Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Review (iPhone, iPad)

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It weird to think it’s been ten years since we were first introduced to the 1980’s style crime haven of Vice City. The guys at Rockstar laid the groundwork with Grand Theft Auto 3, but it was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City that really made people take notice. Back in 2002, we were satisfied with playing through the rise of Tommy Vercetti on our consoles and would have never imagined being able to play it on the go. Thanks to powerful portable devices and Rockstar’s dedication to porting its classics, we can revisit Vice City on iOS and Android.

Reuniting with the game’s protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, is sure to give any gamer that made the climb to crime ring kingpin some nostalgia-filled goose bumps. Hearing the familiar voice of Ray Liotta as Tommy proves that, years later, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was ahead of its time in storytelling and voice talents. That point is hammered home with other notable actors and stars like Gary Busey, Burt Reynolds, Lawrence Taylor, and Blondie singer Deborah Harry appearing throughout the game. Vice City is in the upper echelon of voice acting for mobile games.

While the voices are the same as the original, you’ll likely notice that Vice City has gotten a little makeover since your last visit. While the graphics stil fall short of some of mobile’s benchmarks, the world is sharper and characters have more detail than the 2002 release on the Playstation 2. The glaring orange hues of the Vice City sunset seem more vibrant than ever on a portable screen, showing us just how far we’ve come in a decade.

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Playing this version of Vice City is a little different. There’s no controller anymore. Vice City embraces the touch screen, opting to abandon gamepad support with full touch and tap controls. Thanks to some improvements from the controls first put in place by the Grand Theft Auto 3 iOS port, Vice City controls quite well. Wherever you place your thumb on the left side of the screen, you’ll create a virtual joystick to control movement. Buttons on the right side allow you to run, jump, attack, and get into a vehicle. Some of the buttons are too small by default, especially the one that allows you to activate taxi or ambulance missions. Things like your horn and camera angle, likely deemed to be unimportant, have very small, almost unnoticeable buttons. You can customize the size and location of all the controls in the settings to fit your personal preferences.

While the controls work well and respond properly, the combat still isn’t as good as it could or should be. An auto-lock feature when firing your gun is welcome, but melee combat is pretty bad. You will miss punches, or just punch the wrong person entirely. Technically, this is pretty true to the original Playstation 2 release which also had some combat issues, but it’s one of the things that we wouldn’t mind seeing changed.

This isn’t the only time where things will get a little glitchy, as there are some odd audiovisual blips that will cost you a life or at least some time every now and then. There were multiple oddities I experienced over the course of playing. Once while I was atop a parking garage trying to escape the police, a cop appeared out of thin air right in front of me and arrested me. Another time I got into a police car with a cop in the passenger seat. He did nothing for a good five minutes, then suddenly stepped out of the car while I was driving full speed and arrested me after stopping the car on a dime with what I can only assume was some sort of super strength. These odd moments will happen and will undoubtably set you back over the course of the game.

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You’ll probably die a lot during your adventures in Vice City. For example, make sure you remember that this game came out before characters in the Grand Theft Auto universe learned how to swim or you’ll be reminded the hard way. You’ll get arrested a bit, too. Luckily the cops in Vice City have the most lenient rules in the history of law enforcement. Killed ten officers, stole a bus, ran over pedestrians, destroyed public property? Give them a portion of your cash pile and your weapon and you’re right back on the streets. Getting the attention of police is almost impossible unless you actually directly interact with them. They’ll occasionally stop you from stealing a car or beating pedestrians for no apparent reason, but barely tapping a cop car in traffic is the best way to irritate them. 

What won’t irritate you is the detail put into the audio experience. GTA:VC resurrects the perfection of its ’80’s soundtrack with iconic tracks from Foreigner, Flock of Seagulls, Run D.M.C, and Judas Priest and places it over 8 radios stations. Sprinkled in are some hilarious radio programs and parody-style commercials. Things like this round out an welcome retread into the world of Vice City.

Packed into a now-portable package is everything that you remember from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City: the well-executed story, the sheer bliss that comes from speeding down the street with a complete disregard for whatever the next mission might be because you stole an awesome ride and feel the need to take it for a spin, the amazing moments that you create by flying off ramps and over roads to elude your pursuers, and all the great side missions that keep you playing well past the end of the story. Things like this makes forgiving the mistakes and glitches of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City a lot easier to swallow, if not completely unnoticed in your overall experience. Its good to be back.

You can download Grand Theft Auto: Vice City from the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store for $5

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