Grand Theft Auto wasn’t always the multi million pound/ dollar/ euro (delete as applicable) behemoth franchise it is today. 2001 saw the series’s first release in 3D – as technology allowed at the time. And Grand Theft Auto III, as it was known, was great. Huge open world to explore: check. Sprawling Godfather/ Mob/ Crime-Family based story: check. Dozens upon dozens of terrifically scripted side missions: check! So with the release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City coming in 2002 (2003 on the Xbox!) the gaming world wondered collectively how Rockstar could possibly top their seminal 3D work.
We needn’t have worried. Vice City drew inspiration from 80s culture, cinema and music and then went its own way with all of them. There were send-ups of Scarface, a mission that parodied Speed and dozens of other 80s pop culture references. Away from the main stories you could take jobs as a taxi driver, fireman, ambulance driver and you could even steal a tank! Was purchasing real estate your thing? Why not – the biggest property you could buy was huge Tony Montana inspired mansion fit for a crime king. Collect enough of the game’s hidden packages (which I did!) and the game would spawn it’s most powerful weaponry right outside the front door for your perusal.
Which leads me on to two of my fondest memories of Vice City. The game was released pre-achievements of course so players had to make their own fun. My brothers and I (under 18 at the time I should add!) would spend hours irritating (read: killing) the local population in large numbers and then trying to hold out for as long as possible against the ensuing police response. The AI relied on numbers rather than smarts to bring you to justice with dozens of police cars often ending up in pursuit of whatever vehicle we had decided to steal that day. Stop sharply at the edge of a body of water? Hilarity ensued as entire line of police cars would bowl past you into the drink!
My second recollection was of an altogether gentler nature. Nothing, and I mean nothing, for a moment in all my gaming years has surpassed driving down the coast at sunset to the tune of Foreigner’s “I wanna know what love is.” Gaming bliss! The score was an absolute masterpiece. Recalling 80s power ballads on one station, laugh out loud interactions between a radio host and their listeners on the next.
Sure, every Grand Theft Auto has been great in its own way. GTA V certainly has a long tail in the form of GTA Online. But I would argue that the series has never been better than here, in Vice City.
Good Weekend Everyone!