Over the previous weekend, I was treated to perhaps two of the greatest gangster movies of all time: Goodfellas and Scarface. However, both stories are completely different. Where Goodfellas depicts the story of Henry Hill’s rise to power in the Mafia and sudden disappearance into the Witness Protection Program, Scarface’s Tony Montana rises up from a poor Cuban immigrant to a powerful drug lord, ending his reign with a shotgun blast to the back.
The same thing will apply to Grand Theft Auto 3, which dealt more with the Goodfellas side of the storyline involving the Leone family and how the lead character, the Man with No Name or Voice as I call him, defecting from the Leone family to team up with Yakuza member Asuka and whacking Don Salvatore. But for the Scarface side of the game, the closest it gets to is the Flashback FM radio station, which played songs from the Brian De Palma classic.
In fact, GTA didn’t use any real drugs, just the fictional SPANK. That is about to change, as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City adds more of a Scarface feel to the GTA franchise.
And add it in a big way it does, changing the location from the NY-like Liberty City to the Miami-based Vice City and setting the time frame to the year 1986. Mafia member Sonny Farelli (voiced by Tom Sizemore from Saving Private Ryan) is interested in getting involved in Vice City’s drug business, and he finds the perfect mole in the form of Tommy Vercetti (Ray Liotta).
Vercetti spent his last 15 years in Liberty City prison and right away he heads to Vice City to score a drug deal for "La Famiglia." Unfortunately the deal turns out to be an ambush, and only Vercetti and his lawyer contact, Ken Rosenberg (Bill Fichtner), survive the ordeal. Sonny is obviously furious, but Tommy makes a vow to get back the money and drugs, not to mention giving Sonny the, shall we say, private parts "of those responsible for what happened."
Tommy is sent of to search for a retired Cuban colonel named Cortez (Robert Davi), and it is there that he meets up with the more important populace that Vice City has to offer. There’s Cortez’s daughter Mercedes (Fairuza Balk), real estate dealer Avery Carrington (Burt Reynolds), adult film producer Steve Scott (Dennis Hopper), his star actress, Candy Suxxx (Jenna Jameson), Vice City Mamba’s star player BJ Smith (Lawrence Taylor), and drug baron Ricardo Diaz (Luis Guzman), or Mr. Coke as Mercedes calls him.
In his quest to recover his stolen merchandise, Tommy will take up missions for these characters along with many other side jobs along the way. He will also look towards the more exclusive Vice City locales for assistance: the Malibu club, the Pole Position strip joint, Washington Beach, Ocean View, Leaf Links golf club, Starfish Island (where drug king Diaz resides), Little Haiti, Little Havana, and Downtown Vice City.
In the meantime, there will be tons of places to explore, odd jobs such as the return of Taxi Driver and Vigilante, as well as the new Pizza Delivery mode (a perfectly done 3D version of Paperboy). Of course, Vice City residents can always be mugged for their cash and weapons, but expect the cops to come out when things get rough. Sure Tommy might end up with only a one-star rating which will cause the police to be easily evaded, but go any further then there will be SWAT teams rappelling from helicopters, federal agents arriving onto the scene in Broncos, even the assistance of a tank-led militia!
Tommy will also have new means of transportation that Mr. Mute didn’t have the luxury of using, such as several types of motorcycles including the chopper-like Sanchez and the moped (hilariously named the Faggio). Helicopters can also be controlled to get around Vice City much easier, and it definitely goes a lot further than GTA3’s Dodo plane could ever do.
Vice City screams out 80s. Right from the opening screen (a Commodore 64 OS booting up a tape file) to the stunning (but deadly) Florida scenery, to the classic car designs (Lambhorghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette), and the pastel suits, you will instantly be thrown into the era when Reagan was king and breakdancing was in. The visuals are appealing, obviously improved on from last year. There is still some slowdown at times when many cars are on screen, and veterans of the PC version of GTA3 will notice the most, but will get used to it after a while.
It seems that if there was so much to do in GTA3, that it still is nowhere near the amount that can be done in GTA:VC. This can also be said about the soundtrack. The GTA series has always been known for its impressive virtual radio station, and last year’s release should have won our award for Soundtrack of the Year. For Vice City, Rockstar went all out to create the ideal 80s aural experience. There are still nine stations but the length of each station’s audio stream has been extended, and each music station now has over 10 songs available compared to the previous game’s 5.
The stations are: V-ROCK-Typical 80s hair metal station playing hits by Autograph, Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, and Ozzy Osbourne, and is hosted by Lazlow, who many GTA fans recall as the host of GTA3’s funniest station, Chatterbox (and yes, he still takes those calls that made Chatterbox a riot!)
WAVE 103-New Wave station featuring music from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, Nena, and Thomas Dolby. Hosted by right wing rebel Adam First.
EMOTION 98.3-Nothing but special love songs dedicated to those who are feeling down and need therapy, plays hits by REO Speedwagon, John Waite, Cutting Crew, and Luther Vandross. But the best part of this station is the DJ, everyone’s favorite "miracle worker" and eventual "cheap pimp from Upstate" Fernando Martinez is back, talking about how to please your love life despite having a "fat, ugly porker" for a wife!
FLASH FM-The precursor to Flashback FM belts out pop tunes from Lionel Ritchie, INXS, Hall & Oates, and Michael Jackson. We also find out the true origins of DJ Toni’s past experiences as a brain dead party girl who hates anyone over 30 (Imagine her shock when her career takes a nosedive in Liberty City).
WILDSTYLE-For a pirate radio station, "Super Rockin’" Mr. Magic seems to play a lot of commercials, but between these breaks the station features rap tracks by Grandmaster Flash, 2 Live Crew, Run DMC (Rest in peace, Jam Master J), and Kurtis Blow.
FEVER 105-A spot-on imitator for Barry White named Oliver "Ladykiller" Biscuit is your guide to soul and R & B hits from Rick James, the Pointer Sisters, Kool & the Gang, and (yet again) Michael Jackson
ESPANTOSO-Spanish sportscaster wannabe Pepe voices out the Latin dialect while spinning tunes by Xavier Cugat and Lisa Simpson’s other idol, Tito Puente.
VCPR-A blatant (yet very funny) spoof of National Public Radio.
K-CHAT-The precursor to Chatterbox shows the lighter side of Vice City and the "dumb, Florida morons" that help make this cesspool rot.
Never before has a game gone to such great lengths for its soundtrack to be true to the time period that Vice City does, and it doesn’t end there, despite over 80 songs to be heard. Rockstar also went out for pure star talent, as if GTA3’s cast (Michael Madson, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Loggia, Debi Mazar) wasn’t enough, the new cast is even more elaborate. Burt Reynolds playing the role of a shifty real estate dealer fits his redneck style dead on (and his Avery character looks almost like an older version of Jack Horner from Boogie Nights), Dennis Hopper as porn producer Steve Scott is priceless, and Luis Guzman’s role of "Mr. Coke" Ricardo Diaz is a hoot, especially the way he calls everyone a "****head." Even Jenna Jameson and Lawrence Taylor play the roles built for them, as a porn star and football legend, respectively. Hell, somehow Rockstar even got Miss Cleo of all people for a believable character!
But the biggest improvement in the sound involves the main character. He actually talks this time, and in a big way. It’s as if Mr. Mute wanted to vent all the pressure he faced in Liberty City and turned it into one all out swearing tirade. Tommy Vercetti speaks with force and passion, no big surprise for a character played by Ray Liotta. After all, we’ve seen Liotta playing some intense roles in his career, and who could forget his portrayal of Henry Hill? Obviously after 13 years, the character of Henry Hill is still strong in Liotta, and he is just amazing. He is especially funny when making comments about those he hits by a car, or mugs on the street, and hearing him bitch off screen after being sent off on a mission has to be heard to be believed.
GTA is so enjoyable that even someone who is very jaded won’t find many faults. I did notice one, involving the targeting system. It is much improved over GTA3 but still needs a little work. Think of it this way, it could have ended up like Dead to Rights (ouch!)
As of the time of this writing, almost all initial release copies have sold out, and the current shipment is on its way out the door. I can understand why, as Vice City has been anticipated for a long time and unlike other titles that have tons of hype, GTA:VC succeeds, and blows out the competition away. Suddenly the Game of the Year awards running is getting interesting!