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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - A modern 80s-infused masterpiece

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The release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on PC in 2003— the sixth installment in the GTA franchise — was lauded as an innovative, gratuitously violent and downright addictive game to choose to immerse yourself in.

The same can be said in 2018, with an additional lens of nostalgia. With the thankful ease of accessibility, Vice City is still playable on PC, current consoles and mobile phones with a minimal amount of stress. With this installment of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Rockstar did a complete 180 on their mechanics, narrative and open world design making Vice City one of gaming’s most captivating open worlds to roam in the early 2000s.

What did Rockstar change in their sixth Grand Theft Auto installment that ultimately affected the outcome of those that followed? Time, deep research, the obvious improvement on console — and PC — capabilities, star power and most of all, an innate love of Miami and 80s film, television and crime.

Set in the fictional Vice City, Florida, the player inhabits the life of Tommy Vercetti (voiced by Ray Liotta) as he finds his way back into the criminal underworld after being released from prison. The main arc of the story has Vercetti seeking out those responsible for ambushing a drug deal, in turn creating a criminal empire and seizing control of the entire city from other criminal organizations like the Cubans, Haitians, and Biker gangs.

Rockstar flourishes within the narrative capabilities that 1980s Miami could provide to the fictional Vice City, utilizing the 1980s crack epidemic, the rise of Mafioso drug lords and the city’s overall neon-laden aesthetic. To get a feel for Vice City — and Miami — during the 1980s, all you need to do is watch the opening theme to Miami Vice, or the entire series itself since it was one of the main backbones that helped to create the game’s beloved aesthetic.

The team at Rockstar also improve the mechanics, gameplay, and experiences that were integral and unique to the series since the beginning. Vice City’s predecessor, Grand Theft Auto III, was the first in the series to foray into the 3D realm, moving away from the top-down perspective of the first four games. There was a short window of release between III and Vice City, but drastic improvements were made between games to solidify Rockstar’s internal genre that would become synonymous and distinctive to the Grand Theft Auto series.

Compared to III and the eventual seventh game San Andreas, Vice City’s map is relatively small. Consisting of two main islands, Vice City is big enough to encompass the narrative, whilst small enough to contain a restrictive amount of gameplay that does not lead to an eventual, ‘Well, what now?’ situation that San Andreas and the latest instalment of GTA V can often emit when the main narrative is completed.

Side quests are always an option in between the narrative arc or after, but a smaller map allows for containment and narrative fluidity that can often get lost in such an immersive game. That was the beauty of Vice City, and why it has such a distinct feel that San Andreas and GTA V do obviously have, but not with the same … veracity that came along with Vice City.

Vice City absolutely nailed the zeitgeist of the era it was rooted within, whilst retaining a familiarity with the completion of linear missions to progress through the overarching narrative.

Nostalgia, of course, is definitely involved with Vice City, I can distinctly remember watching my cousin in awe as he stole golf carts and raced up and down Washington Beach with a chainsaw at the ready at our grandparents’ house in the summer of the early noughties, and I’m sure the majority of people who remember Vice City have similar, visceral memories. There’s always something special about the GTA franchise that Rockstar utilises in every installment, but Vice City will always be that one special endeavor that they will never be able to recreate.

That is, unless, they decide to do a remaster or retelling of the game like GTA IV and GTA V did with Liberty City and Los Santos. We can only hope.

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