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GTA: Vice City

Though I fear to admit it, I grew up in the '80s. I went to dark dance clubs in search of women to bang to the beat of Annie Lennox, The English Beat, Flock of Seagulls, and Billy Idol. My friends wore tight, sleeveless shirts, Members Only Jackets, and we tried our hands at break dancing. We turned our hair into virtual, vertical soufflés and some of the prettier boys even wore mascara. Adam Ant and Morrissey were considered gods. Neon and pastel colors were definitely in, as were cocaine, freebasing, and E. Hey, and anyone remember Richard Pryor?

But the decade of the 1980s wasn't all Jane Fonda workouts, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone movies, and flashy jumpsuits. Ronald Reagan, the B-movies actor who wanted to be John Wayne, was president of the United States. There was the Iran-Contra scandal, the descent of the American car industry and the rise of the Japanese car boom, and the airlines were deregulated.

The so-called trickledown theory worked in conjunction with the richer getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Crackhouses were invented and homeless people grew in even greater numbers. The 1980s were a time of grandiose excess and bright new possibilities, but they were also a stark time of capitalism at its best -- and worst. I remember the '80s quite well, and I'm still not sure if that's a good thing.

So, it's no wonder that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the fifth in the Grand Theft Auto series, takes place in the '80s. It makes perfect sense that the maniacal kids at Rockstar would set their new game in the seedy, neon streets of Vice City, a city that, resembling Miami Florida in more ways than one, is in the midst of flux with Cuban immigrants, soaring cocaine sales, gangs, corrupt politicians, and mob bosses.

When we sat down with the Rockstar crew in New York on a late summer afternoon in August, the room was quiet but terse. COO Terry Donovan delivered the set up for Grand Theft Auto Vice City which will enter a videogame world now wild in anticipation of its release -- so wild that retail stores have reported more than 4 million pre-orders. "We're not just resting on our laurels," Donovan explained. "We realize we could easily just reproduce more levels of the same game, but that's not what's going to happen. Grand Theft Auto Vice City is going to be bigger, bolder, and faster than GTA3." Donovan also clarified that "without the violence and humor, the wit and cynicism" that was so central to the heart of GTA: Vice City, "a game of this kind could be a real disaster." With that, the TV clicked on, and I witnessed the company's newest creation.

What's Your Vice?
What is GTA: Vice City? According to Donovan, it's not a sequel, it's not an add-on pack, and it's not an extra set of GTA3 levels. It's an entirely new game based in the world of Grand Theft Auto. But in a way, it is a prequel of sorts. Set 15 years before GTA3, this game enables players to take on the role of a different character, Tommy Vercetti. And this time around he can speak (with a little help from actor Ray Liotta, in fact).

As Tommy V., players find themselves in a slightly different situation than in GTA3. Vercetti is no street chump, he's a gangster that's been around the block and has no inhibitions about what it means to make the big bucks, whatever the costs. He's got history. In fact, Vercetti has just spent an excessive amount of time in jail, a maximum security jail. Now that he's out, he wants to get back to the things he does best, working drug deals and spending money on booze, drugs and women.

Reconnecting with his old mob boss Sonny Forelli, Vercetti is sent to Vice City to open up business operations with a deal worth potential millions. The only thing is, Vercetti falls into a big-time set up and he loses the dough; and he's only got a vague idea who the culprit is. What's worse is that Forelli isn't pleased by the mess up. He wants his money back. So what's a poor bum going to do? What they always do in Grand Theft Auto, they go for the big time, shoot for the top, rise up in a blaze of glory and bullets, and well, try to take over the city itself. In short, the only things that stand in Vercetti's way are the biker gangs, Cuban gangs, and the corrupt politicians. Piece of cake.

A Digital Feast of Neon
While there are a number of changes that vault GTA: Vice City past last year's title, the most noticeable areas of improvement appear in what is considered its weakest point, the visuals. While the time (the 1980s) and the location (a virtual Miami, Florida) dictate much of the game's style and fashion, such as neon exteriors, big hair, and print shirts, Rockstar North's title has undergone a noticeable difference in texture resolution and sharpness of detail. When IGN traveled to New York City to visit Rockstar to see GTA: Vice City, we came away with the distinct feeling that the development team had become an ambitious scholar at squeezing the power from the Scrooge-like PlayStation 2's innards.

The first noticeable improvements are seen in the characters and vehicles. For example, Tommy Vercetti shows off nearly twice the amount details on his simple outfit alone. The creases and added color in his pants, the smoother joints in his body, the lines on his face all point to a richer, more sophisticated looking lead character. Out are the angular segmented joints of the past, and in are fully textured skinned models. In fact, Tommy will change outfits a few times during the game.

Many of the civilians in Vice City also boast excellent graphic improvements. They can be seen roller-skating down the sidewalk, reading newspapers on park benches, and smoking cigarettes. The vehicles are also immediately eye-catching. The white stretch limousines, the old American sedans, the boats, the helicopters, and most notably the motorcycle choppers are look polished, highly detailed, and sharper in look. It's quite easy to say even at this point that the choppers look simply awesome. I can't wait to drive one of them babies.

Part of what has improved is the way that Rockstar North has drawn and framed the vehicles. The vehicles are forged with heavier perimeter lines, more distinctly drawn, with darker outlines helping to define each shape. The higher resolution assist in making the textures look sharper, too. As was the case with Liberty City, Vice City offers gamers beautiful lighting effects. Before, you could see the sun ascend and descend, and the streets would grow dark and dangerous. Now you'll watch the same natural progression from day to night, but filtering into both is the effect known as radiosity, which casts a shiny gleam upon objects, adding depth to characters and moving vehicles, and creating that surreal fluorescent glow associated with the '80s.

While still using Criterion's middleware RenderWare to help with its streaming technologies, Rockstar North has been able to squeeze out more than twice the amount of polygons than in GTA3. And in doing so, the world of Vice City is actually twice the size of GTA: 3. No small feat, considering the size of last year's monster hit.

While measuring the size of GTA: Vice City is interesting, it's not only grown in square footage, it's also grown in volumetric size. Driving down the streets and walking through alleyways are now just part of the larger scheme of transporting from one place to the next. As everybody already knows, players can ride motorcycles on the streets, they can pilot boats, and they can indeed fly the friendly skies via helicopters. And making it all look better are the hard working boys and girls at Rockstar North, who have added new animations to everything. Remember jacking cars? Now you can jack all sorts of vehicles and the animations for each are different. Ahh...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The World Is Yours for the Taking
While carjacking wasn't invented by DMA back in the late 1990s, the wacky Scottish development team now known as Rockstar North did indeed make carjacking the videogame sport of choice in 2001. Want to carjack a sports car? Bingo. Want to jack a motorcycle? Just do it. Boat? Go row it. Helicopter? Heh, yeah, swipe that thang. The point is that as GTA: Vice City has grown in girth, width, and height, your ability to do more and see more has equally increased. Now you can drive the streets, fly the skies, and pilot your ships through an extensive series of waterways and canals that become significantly important in this growing series.

Being a South Eastern city that emulates Miami's varying aspects, GTA: Vice City is a beach town bristling with sunny beach spots to eat and drink at, penthouse apartments with lovely patios, pools to swim in and beaches to lay on. Naturally, most of it should take place outside in the bright coastal sunshine. For the first time in the series, however, Rockstar North is taking the game inside. Parking the chopper for the moment, players can walk inside buildings, houses, hotel lobbies, discos and offices. Gameplay scenarios with full-on shootouts and fighting scenes take place inside buildings, as do numerous cutscenes. In fact, game missions involve more complicated objectives, combining entering buildings, sniping, shooting out tires, busting up gangs, and driving like a maniac. So, when it comes to measuring the size of GTA: Vice City, it is a little more interesting than in previous games.

For those who loved the top-down original games -- and for those who jumped on the bandwagon with GTA3 -- few will be disappointed with GTA: Vice City. It takes the basics and expands upon them. The game is wide open in design. You can choose a mission related to the progression of the game, or you can simply tool around, playing with the AI, driving around like a madman, exploring the massive environment, or stealing various municipal vehicles for side missions.

Not coincidentally, Rockstar has listened to its critics. It knows it didn't make a perfect game before, and in this new iteration of the series, the loony kids behind the scenes have set themselves to honing and crafting a more polished, prettier, and more playable Grand Theft Auto. First, the weapons and vehicles count has increased dramatically. The weapon set is divided into classes, with hand weapons in one, automatics in another, etc., etc. In all, the cache of weapons totals about 30 (up 15 from last year's healthy 15), and includes all sorts of items, such as an Uzi, a Ruger, an M60, a machete, possibly a chainsaw, as well as shotguns, automatic machineguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, hand knives, baseball bats, and more. Needless to say, Rockstar isn't revealing everything all at once, so we'll learn soon enough what the other 20 or so weapons include.

Since there are so many weapons the classification system helps greatly, and there are some rules to the new abundance of items. Players can use more than one class of weapon at a time, but can't, for instance, use two hand weapons at once, such as a knife and a bat simultaneously. With these weapons, players can do various new things, inside and outside. For instance, Tommy can crouch and hide behind crates or furniture while being shot at. And while he reloads, the newly modified HUD can show you which level of the building he is on.

Making the use of weapons easier is the targeting system, which has been skillfully honed and upgraded. While critics complained of a difficult system that aimed for the closest enemy, players' crosshairs will now land on the most important enemy (priority over proximity). Weapons will offer crosshairs to aim with more accuracy, and players will find that various camera angles will be used depending on the weapon selected, which will help to see the target with greater ease. And now that you can drive a motorcycle, you can also perform drive-bys on it, as well as being able to aim and target enemies in front of you.

And what can you do with these new weapons? Just as in previous GTA games, you can do just about anything, and at least one new addition features the ability to shoot out car tires. So, for instance, players might find themselves in a mission requiring chasing an opponent, but keeping them alive. So, you pull out a sniper rifle and tag the enemy's tires as he drives away. You can puncture all four ties if you like. Likewise, plugging vehicles with bullets causes other visual deformation, too (which we will soon un-earth in later features).

For the car fanatics, GTA: Vice City is populated with an enormous quantity of vehicles, totaling 120 in all. Many vehicles from GTA3 will no doubt make their return, while new ones, including various motorcycles and specialized '80s cars will make... um... a return or sorts. Of course, Rockstar's games never use the actual licensed versions of the real world cars, but from the looks of it various re-creations of Lamborgini Countachs, Ferrari Testarossas, and DeLoreans might begin to fill out the sports car lineup, while a roster of civilian cars will make their appearance, too. Old American '50s cars, 18-wheelers, limos, and lots of muscle cars should make their way in.

The New Wave of Game Music
Ever since the first Grand Theft Auto, sound has played major factor in the game's appeal. In keeping with this tradition, Rockstar has upped the ante beyond our wildest imaginations. As previously mentioned, lead character Tommy Vercetti will speak, thanks to the voice acting of Ray Liotta (best known from his role in Martin Scoresese's Goodfellas). Several other well known actors and actresses (20 in all) will play a part in this game's presentation, which we'll reveal in good time.

What's more intriguing here, however, is the sheer quantity of voice-overs, which total out at 8,000 recorded voice-overs (four times GTA3's). To put that in an even better perspective, there will be more than 90 minutes of cutscenes (one and a half hours) and more than nine hours of music, both licensed and original (i.e. radio station DJs, commercials, etc.). The much-loved radio personality Lazlow will re-appear, along with a handful of other bitter, silly, and out-of-control personalities.

As with the location, the music will certainly reflect the '80s in all of its veneer, glibness, and pure pop flair. Just jump in a car and switch on the radio, and you'll hear countless hours of great music and funny radio DJs. The music ranges wildly, from rock, soul and new wave, to rap, pop, and uber-powerful anthems, to jazz and Latin. Already announced songs and artists include Blondie, Judas Priest, "You've got another thing coming"; GrandMaster Flash, "The Message"; Laura Branigan, "Self Control"; Kool and the Gang, "Summer Madness"; Flock of Seagulls, "I Ran"; Hall & Oats, "Out of Touch", and Cutting Crew, "I Just Died in Your Arms". In all, there are 80 commercial tracks.

In the end, there really wasn't too much to fix in Grand Theft Auto 3. But GTA: Vice City looks to take care of everything that wasn't quite right. From the targeting to the graphics, Rockstar's newest beast of a game looks to deliver more than what gamers have asked for, and in traditional Rockstar North style, many of the subtle, inventive and creative goodies won't be revealed until you actually play the game itself.

In the light of preparing to play the game, my strong recommendation is to re-watch two very influencial pieces of '80s goodness used as source material for the game: the classic but violent Brian DePalma film Scarface (starring Al Pacino and a very young, very trim Michelle Pfeiffer), and pretty much any episode of Miami Vice, after which you'll soon be in the perfect mood to play GTA: Vice City.


source PS2 IGN

Publisher
Rockstar Games

Developer
Rockstar North

Genre
Racing Action

Origin
UK

Number of Players
1

Release
8 November, 02







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