For many people Vice City is the best GTA game to date. While it might not have the scope of the more recent San Andreas, it has atmosphere and style in abundance and remains one of the most entertaining games ever made. GTA: Vice City Stories for the PSP became a hugely anticipated title, as it would once again let players experience the '80s and return to that oh so familiar city. The result was a great handheld GTA, but now on the PlayStation 2 it's not such an impressive feat of programming.
Vice City Stories is a prequel to the original console game, just as Liberty City Stories was to GTA III. You play as Vic Vance, the brother of Vice City character Lance Vance. It's typical GTA stuff, with drugs, killing, prostitutes and all the other GTA trimmings. The big difference is that Vic isn't the normal lead man for a GTA game. He almost seems reluctant to carry out the jobs he's been told to do, but hey, he does them anyway.
If you've played any previous PlayStation 2 GTA game you'll instantly feel comfortable with the control scheme, and its here that the port excels over the PSP original. After two PSP GTAs I'd grown accustomed to the make-shift control scheme and single analogue stick, but it's nice to be back on a dual analogue controller. If you struggled to get into the game on the PSP due to the controls, the improvement here alone should be enough to warrant a purchase.
On-foot and vehicle (bikes, cars and boats) controls are both excellent on the whole, and the improved frame rate over the original Vice City on PS2 makes driving an easier and more enjoyable experience. Helicopters even make an appearance in Vice City Stories, giving you a much faster way to get around the city.
Things only really become annoying when you try and get involved in some up close and personal combat, just as in the PSP game. Melee fighting isn't great at all and feels incredibly clumsy, and trying to shoot someone from close range is near impossible. Your best option is to retreat and take aim from distance, where the targeting system seems far more able to do its job.
As Liberty City Stories started out as a handheld game, it did away with the lengthy missions seen in previous GTA games, instead delivering short bite-sized chunks. This seemed like a good idea for a game that in theory would be played for short periods, but in the end it diluted the GTA experience - especially when it arrived on the PlayStation 2. Vice City Stories brings back the lengthier missions from the home console games and this really suits the platform.
The missions are simply better in Vice City Stories and the save system that was a slight problem on a handheld isn't an issue on the PlayStation 2. As with all previous GTA games, you can only save at save locations that are placed around the city (more become available as you progress through the game). It's certainly not ideal, but it's what most GTA players will be expecting.
As well as the standard GTA missions, which usually involve a fair amount of shooting and driving, and side missions, Vice City Stories introduces an empire building element. The idea is to take over properties from the leading gangs in the city and in turn run the illegal business that each houses. In order to take over these properties you have to kill the gang members; it's not the most tactical of features, but it adds another layer of depth to the game. These businesses will then give you extra regular income and they can be upgraded by completing numerous missions. This will earn you more money, but the missions are generally pretty tedious and the standard businesses make enough money as they are.
Overall presentation is much more polished in Vice City Stories than in Liberty City Stories, but it's still clearly a game that started life on a handheld. The game world is more detailed, the frame rate is smooth and the audio work is brilliant, with some superb radio stations and an impeccable soundtrack. If you're old enough to remember a lot of songs from the '80s, the collection here is brilliant and will bring an instant smile to your face. Phil Collins might be (unfairly) ridiculed, but he sure plays the drums well. It's slightly odd that pop-up seems slightly more apparent in the PS2 port than in the PSP original, but it's not a problem new to the series.
Multiplayer added some extra life to the PSP game but, as with Liberty City Stories on PS2, it's been completely removed from this PS2 port. It's not surprising and really isn't a big deal, but worth bearing in mind if you expected some kind of head-to-head action.
Presentation and atmosphere play a big part in video games, and Vice City Stories doesn't disappoint in these areas. The missions are a huge improvement over Liberty City Stories and GTA fans will find a game that brings back a lot of great memories. Vice City Stories is an impressive PSP game but a less impressive PlayStation 2 title. It's not a great port but with another PS2-only GTA being highly unlikely, fans yet to enter the PSP market should find a highly enjoyable game. The fact that it can be bought for less than £20 also makes it somewhat of a bargain.