Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is both an amazingly frustrating and a frustratingly amazing game. Produced by Rockstar Games, this GTA version for the PSP had the capability to be the greatest handheld game ever. Unfortunately, while it is awesome, there are some definite bugs in the game that take away from its overall quality.
Playing as Vic Vance, a former soldier who quickly in the game gets kicked out of the armed forces, he has to make his way in the rough crime and drug worlds in 1984 Vice City (Rockstar's version of Miami.) VCS starts two years before the best selling Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and while the city is mostly the same, there are certain structures that exist in the 1986 version that are in the process of being built or do not exist yet. As well, there are structures (such as the giant Ferris Wheel) that are in the 1984 world and not the later world. The attention to detail is stunning, from the on-the-ground details stretching all the way to the edge of the horizon, the world is complete. Rockstar has taken advantage of the PSP's graphical capabilities and done a great job in preserving the feel of the first Vice City game, presenting PS2 quality graphics in a handheld platform.
At the same time, in the years since Vice City, Rockstar came out with the wildly successful-and one of the all-time greatest games-GTA: San Andreas, there were a multitude of advancements made in the latter game and many of those have been incorporated into the world of Vice City Stories.
Vic makes his way through the seedy Vice City crime world, taking on pimps and extortionists, smugglers, thieves and drug dealers en route to becoming a crime kingpin. As the game progresses, Vic can attack other gangs' businesses (VCS' version of San Andreas' gang wars.) Blowing up the car out front will trigger a battle for the site, win, and Vic has the option to purchase the property and decide what kind of criminal enterprise will be housed there. Everyday in the game Vic receives cash from his various criminal endeavors, providing a steady cash flow (and an upgrade from San Andreas where you had to visit each individual site in order to collect money.)
With top-notch voice actors, as usual, VCS brings the Rockstar and GTA brand of humor that has existed since the game's inception. Gary Busey and Luis Gonzalez reprise their roles in the later game and the game's colorful and humorous characters all add to making the game lighthearted and amusing throughout.
Also, as we have come to expect from the GTA series, the game features a soundtrack that has been meticulously chosen and is true to the era of 1984 music. There are no songs from any later period, but the sheer quality of the hours of music is incredibly enjoyable.
The handling of the game plays exactly like that of the larger console versions and experienced GTA players will be able to jump in like they have been playing VCS for years. While the world seems the same, this isn't the Vice City you have played before, water no longer equals death, Vic can swim, allowing a multitude of options of fun boats to steal and other fun water tasks. Including among these, for the first time in a GTA game they have introduced Jet Skis, and they are available for cruising around the waterways or a whole series of races or anything else you can think of. Also there are many airborne options, particularly helicopters and to go along with them, for the first time a variety of air sub-missions that coincide with the Vigilante/Firefighter/Paramedic missions that have become standards within the GTA world.
The VCS game story takes Vic throughout the city and introduces him to a wide variety of some of the finest in the underbelly of Vice City, while most of the missions are entertaining and challenging, the biggest drawback is that if you are unable to finish a mission it can take a while to get back into a place to start the mission again. This is because, in order to truncate the game, making it work for the PSP platform, the missions often involve three or four stops along the way-screw any of them up and Vic will have to start over. While the reliance on skill is enjoyable, it can be frustrating to have to, in nearly every mission, traverse one end of the city to the other only to have to go to a completely other locale as well.
The biggest complaint with VCS is that the game has a serious amount of bugs within it. Enter another gang's business to attack them and nearly always enemies are running directly into walls and provide no challenge whatsoever. Stand outside where a vehicle should be and often it just drops out of the sky randomly. Or worse, find yourself stuck inside the middle of a sidewalk. The police will often come directly up next to you and then run away, choosing instead of trying to bust you but instead to shoot from a distance. Further, the gang wars are very simplistic and do not require very much skill, and capturing all of the criminal enterprises is relatively easy.
Ultimately though, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is eminently playable, eminently entertaining, and while it does have more than the usual share of bugs within it, is still one of the most enjoyable games of the year, and one of the best for the PSP of all time. An addictive soundtrack, great writing and superb graphical detail make this a game you'll play until you beat it, and then continue playing long after that.
Learning Curve: approximately 10-15 minutes
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories is available in stores everywhere for the PSP