Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

    Damn, it feels good to be a gangster.

    Grand Theft Auto
is a series I like to call a "Catharsis Simulator" where we get to briefly turn off our brains for a time to enjoy ourselves. You can read more about my opinion of such things in this essay:

Grand Theft Auto, Violence, and Alternative Media.

    The series is all about being a criminal, enjoying the fruits of your ill-gotten gains, and engaging in reckless mayhem as an alternative to the humdrum joys of real-life. If you haven't tried them out, you're probably one of the few gamers who haven't but I suggest everyone do so. It's not going to be everyone's taste but, for those who enjoy them, they're great.

    Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is considered by many to be the turning point in the series. Whereas Grand Theft Auto III was where the series became famous, GTA:VC is where I felt its combination of wacky characters and mayhem reached its perfect mixture. While Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was my first game in the series, I've since gone on to play them all and Vice City is definitely my favorite. The premise is fairly simple: play a story which is a combination of Scarface and Miami Vice.

Vice City is beautiful to look upon. Its vibrant colors and design is spectacular.
    You are Tommy Vercetti, voiced by Ray Liotta, and you are a member of the Italian mafia. Having been freed from prison after serving a sentence of fifteen years, you are eager to get back into the game. Sent down to a thinly disguised Miami, Florida (the titular Vice City), you have been ordered to start a drug empire. This is somewhat difficult when you are robbed of your starting money at the very beginning--alienating your employers as well as the people you were to buy drugs from.

    The game follows Tommy as he conducts an investigation of who set up his deal to fail, assembles enough cash to pay off the mafia dons back home, and builds a network of contacts which will allow him to become the Number One Boss of Not-Miami. You can do missions as a hit-man, drug-supplier, cabbie (?), and mind-controlled Voodoo zombie (?!). Note: the last one is the real-life person under the power of suggestion rather than the shambling monster. The game world is smaller than San Andreas by a significant margin but more interesting, in my humble opinion, because Vice City feels so alive.

The nightlife is good, too. It makes me want to move to South Florida.
    The all-star cast really helps sell this game. In addition to Ray Liotta, there's Phillip Michael Thomas (Tubbs from Miami Vice), Burt Reynolds, Denis Hopper, Robert Davi (License to Kill), Fairuza Balk, and even porn star Jenna Jameson. Deborah Harry, of all people, does some voice-work for the game. It's really a shame Rockstar decided to move away from this format because "spot the celebrity" is part of the game's fun.

    I think part of why the game is so enjoyable is the story is unapologetically materialistic. Tommy Vercetti is a psychopath, having no objections to any of the horrible acts he commits, but that allows the player to become further removed from any of this having any meaning. It's all about the Benjamens in Vice City and the feeling of satisfaction you'll have when you finally have your very own Tony Montana-inspired mansion is tremendous.

    No mention of Vice City would be complete without mentioning its absolutely insane soundtrack. "Dance Hall Nights" (Wang Chung), "Billie Jean" (Michael Jackson), "Self Control" (Laura Branigan), "Owner of A Lonely Heart" (Yes), "Video Killed the Radio Star" (The Buggles), and "Running With the Night" (Lionel Richie) are just some of my favorite soundtracks in the game. It really manages to capture the peculiar feel of Florida in 1986, the height of the decade and all it represents.

The world is yours, Tommy.
     I wouldn't have enjoyed the game half as much as I did if not for the eclectic cast of characters. One of the early missions in the game introduces the majority of the quest-givers; a massive collection of frauds, hypocrites, big-spots, and masterminds. In addition to their celebrity voices, they're all self-centered to the core but reel you in with their promises of wealth and power. As Tommy builds his crew, you'll also get acquainted with plenty of colorful lesser criminals as well. My favorite of the characters is Dennis Hopper's sleazy softcore (?) porn director, who positively oozes incompetence but is convinced he's a genius.

    I picked up Vice City via Steam and the game played wonderfully even on my laptop. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but it is more tightly scripted (IMHO) and easier to master. Not an hour or two into Vice City and you'll have the hang of the game, which is a great thing when you're playing it on computer. There's still options for other game consoles but the age of the title makes it more difficult to acquire.

Yes, Tommy, the scenery is nice.
    Does Vice City have any flaws? Honestly, I don't think so. It's exactly what it's supposed to be and does everything it attempts perfectly. It's a story of an up-and-coming crook in an environment which thrives on crime and cruelty. There's just enough ridiculousness to keep the story going and to make all of Tommy's evil deeds seem sane and rationale in the corrupt environment. No one likes doing horrible things to nice people, everyone loves doing horrible things to bad people--and everyone is bad in Vice City.

    All in all, I heartily recommend this game.


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