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 ridiculously 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).
Perhaps the most striking feature to me about VCS is its punishing difficulty. If you're brand new to the GTA canon – and where exactly have you been? – then this may not be the best title to introduce yourself. While the earliest of missions are pretty simple for series vets, even the most grizzled can and will be frustrated by the almost crushing toughness of many of the missions. Move past the initial introductory setpieces, and you should plan on plenty of retries. One suggestion that has saved me from more aggravation than I could possibly stand is to save my game after every single mission with full health and a chestful of body armor. Anything else and you're just asking for trouble.
Difficulty aside, the biggest gameplay change from any of the previous titles is the concept of empire building. After a few hours of the story arc, Vic has a chance to start amassing a crime kingdom spanning all sorts of rackets. While the missions associated with creating your fiefdoms are not nearly as interesting or inspired as the main storyline, they serve a significant purpose in that controlling vast swaths of territory will earn Vic boatloads of cash that will come in mighty handy as the game moves forward.
My absolute favorite part of the original Vice City – I still remember being completely awed by it – is flying in helicopters. Thankfully, flying returns in VCS (sadly, it was nowhere in LCS). Not only is it a fast and beautiful way to get around town, but in many ways it's easier and less dangerous than driving, since the well-known driving controls make spin-outs and assorted car crashes pretty easy to come by if you're not being careful.
Online multiplayer makes a return as well, although sadly, there is no wi-fi internet-based play. Why is that? It's a shame, since I have no local friends that have PSPs and Vice City Stories available. Therefore, I can't report any firsthand experience. Luckily, it takes nothing away from my enjoyment of the game, since other online shooters on the PSP haven't held my attention for more than a few minutes anyway.
Taken for what it is – another unashamed romp through a crime-filled world – Vice City Stories is the best game that I've ever played on the PSP. Certainly, it's not for everyone; plenty of associates of mine have no interest in immersing themselves into a GTA world. However, understanding that it should never find its way into the hands of a child, and that no game should ever be taken too seriously, it's just about the best time that you can have with Sony's handheld machine.