Last year the PSP got the title that people had waited many moons for, Grand Theft Auto. However it wasn't the best game on the system which was surprising and had a lot of areas which could be improved. Rockstar Leeds, the house behind the Rockstar PSP variants, went back to the drawing board and have sent us to Vice City, only this time, they got it right. Boy did they get it right. Vice City stories is the first true must have title for the PSP and the system finally has a GTA game to call its own, assuming there is no plans for this to make the jump to PS2 next year.
In Vice City Stories you play as Vic Vance, an ex soldier kicked out of the military after being framed by a commanding officer for having drugs on campus. Left with nothing, Vic has to build up his empire and take the town by storm or be stomped all over and forgotten. With his brother sick in hospital, Vic needs to fund his medication somehow (is this Rockstar trying to justify the senseless violence for once? ) and to do this, it appears the only way Vic can get around is to become a career criminal.
As with the LCS, VCS is played from a third person perspective and those who played the first game will be instantly familiar. There is however a number of changes to be aware of such as the fact that Vic in contrast to Tony from LCS can swim. The city has had some changes as well but we'll cover that further on. If you're a bit tired of the GTA formula then Vice City Stories probably isn't going to change that as it has gone with the tried and tested formula. However with that said, Leeds have tried a few things which may be in testing for GTA 4 so all is not lost on the innovation front.
For instance, you can now build gangs up as you could in GTA San Andreas. These gangs are used to take over criminal businesses in the city and build up Vic's empire and in turn his cash reserves. Also there are motorbikes to ride in the game. While this is not new since LCS, the police now have them, making it harder to evade the long arm of the law. Vice City Stories is quite unique in the way it can be played, but also has a lot of familiar territory. If you choose, you can ignore all this and play around in the sandbox mode but of course you don't progress the storyline, and it's easy to say that this is one of the best storylines in the franchise. We actually wanted to finish missions to find out what happens in Vic's troubled life next.
The missions themselves are a little disappointing. Don't expect huge missions like in San Andreas. It's pretty run of the mill here - pick up a package, shoot some character, get someone home etc. That's not to say there are no memorable missions in the game, as there are, but the game relies a lot more on its storyline to keep you playing rather than seeing some unbelievable gameplay missions. There are a number of side missions to play through as well and doing this allows you to upgrade your businesses, monopoly style.
The city itself is a sprawling metropolis ripe for the taking and there are a lot of things going on, such as a Phil Collins concert. This is a landmark moment in the GTA series because not only does it have the 80's soundtrack, but it's a virtual concert with a virtual Phil Collins actually fronting the stage. While it is an entirely aesthetic thing and Phil doesn't get involved in the game too much, it just goes to show how far Rockstar is willing to go to build a realistic environment and capture an era in a video game.
The visuals of the game are stunning to say the least as well. This looks as good, if not better than San Andreas PS2 and Leeds are really pushing this system to the max as demonstrated by the fact the battery doesn't last all that long when playing GTA for extended periods of time. The game features a full day night cycle and the draw distance allows the pop up which happens to not be all that noticeable. The PSP LCD screen enhances the graphics ten fold and we'll go out on a limb and say that if this makes it to PS2, the PSP version will still have superior graphics. Soundtrack, there's nothing more to be said other than this - any soundtrack which features the likes of the following; Foreigner - I want to know what love is, Phil Collins - Something in the air tonight and others is obviously going to be impressive. We found ourselves waiting in the car until the song finished just to hear the whole thing many times. There will be songs that you will know but not know the title of, especially if you were a young squirt during the 80s. The voice acting is spot on as well, something which GTA has been criticised for in the past.
GTA Vice City Stories has its problems but the pros far out weigh the cons. This is the game that should sell PSP's, finally bringing that GTA feeling to the portable Playstation, all the while showing just how powerful this little console is. Stunning graphics, awesome soundtrack and top notch story combine to make this one of the year's must have titles and not just for the PSP.