When I made the PSP's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories my 2006 Game of the Year, it was for many reasons - almost each of them directly related to Rockstar's ability to pull off the massive game on a single UMD. Between the size of Vice Ctiy, the new game mechanics like jetskiiing and empire-building, maintaining the act of flying as an integral aspect, and the expansive period-piece soundtrack, VCS remains as impressive of a PSP title as any I have played.
Fast forward a few months, and it has made an appearance on the PS2 – despite initial claims by Rockstar that Stories would remain a PSP excusive. While this is hardly a surprise (and I have absolutely no problem with it), there's no denying that it loses a bit of its luster in the translation from the small screen to the big one. Visually, VCS is the least impressive of all the current-generation GTA games; it's obvious right off the bat that the original development was not done with the focus of a large television in mind. What looks sharp and clear on the PSP appears grainy and less-than-stellar when viewed in larger relief.
The key to immersion is, naturally, atmosphere. VCS has this in spades.
In reality, though, the GTA series has never been too much about slick graphics or cutting-edge visuals. This has never been truer than with Vice City Stories. All of the other aspects of it, which delight so much in its earliest handheld incarnation, remain intact, and for a discounted price a fan can still sink dozens of hours back in the city that never left the ‘80s. In other words, it still totally kicks ass.
If you're keeping score at home, VCS is actually the first of any of the GTA games released to date. That is, the timeline takes place before that of the PS2 Vice City by a couple of years, and all-time antihero of the masses Tommy Vercetti is nowhere to be found – but make no mistake, the drug-addled, bad-clothes-and-hair ‘80's vibe is still in full effect. This time around, our protagonist is the inimitable Vic Vance (brother of Lance, who has a starring role in the original Vice City), a guy who wants no part of organized crime but is unwittingly dragged into the muck when his army boss forces him down a path that almost immediately becomes a road to ruin. He is a compelling character, and significantly different than the typical GTA protagonist.
I won't give away any spoilers, but rest assured that plenty of the scumbags you knew and loved (or loathed) in Vice City make their not-so-triumphant return (or, shall we say, “preturn”) here. As always, there is virtually unlimited gameplay available. While I've technically “beaten” most of the GTA titles, I never even came close to accomplishing 100% completion (nor known any real human beings who have). The sheer vastness of things to do in town that have nothing to do with the main story arc – rescues, vigilantes, races, gang wars, et al – boggles the mind. Best of all, they're almost all universally entertaining and for the most part will help you out cash-wise. Raise your hand if you couldn't use more money for guns, vehicles, properties, and so on? Didn't think so.
The key to immersion is, naturally, atmosphere. VCS has this in spades. The music that plays on the radio is a potpourri of the best and worst of the era, with a typically large catalogue of songs ranging from heavy metal to dance and everything in between. Another standard calling card of the series is the hilarious DJ conversations and commercials that'll have you laughing even the fourth or fifth time you hear them (not that they're repetitive – it takes some time to get to all the media for sure). My favorites are the faux old-time-radio serials that are so over-the-top it's wonderful. On more than one occasion, I would sit in my ride waiting for the bit to finish before I got out to continue my misadventures.