November 9, 2006

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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (PSP)
Rockstar Games, 2006

GTA revisits its most acclaimed locale with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, the handheld spinoff of its “I Love Jan Hammer music and drive-by shooting” simulator GTA:Vice City.

It not hard to argue that GTA:Vice City was the best GTA game to date. Sure, GTA: San Andreas was a sprawling chaotic affair but it failed to really capture the spirit of the era as Vice City did. Maybe San Andreas’ ealry nineties style simply couldn’t stand up to the Linen suits, power boats, hair metal and nu-wavery of the neon-tinged eighties. Vice City Stories puts you in the role of Vic Vance (brother to Vice City accomplice Lance Vance, famously voiced by Miami Vice actor Phillip Michael Thomas a.k.a. Tubbs) two years prior to the Scarface-esque rampages of Vice City.

Despite its port to the Sony handheld, the impressive dayglo landscape hasn’t shrunk a whit. The PSP Vice City is an even more impressive locale to engage in the criminal sandbox playstyle than ever before. Most notably players can now build various aspects of their criminal empire via businesses like loan-sharking and smuggling.

Unfortunately, many of the signiture GTA flaws have returned. The target lock system is still quite awkward and the camera, which was merely annoying in the PS2 version, has intensified to chronically frustrating owing to the PSP’s lack of a second analog stick. That said, the difficulty level of VCS is not as rough as the PS2 Vice City so the technical problems rarely cause one to fail a mission or give up in anguish. The worst flaw, and one that has plagued GTA since Vice City, is in the multi-legged missions often requiring you to repeat a lengthy series of tasks should you fail at any point along the trail of objectives. Worse yet is the stubborn refusal of Rockstar to include a “restart mission” option, instead forcing some excessive back-tracking.

While the PSP might not be the ideal venue for a game of this scope it is impressive that a game this huge can even run on a handheld. What does benefit from the PSP casing is the addition of WiFi multiplayer in various “spend a long time finding your opponents and awkwardly running around shooting them” modes. It’s a nice diversion but getting enough players to make the session feel full can sometimes be a chore. Strangely enough the most rewarding thing about VCS is knowing that as with Liberty City Stories before it, PS2 owners can look forward to a budget-priced port with vastly superior controls. B+
— Glenn Given