioning our protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, voiced by the incredible Ray Liotta.

After the silent protagonist of the previous game, it was a big deal having a well known actor play the role of the lead, and even 10 years on, still stands alone as the best voice performance in any Grand Theft Auto game. Tommy was a guy we trusted, first and foremost as a player, which meant we felt every emotion Tommy went through in the game. Not some un-relatable psychopath who caused mindless destruction like some other entries. He provided humor when it was needed whilst also adding a human element to an otherwise farcical at times world. What could have become fantasy in a cartoon world and perhaps too over the top stayed grounded when it needed to is a worse performance that could have meant the whole story failed. If we see another protagonist half as good as Tommy Vercetti in any game, then we should be so lucky.

As I mentioned before, Vice City is a truly beautiful island, but unfortunately time has caught up on the game now to the point that it's hard to really see its beauty through the last gen graphics. You can guarantee however that we have not seen the last of Vice City. With Liberty City and now Los Santos having been given the deserved HD treatment, I would hazard a guess that the first GTA game on the next generation of consoles will have us revisiting many peoples favorite island once again. Just imagining how stunning a potential game could look is enough to get excited for the future.

My first personal experience with the game was back in 2003 when I didn't own a PS2. My older brother had one and a copy of Vice City so this meant one thing, sneakily playing it before he got home from high school. I never did any missions at this time, just explored the world and caused complete mayhem. I remember a friend and I would find all the Easter eggs just by scouring everywhere there was as we didn't have the Internet at home back then and the joy of finding an underwater submarine was incredible. This magic can't be recreated now with every secret being broadcast to the world and this is the last time I felt that true sense of mystery whilst playing a video game.

Since then I have owned the game on PS2, Xbox, PC and now iOS, I'm still not sick of the game. I completed the story over fifteen times and 100% the game at least twice yet I still want to explore the island, which is not bad for such a small map. Playing the game on iOS won't be the easiest way to play the game, but just having the game everywhere I go is enough to warrant the purchase for me. Drive around in your car of choice (yellow Infernus), put on your favorite radio station (Flash FM) and let the good times roll.

Being one of the defining games of my childhood, I still remember the Christmas after playing the game all year. The only thing I wanted was the ridiculously overpriced seven disc soundtrack box set, something which nowadays is pretty useless as all music is digital. I still own it and it's one of my favorite bits of gaming memorabilia I have. A tad excessive but when a game comes along that stay with you long after playing you know that the game is something special.

And that's the best way to sum up Vice City. It just has that special something. That indescribable element that is only realized when everything clicks in a video game and the closest thing to perfection is achieved. I thought Grand Theft Auto III was a fantastic game, Vice City made me fall in love with the series and San Andreas solidified it as my favorite franchise. If it wasn't for this game my love of video games may not be what it is today and I may not have had the passion to write about wonderful games like Vice City. Thank you Rockstar Games for ten incredible years and counting...


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