Less than a year after releasing "Grand Theft Auto 3," arguably the best game of the year, Rockstar Games has done it again.
"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," is everything that "Grand Theft Auto 3" was -- and more. Unlike "GTA3," which is set in the present, "Vice City" takes gamers back to the '80s and the fictional Vice City (basically Miami).
The city, which spans about 50 percent more space than Liberty City of "GTA3," is glorious. From the bikini-clad beachgoers to the competing gang members, the environment of the city is realistic. Except, of course, for the havoc you create when you steal a car and run from the cop who just so happened to witness the crime.
The more crime and murder you commit, the more trouble you have with the authorities. Go too far, and the Vice squad comes after you, straight from the hit show "Miami Vice."
What makes this game so much better than "GTA3" is the sheer volume of things you can do at any given time. There are multitudes of side missions and mini-quests to take away hours of your time.
As for the main storyline, it is actually shorter than the story from "GTA3," but as a whole, the missions are more fun and more manageable. A few of the missions, such as the remote-control toy helicopter mission, are incredibly annoying -- but persistence will get you through them without too much hair loss.
Graphically, the game suffers in a few areas. Every now and then, cars, people and buildings load on the screen late, leading to unforeseen accidents.
But as a whole, the city looks beautiful. If you steal an airplane and fly over
Vice City, you can still see the people of the city living on in unsuspecting peace.
And while on the topic of atmosphere, the music just might be the most pleasing addition to the game. When you jump the car you are stealing, you will be taken back down memory lane with an '80s hit such as Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart," a song that still plays on classic rock stations today. All told, there are seven CDs' worth of music taken straight from the '80s. A few songs were written for the game, but they do the decade justice.
As far as the vehicles are concerned, you have many more to choose from. One of the most fun vehicles in the game is the motorcycle, assuming you can drive it without crashing into everything. Like everything else in the game, the cars and cycles have a distinct '80s design.
One new feature of the game allows the player to purchase certain buildings. Once you own something, you get a convenient new save point. In addition, every time you visit your business, you can pick up the money that was earned, making it a useful investment -- particularly when low on cash.
Fairly early in the game, you can gain access to a helicopter, which makes traveling from one side of the city to another much easier than in "GTA3." If you purchase the right property, you might just find a helicopter waiting for you on the roof every time you need it, and some missions are considerably easier from the air.
You also have rampage missions, vigilante missions, secret packages and insane stunts to look forward to, as in "GTA3." And when you finally complete 100 percent of the game, you can still enjoy the fun of stealing cars and imposing pointless violence on the population of "Vice City."
"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" is on track to be game of the year. Except for the few technical problems, the game is an extremely addictive and enjoyable experience that will last many hours.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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