Have you ever wanted to become a drug dealer, beat people up, shoot people and go joyriding in cop cars and SWAT vans? Then this is the game for you!
You play the role of Tommy Vercetti, a mobster who's just been released from jail and sent to Vice City (a fictitious city based on Miami in the 1980's) to take over the local drug trade. Unfortunately, you've been ripped off while trying to set up a drug deal with Columbians and now want to recover your boss's money and get revenge.
Your first, fairly simple, task is to make your way to your hotel. On the way, you can practice the keyboard and mouse controls for walking, fighting, driving etc. (Or optionally, you can use a joystick). The game has an option to change the assigned keys, which is useful. I found driving difficult at first and kept veering all over the road, crashing into cars, knocking over telephone poles and hitting innocent(?) pedestrians. But that's all part of the fun. I've since discovered that driving is easier if you don't go at top speed all the time.
You start off with a car but, if you crash it, or if you'd like a different one, you can carjack one1. It's quite easy - usually - you just pull the driver out, jump in and drive off. Occasionally, someone puts up a fight. You can also steal buses, motorbikes and, once you progress further into the game, boats and helicopters. Then there are the taxis, ambulances, fire engines and cop cars, each of which gives you additional mini-missions.
It's funny that while driving an ambulance you're asked to take a patient to the hospital when most of the time you're the one responsible for beating people up and killing them in the first place. Stealing cop cars is fairly easy. The first time I did it I tried to open the passenger's door, the cop got out to beat me up and I jumped in and drove away. I raced around the city with the siren screaming until I crashed into too many things and the car started to smoke ominously. I got out before it blew up and then threw a grenade at it to help it on its way.
If you play the game as recklessly as I do, the two places you become most familiar with are the hospital and the police station. You never die in the game - when your life points are reduced to zero you reappear in front of the hospital minus any weapons you were carrying and some of your money - if you had any. Unfortunately, you can't go back inside. If you're arrested, you reappear in front of the police station, which you can go into. Just don't be surprised when all of the cops start shooting at you as soon as you poke a toe beyond the reception area. Getting arrested means losing weapons and money, but it also clears your 'wanted' level, so the cops will leave you alone until you start causing trouble again2.
Most of the buildings you pass on the street are purely decorative, but there are a few shops and other places that you can go into. You can buy essentials like weapons, or you can try stealing them. If you do, the cops will chase you around all over the place afterwards - on every street you turn down, you'll find a cop car wailing after you. There are some businesses (like a strip club) that you can buy after you've progressed through the game and stolen or earned enough money.
The Vice City cops are dangerous - their favourite trick is to knock you over with a baton then pull a gun on you - but with a bit of practice you get good at fighting them. It helps that they're poor shots. Last time I played the game I was surrounded by a group of them shooting at me while a police helicopter hovered overhead but I ran around whacking them with a stolen baton and killed quite a few of them before jumping into one of their cars and speeding away3.
Vice City comprises two large islands and three smaller ones. When you first start the game you're on one of the large islands, which has the hotels and beaches. The bridge to the other island is closed initially but after you complete some simple tasks, you get access to it. It has the main commercial area, and the ganglands.
Your character is quite tough - he can jump from amazing heights without getting hurt much, smash cars by kicking and punching them, and is pretty good in a fight, being able to take on armed people barehanded. One thing that he can't do is swim. In fact, nobody in Vice City swims, despite the fact that they like walking around in their swimsuits. If you try it, you'll drown immediately.
The game's scoring is rather bizarre. It includes a long list of statistics on things like vehicles destroyed, number of people you've killed, number of people killed by others, headshots, car tyres popped with gunfire, distance travelled, budget for fashion, weapons etc, insane jumps made and so on. After running around the city wrecking havoc for three hours and killing 53 people, my criminal rating was only 'klepto' and my media attention rating was only 'mildly interesting'! That says a lot about what sort of place Vice City is.
There is a storyline to follow - go to certain locations, meet certain people, kill certain people etc - but, fortunately, there's no time limit to complete any of the tasks. One small annoyance is that you can't save the game whenever you like, as you can in most computer games - you have to go to certain locations to save it. The game's title is a misnomer since the storyline is about drugs and murder rather than car theft and, technically, you're carjacking rather than stealing anyway4.
The game has beautiful 3D graphics and great sound effects and music. At the very beginning there's an animation paying tribute to the old Commodore 64 - an in-joke for those of us who have been using computers long enough to remember it. Then there's quite a good 3D animation providing some background to the story. There are other animated sequences during the game too, for you to watch as a break from fighting and shooting. The graphics are colourful and realistic and you can pan around to look at objects from different angles. An enormous amount of work has gone into them. Even the bugs are fun (and in a game this complex, it's inevitable that there are some). I got a bit of a shock once when some guns poked through a solid wall to shoot at me. Your bugs may vary depending on your graphics card. You can listen to 1980s music or funny commentary on radio stations while driving around. As you walk past people on the street you can hear them talk (in American accents, of course).
The version sold in most parts of the word is rated R-18, due to the animated violence. The version I played was the Australian version, modified to remove some of the worst bits of violence and rated M - 15 years and over5. The game isn't too gory, but blood does appear when you hit people and, given the storyline and the nature of the gameplay, it's more suitable for older kids and adults than youngsters. It's very addictive - you can easily stay up until three o'clock in the morning playing it.
It runs on newer computers eg Pentium III and above. If you want to buy it, check the system requirements on the box first to see if it will run on your computer.
It's produced by Rockstar Games and was originally written for the Playstation 2 and then ported to the PC. The previous games in the series were Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto 2 and Grand Theft Auto 3.