I climbed the stairs and crouched down for a good look at the cars as they pulled in for the deal. Seconds later I was caught in a melee of gunfire desperately trying to pick off Cuban gangsters as we were getting slaughtered in an ambush. Mission Failure, and as far as I made it last weekend in the new PlayStation 2 game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
All but the staunchest of Tetris nerds will admit after a game or two that the main strength of this game is the nebulous fun factor. The designers purposely avoided changing the game too drastically from the popular formula of GTAIII, mainly adding a new venue and a new story. Most of the missions involve driving around the circa-80s beach city in stolen vehicles ranging anywhere from clumsy buses to screeching motorcycles. The driving is a highlight and more than once I was to rudely reminded by anxious friends to stick to the missions and stop cruising around aimlessly on my motorcycle. And of course if you are brazen enough to break the law near a cop your wanted level increases and you can quickly find yourself in a chase with Vice City's finest. You spend the rest of the time exploring Vice City on foot, which can admittedly get a little slow, or completing special missions such as planting bombs with remote control choppers.
The storyline centers on a cocaine deal gone bad and develops like a cliche Pacino gangster drama as you work your way through the crime underworld looking for the lost loot. The plot is weaved into the game with video sequences that give your character the motivation for his next mission. One of the strengths of this game is the simplicity of the missions, in "Waste the Wife" you simply chase down and smash up said wife's car to make it look like an accident. Nothing to it. The retro detail is for the most part impressive, and in the game your friends will still talk to you if to throw on pastels and shades and jump in a CRV blasting Foreigner on the radio. Although I was surprised the first time the game asked me to answer my 80s cell phone and it wasn't the size of a suitcase. The most distracting element of the game was definitely the little map in the bottom-left corner of the screen that you have to glance down at for directions, often the cause of more trouble than the police. As well Vice City may not the best choice for very young children since it does carry the 'Mature' rating. That said, it is generally difficult to find negative feedback on Vice City from anyone who has played it and if you are in the market for a PS2 game, Vice City seems to be emerging as the the safe bet for 2002.