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 is a handheld GTA that betters Liberty City Stories, but still falls short of being a classic.
Once again, the PSP game is a prequel to the console game, just as Liberty City Stories was to GTAIII. 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 Liberty City Stories you'll instantly feel comfortable with the control scheme here, but newcomers will take a little time to feel at home. With only one analogue stick, camera control is the biggest issue, and this is solved in two ways. Firstly, the right shoulder button targets enemies, making combat pretty simple, and holding the left shoulder button switches the analogue stick from movement to camera control. It's not the most intuitive system around, but it's a decent compromise.
On-foot and vehicle (bikes, cars and boats) controls are both excellent on the whole, and the improved frame rate over Liberty City Stories 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. Helicopters actually control really well, even with the limited PSP controls, making them a fine addition to the handheld game.
Things only really become annoying when you try and get involved in some up close and personal combat. 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 auto targeting system seems far more able to do its job.
Being a handheld game, Liberty City Stories 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. Vice City Stories brings back the lengthier missions from the home console games, and this is a blessing and a curse at the same time. It seems you certainly can't have your cake and eat it.
We all wanted multi-tiered missions, and that's what Rockstar delivered, but in reality, long missions pose just as many problems on a handheld as short ones do. The missions are better in Vice City Stories, but the problem basically boils down to how the save system works, and how it isn't the best solution in a handheld game. 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). While saving anywhere might not be practical in a game like GTA, running on a PSP, it would certainly have been the best solution.
As well as the standard GTA missions, which usually involve a fair amount of shooting and driving, and the 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 you, funnily enough, 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.
Looking back at Liberty City Stories, it wasn't a pretty game. At the time it was a great achievement, bringing the free-roaming GTA world to the handheld, but things are much more polished in Vice City Stories. The game world is more detailed, the frame rate is smoother, and the audio work sets a new standard for a handheld game, 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.
Multiplayer competitive play returns, but once again restricts games to those taking place over a local wireless network. You get ten game modes for up to six players, and these run the gambit from standard deathmatch and racing, to more inventive bomb planting and car stealing. The biggest problem is the size of the maps and the relatively low chance you have of getting together enough players. Unless you're playing with a full roster of six players, the games feel very empty, and this makes the lack of online play a real problem. Hopefully this is something that Rockstar sorts out in the inevitable follow-up.
Vice City Stories is an impressive PSP game and a considerable improvement over the first GTA outing on the system. It's not without its problems, with the save system and archaic on-screen map being two of the biggest offenders, but they don't hurt the game too much. Presentation and atmosphere play a big part in video games, and Vice City Stories has those in spades. The missions are a huge improvement over Liberty City Stories, although not quite as handheld friendly, and GTA fans will find a game that brings back a lot of great memories.