Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories PSP
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Released on 03/11/2006
Mark gets reacquainted with gaming's very own sin city...
Believe it or not, there was a time when full free-to-roam 3D worlds were just a gamer's pipedream. Oh sure, we'd had some pretty impressive action adventures in three dimensions - Metal Gear Solid and Soul Reaver come to mind - and even some truly memorable settings, from Hyrule in Nintendo's magnum opus Ocarina of Time to the then standard-setting streets of Sega's Shenmue... but these were all fantastical, story driven fictions, not the go-anywhere, do-anything sandbox offering many had craved.
And then it happened: GTA III. And since then gaming's never been the same; we've had a host of imitators, from your True Crimes to movie licenses like the Godfather and Scarface, and even the barmy-as-a-bright-blue-banana Just Cause, but GTA, in all its guises, remains the Daddy.
And Rockstar really have plugged that success for all it's worth, without ever really altering the winning formula - though there has been unquestionable expansion; San Andreas took the genre to its current heights, while Liberty City Stories set the benchmark for quality in the PSP games catalogue. Vice City Stories, then, finds itself between two stalls: on one hand, it's yet another familiar-feeling release that will fit fans expectations without really furthering the series - on the other, it's still one of the most polished pieces of programming the PSP has to offer. This is GTA back on PSP - considerably bigger and even brasher, but really just more of the same.
To recap from our Preview, Vice City Stories stars Vic Vance, brother of PS2 Vice City's main man Lance, a butch military kinda chap and, actually, quite a nice, morally upstanding guy - until he gets to Vice City, that is. That's when things all start going horribly wrong.
Vic's commanding officer, you see - a semi-psycho named Jerry Martinez - has no qualms about the whole abuse-of-power issue, and soon has a disgruntled, protesting Vic off out on a number of less-than-legal errands… which involve killing people. And stealing stuff. And picking up prostitutes. Handheld or not, this is still unmistakably GTA - and as such, is as strictly adults-only as gaming experiences get.
GTA Vice City Stories is one of the most polished pieces of programming the PSP has to offer.
The gameworld Vic has to explore is an impressive one - set two year's before the original Vice City, it bodes the hallmarks of its big brother, with a few minor cosmetic differences - but notably looks even nicer than the city's original PS2 depiction. It really is incredible what Rockstar have managed to get out of the PSP. In purely polygon-pushing terms, there isn't a title that's used Sony's handheld like Vice City Stories - a plaudit equally applicable to audio, which boasts a brilliantly cheesy eighties feel, with delightfully funny radio dialogue and an insane amount of licensed tracks.
But most of that was also true of Liberty City Stories. Admittedly, VCS takes PSP programming even further, but still, surely we were all expecting another technical tour de force? No, the big talking points here are not how good Vice City looks or sounds, impressive as those aspects are - but how Rockstar's prowess with the PSP has created an altogether more varied game experience.
Unlike Liberty City Stories, Vice City does water in a big way. Indeed, half of the entire area you'll get to play in is water, with the physics engine adapted to accommodate swimming, riding jet skis and driving speedboats and the like - all with a pleasingly floaty, viscous feel.
Also new in Vice City Stories is the ability to take to the skies in helicopters - nothing we've not seen before on a home console in various free-roamers, of course, but its an altogether jaw-dropping spectacle when you raise the 'copter into the sky for the first time and the city's entire skyline spreads out before you - all on a handheld system. Handling a chopper can be a bit tricky, with X rotating the blades, Square lowering the craft, the triggers steering it left and right, and a push up of the analogue nub propelling it forward, but once you get used to it flight feels incredibly intuitive, as well as being the quickest way to get around the city.
Which comes in handy for the game's multitude of story-driving missions. In truth, none of these objectives stray outside of the usual GTA formula - there's fetch-and-carry, race and assassination missions prevalent throughout - but the manner with which the game's sea, air and of course, its returning land vehicles - bikes, trucks, sports cars and all, each with nicely diverse handling mechanics - tie different legs of missions together that makes them stand out from Liberty City Stories. You'll drive to your first goal, fly to your second, then nab a speedboat to bear down on your objective for the last part of the mission.
Unfortunately, this makes failing missions even more frustrating than before, forcing you to repeat the entirety of each leg of the journey when it happens. However, it's still a welcome improvement from some of the none-event missions of Liberty City, encouraging mastery of the game by the player in the same manner Rockstar have themselves mastered the PSPs internal architecture.
Never let it be said that GTA doesn't boast value for money.
As far as mastery goes, there's no greater accolade than running your own empire - and Vice City Stories' Empire system allows you to do just that. Each of the city's gangs runs a number of illegal businesses from various hotspots around town - and over the course of the game you'll challenge the various gang leaders, defeat them, and ultimately take over their turf, raking in larger incomings over the course of the rest of the game. It's really more of a sideline than anything truly compelling, and the missions offered to actually run your empire are largely repetitive (ferrying call girls from place to place, that sort of thing) but it's an element of additional character-building element we're pleased to see returning from the older Vice City on PS2, and an option completists will no-doubt savour. Never let it be said that GTA doesn't boast value for money.
Unfortunately, it also comes with a few, inherent GTA flaws; notably the lock-on aiming is still temperamental - though admittedly improved from Liberty City, finding intended foes more often than pedestrians. There does seem to be a major issue with close-quarters combat however - it simply doesn't want to let you shoot people at point blank range, and if someone's punching you to death, you'll have to switch to a handheld weapon rather than gun them down. This is a particular pain in confined areas, and especially given the rigid nature of the camera system, which uses the L trigger to centre the view behind Vic, with no real floating free-look option.
Thankfully, these flaws prove less damaging to the multiplayer mode than you may think, which still retains its previous gametypes, and adds a host of new ones. On the whole, it's another varied competitive offering, but again the problem is going to be finding five friends who all own PSPs and copies of the game; this is a multiplayer game that's really only at its best with the maximum quotient of players.
And that's indicative of Vice City Stories as a whole: a game that improves upon its PSP forebear, and yet fails to really elevate expectations for the franchise as a whole. That said, this is an exclusive on Sony's smaller system, and should be treated as such - especially as, with GTA IV on the horizon, the chances of this making the port to PS2 like Liberty City Stories did is looking decidedly slim. Another standard-setting handheld release from Rockstar, then - covering familiar ground perhaps, but doing so with a speed and style few other developers have yet to display.
- Bigger and better looking than Liberty City Stories
- New sea and air transport expands the experience further
- A real technical feat on PSP
- Overly familiar GTA narrative
- Still-dodgy lock-on targeting and 3D camera
- Finding enough people to enjoyably play the multiplayer is a hard one
Review by: Mark Scott
Version Tested: PSP
Review Published: 09.11.06
You look like a trollop!
What's your favourite aspect of the GTA games? Their huge free-roaming cities? Their sandbox violence? For us, it's the radio stations. Remember the very first GTA? "The men-folk found their women scary, because they were so big and hairy" ...Brilliant! And of course, it's only gotten better as time's gone by, with each new release boasting increased numbers of licensed tracks and ever more tongue-in-cheek humour.
As you may imagine, then, on our recent travels to Rockstar HQ, we felt a certain familiar glee at playing Vice City Stories and hearing the above trollop-related tagline...plus some other speech to do with a beach bimbo and her, err, 'ample' chest area. It really is funny stuff - even the PR guys demoing the game couldn't help but laugh along with us. And they've played Vice City Stories before. A LOT.
This came in handy during our playtest for strategy tips, directions and the crafty all-weapons cheat mode which gamers will no doubt be scouring the net to get hold of, post-release. Before all of that, though, there were some more general aspects of the game to cover.
What Dead Rising couldn't do on Xbox 360, it seems, Rockstar can do on PSP.
Take the setting and story. If you've played Liberty City Stories, you'll probably have an idea of what to expect from the former; it's a depiction of Vice City set two years before the original PS2 title, with many of the gameworld's more familiar landmarks not built, and plenty of construction sites on the landscape instead.
And, also like LCS, the way the game tells this backstory would again appear to be ingenious. Vice City Stories sees new player character Vic Vance, brother of the PS2 title's main character Lance, arrive in the city in 1984. Vic's a US soldier, stopping off in Vice for a spot of R 'n' R before his new posting takes effect. Unfortunately for Vic, with Lance for a relation it's not long before he finds himself in a world of trouble, and GTA's familiar car-grabbing, mission-taking crime spree structure becomes apparent.
Which is exactly where our hands-on started, wandering about a familiar looking Ocean Beach and admiring the view - one which, the Rockstar representative proudly told us, boasted a polygon count even higher than that of Vice City Stories on PS2. That's an impressive technical feat on the distinctly smaller PSP - as is the non-issue of clumping; a factor which means you'll never bump into identikit pedestrians on the same street. What Dead Rising couldn't do on Xbox 360, it seems, Rockstar can do on PSP.
Imagination and flair
And don't they do it well! Not only is Vice City Stories a more varied visual spectacle than its PSP forebear, but presents a much wider array of gameplay possibilities - the biggest two being the inclusions of both air and water vehicles. Thankfully, the physics of both stand up to inspection, and if our playtest is anything to go by, will be incorporated into missions with both imagination and flair.
Our first mission, however, centred on some good old-fashioned driving skill. Named "Nice Package", it saw Vince working for a returning Vice City character, Umberto Robina. Jumping into one of four flame-painted sports cars, we raced against the other three to retrieve a package on the map. We favoured the Rockstar-recommended tactic of waiting for the package-carrying vehicle to drive by and blowing it up with the rocket launcher - though being out-of-sorts with the game's control system meant we proved better at blowing up everyone on the screen - ourselves included. Natch.
The second mission we played, "Lost and Found", revealed the most about how missions will function with the new vehicle types. Driving to a downtown hospital to pick up and protect Vic's girlfriend Louise, a cutscene soon told us that Lance was atop a burning building and in need of rescuing. According to Louise, there just happened to be a helipad on the hospital roof, and so we ended up taking control of the chopper and flying it in the direction that the heads-up map dictated towards Lance. Having done so with some awkwardness - holding X to rotate the blades, ungainly dipping the nose of the 'copter with the analogue nub to move forwards, and pressing the triggers to steer - we landed on the roof (a simple case of lowering the machine with square) and picked up Vic's brother - who decided it was time for some payback.
A gameworld twice the size of Liberty City, an increased vehicle set, and even more hysterical outtake-esque radio chatter.
Payback, in this sense, meant finding those who'd tried to kill him, pursuing their three boat convoy in the chopper, and lowering it as close to the water as possible, letting Lance fire off rounds at their on-board gunmen. This was trickier than it sounds, as flying between the boats was almost guaranteed to bring large chunks of damage. Sure enough, we lasted a fair few minutes, but eventually crashed and burned. Two missions taken, and two failed.
Limbering up for the third and final mission with some trepidation, we were once again taken through the premise: Labelled "Unfriendly Competition", it saw Vic taking an assassination mission for big-time drug dealers the Mendez brothers - and helpfully, Rockstar thought it best to give us infinite health, given that it was one of the game's latter, harder missions.
Gun-toting bikini babes
Ironically, this was also the one mission we excelled at; now fully accustomed with the game's lock-on targeting, we cycled through and shot down an army of gun-toting bikini babes, before seeing our target jump onto a quad bike and race out across the beach. Mounting a second handily-placed buggy, we gave chase - and somehow, after ramming into his bike, found ourselves standing atop it. Killing him should then have been a matter of aiming and firing...unfortunately, we pressed an awry button combination and saw the debug menu on our unfinished code pop up at the most implausibly inopportune moment, eventually fell off the bike, and failed the mission. Again. We take heart, however, with the Rockstar guys labelling it "the best mission fail" they'd ever seen.
With our playtest done and us suitably impressed, it was time for a quick fact rundown, focusing especially on multiplayer. Despite playing it slightly cagey, Rockstar did tell us that the six original modes will return, accompanied by four others. Two of these they detailed: 'Might of the Hunter' will see players spawning with an AK 47, Sniper rifle and Rocket launcher, but only able to score points by flying the level's one single helicopter and gunning down the other players from above. Another, 'Quadathalon', will see the previous race multiplayer mode extended to the full land, sea and air quotient of vehicles.
Indeed, the land, sea and air aspect is something Rockstar are pushing big-style - and it's not hard to see why. Not only does it set Vice City Stories apart from Liberty City Stories, but lends the title a variety and freedom no other PSP game can match. Add that to a gameworld twice the size of Liberty City, an increased vehicle set, and even more hysterical outtake-esque radio chatter, and they may just be on to another winner.
Preview by: Mark Scott
Preview Published: 24.10.06
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (09/11/2006)
Mark gets reacquainted with gaming's very own sin city...
Believe it or not, there was a time when full free-to-roam 3D worlds were just a gamer's pipedream. Oh sure, …Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories P… (25/10/2006)
You look like a trollop!
What's your favourite aspect of the GTA games? Their huge free-roaming cities? Their sandb…Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories User ReviewsTop review5 years agoGrand Theft Auto: Vice City StoriesGREAT GAME MUST GET!!!!!!!5 years agoGrand Theft Auto: Vice City StoriesThis game is awesome, i mean sure...you get in a car and you drive away but it's just o addictive and full of jokes :)5 years agoGrand Theft Auto: Vice City Storiessame game play as you expect from gta on a psp but is better than liberty city stories3 years agoGrand Theft Auto: Vice City StoriesGreat Game they should release like GTA IV on psp :P probs will never happen but still new one for psp :D3 years agoGrand Theft Auto: Vice City StoriesA very good game, the good thing about it is that you can drive around the city doing whatever you like, but it does get difficult throughout the game, the graphics are also not that good though, but an exellent game!Configuring your price alert
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