Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. The controls in this tenth anniversary port of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is not ideal. To be fair, Vice City was always a complicated beast. The sun-soaked crime sum used every last one of the PS2's billion-odd buttons to let you drive cars, gun down goons, getting brawls, fly choppers, race motorbikes, and drive boats. So trying to translate all that to virtual buttons and joysticks is never going to be perfect. Vice City is definitely playable on mobile (we played on an iPod mini), but there’s going to be compromise. You'll fight with the buttons, and blame your death on the controls. There are a lot of options, though.

You can move all the buttons about the screen, and choose to steer with a virtual joy pad or tilt. But other areas are less flexible - first-person aiming sucks and fighting indoors is about as much fun as being kicked in the plums. The actual game, however, is more faithful to the original. You play as Tommy Veracity, a mouthy Mafioso dirt bag who's banished to the neon-soaked, hedonistic, Miami-like wasteland that is Vice City.

You start off by trying to fix a fumbled drug deal, but end up building a monster criminal empire. You achieve this by taking on missions handed out by corrupt politicians, psychotic drug kingpins, porn directors, and biker gangs. Missions might involve killing guys, chasing thugs, watching over drug deals, evading the police, and driving getaway cars. There are frankly loads to do, but some more annoying errands (like one featuring a certain remote control helicopter) can sour things. This remake lets you instantly retry failed missions, though.

That resolves some of the pain. Then again, GTA has never been about the missions. It’s about messing around in its sandbox world, jumping over ramps, picking random fights with cops, and flying choppers into pedestrians. Having that playful world on your phone - ready for a quick bash - is worth the entry price alone. For a decade-old game, Vice City's story and presentation still impresses.

After making do with Game loft games - and their cringe-worthy B-movie dialogue - getting some quality narrative on mobile is like a breath of fresh air. It has a killer voice cast (including Ray Iota, Dennis Hopper, and our national treasure, Danny Dyer), and a hilarious script that references (or parodies) '80s crime flicks like Carlit’s Way, Scarface, and TV show Miami Vice. It’s also got an insanely good soundtrack, packed with music from the same decade. The graphics aren't half bad, either - a little dated, but they've been given a fresh lick of paint for this mobile edition.

The people have fingers now! In the end, I reckon this mobile edition of Vice City is only going to be appreciated by longing nostalgic who fondly remember bad Hawaiian shirts, the Lance Vance dance, and getting in golf caddy chases. It’s not that Vice City has aged poorly, by any means. But if you have to wrestle with antiquated game play, choppy PS2-era graphics, and bad controls, it might not be so appreciated by fresh eyes.