|GTA 3 & Vice City Double Pack|
|Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: Out Now
It's really unlikely that you're reading this unaware of what GTA III or its sequel Vice City are all about. 3D updates of a classic top-down 2D game, these two virtually rewrote the rulebook on play area freedom and game engine flexibility. The violence, the adult language and the 18 certificate may have cut down the potential audience somewhat, but these games were (are) massive hits on the PS2, and this excellent double pack has finally arrived on Xbox as Sony's exclusivity deal ran out at the end of the year. It gives anyone who hasn't played them yet (if there is anyone left) a chance to experience two of the most complete gaming experiences out there for a mere 40 smackers. There are also probably many who played the games on PS2 and would like to see them prettied up, Xbox style.
GTA III sees you double-crossed by your Latino bird while you're doing a bank job together. You escape almost by accident as a co-passenger gangster is busted out from a jail-bound van in spectacular fashion (they blow up the Callaghan Bridge linking Portland and Staunton islands, two of the districts of Liberty City). Your first task is to help fellow escapee 8-Ball get to a hideout, driving carefully so as not to wreck the car or attract attention from the LCPD. You soon realise that the game depicts a huge, bustling and crime-riddled city like no other game before it. Driving, running, skulking, by train, by subway, by boat - the ways you can travel and find trouble in Liberty City are virtually endless. You can even try and be Mr Niceguy as you see muggings committed, but LC is a dark, unfriendly place full of rival gangs and power struggles. The mixture of gaming is brilliant, with loads of driving (the various vehicles from Sporty Ferrari and Lamborghini lookalikes to garbage trucks and Fire Engines have superbly correct-feeling handling, physics and sounds that put many "serious" driving/racing sims to shame. You can even earn money by driving taxis and ambulances or putting out fires!). The game also involves a lot of foot travel and shooting - you'll be sent to kill people, by beating them, running them over or even by blowing them up!
The story unfolds and you end up with a HUGE play area spanning three islands - and there's no loading within a district and only a short load as you cross a bridge to another island (or go by boat, train or even plane). The graphics don't blow you away, and are merely "tidied-up-PS2" in quality, but the detail levels are higher, the draw distances better and the lighting effects more subtle - whatever you think of them they do the job superbly, depicting the game in a perfect comic-book style. The game has "Trails" turned on by default (an over-the-top blurring effect I suspect in order to disguise frame rate problems but it spoils the look of the game - turn it off). A "day" in Liberty City last for 24 minutes (seconds = minutes) and day turns to night and the weather changes in a superbly subtle way - you even get a rainbow after rain - and I may be imagining it, but the weather does seem worse on the Xbox, with considerably more frequent rainstorms. As you travel around you can listen to the various Liberty City radio stations that cover various types of music and chat. They are hilarious to listen to and there's some catchy music on there too (including songs from the Scarface soundtrack). The various characters are superbly acted which isn't surprising when you read the voice talent cast list: Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen, Frank Vincent, Michael Rappaport, Kyle Maclachan, Robert Loggia - if the voices sound familiar it's because these guys have been in half the mob/crime movies of the last 20 years… GTA III will last you for weeks (possibly months) and is a must-have game for action/driving game fans.
Vice City isn't a sequel to GTA III as such because it's set in the 1980s - This fact is rammed home from the start with a Commodore 64 loading screen and a wonderful Miami Vice-style intro sequence. But VC's not really a prequel either because you play a different character, although a few names, voices and faces from GTA III do make appearances. Your character (who remained mute and nameless in GTA III) is now voiced by Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) and is called Tommy Vercetti. Tommy is just out of jail and gets sent to Vice City to do a drug deal by his mob boss Sonny Forelli. The deal goes violently bad and Tommy is left friendless in a strange city. The only friendly face is dodgy lawyer Ken Rosenborg, who sets Tommy up with somewhere to stay and helps him find out who set them up…
Vice City plays just like GTA III with some notable enhancements: Tommy can now ride motorcycles and fly helicopters. He also obtains a mobile phone and can receive new jobs anywhere, anytime. The shooting action has been improved and you can now shoot people in their cars (GTA III's were bullet-proof) or puncture tyres to disable a vehicle without killing anyone. There are more toys to play with, new weapons, and more races and side-tasks. The addition of motorbikes and helicopters might sound like a gimmick, but it means that every mission has at least three different ways of doing it, and traversing the huge play area never becomes dull. Vice City has radio stations with amusing DJs just like LC, only this time the songs are all almost instantly recognisable (if you were listening to music in the 80s that is), the playlists include songs by: Run DMC, Hall & Oates, Bryan Adams, E.L.O., Go West, The Pointer Sisters, Kool & the Gang, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Slayer, Judas Priest, David Lee Roth, Foreigner, Squeeze, Roxy Music, Jan Hammer, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Gary Numan, Kim Wylde, Tears For Fears, Spandau Ballet, Blondie, Kate Bush and some bloke called Michael Jackson…
They didn't skimp on the voice talent for the various in-game characters either, with Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, Philip Michael Thomas ('Tubbs' from Miami Vice), Robert Davi, Gary Busey, Lee Majors, Debbie Harry and ex-porn star Jenna Jameson. The overall effect is stunning - you can't wait to see who's going to want you to do what next, when or why.
Vice City looks a bit nicer than Liberty, but it could be due to the more frequent sunny weather. You still get pop-up here and there but the cityscape is undeniably impressive whether viewed from the ground or from a helicopter. Annoyingly Tommy still drowns as soon as he's out of his depth in water, and this is something they really, really must change in San Andreas (or whatever the next GTA is called). As with GTA III, Vice City will likely last you several weeks or months, and I actually envy anyone new to these two classic games (especially at the price).
- Everything - Cars, bikes, helicopters, speedboats, guns, freedom, superb sound.
- Months of gaming for £40 or less.
- The subject matter, language and violence mean some might be offended.
- Poor weapon controls, some graphical glitches and camera problems will hamper your enjoyment.