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Holding Up is a weekly column dedicated to examining classic games to see if they’re worth another go. Readers are more than welcome to request that certain games be examined.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost ten years since eager gamers were first loading Grand Theft Auto: Vice City into their Playstations and were immediately immersed in Rockstar’s violent and hysterical take on 80s Miami. Even weeks after the 20 hour storyline had been resolved, players were still delivering virtual pizzas and humming 80s tunes aloud. But is Vice City still just as majestic in a world where the standard for games is high definition graphics and ragdoll physics?
I played it to find out.
Loading up the game for the first time in several years is quite the eye-opener in terms of just how far graphics technology has come in video games. To say it plainly, Vice City is a ugly game on a technical level. The character models are squashed and rudimentary, and the white lines around every plant branch and leaves of grass are all too noticeable. However, Vice City more than makes up for it with its stylistic aesthetic; there is nothing quite like zooming down Ocean Drive on a PCJ-600 cycle with “I Ran (So Far Away)” blaring, or stepping inside the Malibu club to see the caricatures of the Village People dancing on stage before you light the place up with a molotov cocktail. It may be nostalgia speaking, but I found these sections of the experience to be just as immersive as they had been ten years ago.
If only every element were like that. If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto IV, you’re going to notice the technological limitations. I’m talking about more than just graphics here. For example, in IV, if you walked up to a car and shot the motorists through the windshield, blood would spray onto the glass and impact points for each bullet would show up wherever you fired. There was also a chance that the driver would slump over, and his foot would press on the acceleration pedal, sending the car speeding down the street out of control, running over anyone and anything unfortunate enough to be in front of it—including you! Shooting a driver in Vice City results in the windshield breaking and the motorist spilling out of the car into a puddle of his or her own blood. Disappointing, but if it’s any consolation, you can still set your car aflame and then go speeding down the sidewalk as a fiery kamikaze on wheels. You can’t jump out though, so it’s definitely a one way trip if you go that route (at least until you respawn).
Another element that pales in comparison with later Grand Theft Auto entries is the storytelling. Vice City is a long game. Not quite as long as San Andreas or IV, but it’s still lengthy. Unfortunately, the story—a parodic pot of Scarface, Miami Vice, and Carlito’s Way—isn’t quite worthy of that length. Tommy Vercetti is an ambitious man out for revenge who is surrounded by cokeheads and backstabbers. That’s about as deep as it gets. But what Vice City lacks in depth, it makes up for in hilarity. You may find yourself doing nothing but driving around town listening to K-Chat because the dialogue is still just as witty and irreverent as ever, which is hardly a surprise given that the game’s most timeless element is its audio.
The soundtrack for Vice City is massive and effective: almost every single track (103 in all) effectively builds up the atmosphere of the game in ways that only San Andreas could match. The sections of the game where you’re chasing another thug or running from the police with “99 Luftballons” or “Sunglasses at Night” playing are still sublime. In terms of creating an enthralling atmosphere, there are few games that do it better than Vice City thanks to the period fidelity on display here.
Should you revisit Grand Theft Auto: Vice City?
Without a doubt. The graphics haven’t aged well, sure, but everything else is just as superb as it was a decade ago. Now go. Somewhere in that bright city is some fool with your coke money, and Toto is playing on the car stereo. You know what to do.
Have a classic that you want me to play? Leave a comment and let me know.