Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Review

Ten years ago, some of our readers were too young to legally purchase Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for themselves. This open-world crime game features rough language and edgy subject matter that sets it apart from the generally tame quality of most iOS apps. Like last year’s port of Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City on iOS is a staggering value, with excellent touchscreen controls that will keep you rooted in a crazed, criminal, blood-and-sun-soaked vacation.

Vice City is set decades before the events of GTA 3, telling the story of mob-connected Tommy Vercetti after he’s released from prison and starts making a name for himself in Miami-like Vice City. The game is set in the 1980s, and everything from the fashion to the incredible selection of licensed music will remind you of this fact. There are also nods to 80s films like Scarface, and characters from GTA 3 will occasionally appear as their younger selves.

The boys are back in town.

This time-warp setting is one of Vice City’s most impressive features, since it places the game in a faux-history that very few games successfully attempt. Assassin’s Creed or Medal of Honor might also be set in a particular time and place, but in Vice City, the illusion feels complete, even if it is a skewed and satirical version of the 1980s.

Besides the new characters and setting, Vice City is still based on the violent Grand Theft Auto 3 gameplay that many of us know and love well. With the touch of a button, you can hijack any vehicle you see, including motorcycles and helicopters. Vice City opens with Tommy on the flashier side of town, so you’ll get to drive around sports cars right away, and soon graduate to bigger and crazier vehicles, like speedboats, dune buggies, and tanks.

Death on two wheels.

Over the course of the game, Tommy will seize territory and bring the local gangs under his influence. Often this will involve “whacking” targets– running them over or shooting them in response to some unseen insult. But you’ll also have to help a crime lord escape the city in a luxury yacht, demolish an office park, and help several new illicit businesses off the ground.

Tommy’s rise to power would be impossible on iOS if it weren’t for quality touchscreen controls. Most missions require you to navigate Vice City’s crowded streets, and the vehicles often feel very responsive. Occasionally, we experienced some frame rate hitches and sound skipping on our iPad 3, and we’d sometimes lose control of our vehicles if the action got too choppy. But for the most part, Vice City is highly playable on iOS devices, unlike Sega’s much tamer crime game, the recent port of Jet Set Radio.

Is there anything you can’t drive?

The vehicle controls are great, and that’s most of the game by itself, but occasionally Tommy needs to venture into the world on foot. For certain shootouts, we found the weapon auto-lock to be questionable. Tommy will usually target enemies automatically, but sometimes we’d find him accidentally shooting his companions or failing to hit targets while running. Hopefully this is an area Rockstar can improve upon before they release San Andreas on iOS as well.

Rockstar did include a few substantial, mobile-friendly additions to this 10th anniversary edition of Vice City. You can now use iCloud to transfer saves between devices, and you can load up your own mp3s to build a custom in-game radio station. Like in last year’s GTA 3 port, you can restart missions as soon as you fail them, which saves you a lot of backtracking and repetition. However, some missions still have unskippable cutscenes and lengthy treks across the same territory if you’re forced to replay them several times.

Ten years after it first launched, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is still regarded as one of the best games ever made, and this mobile port actually does it justice. Whether you’re pursuing wacky side missions like delivering pizzas on a scooter, or major story points like storming a drug lord’s mansion, Vice City constantly offers new surprises.

The celebrity voice cast, licensed 80s soundtrack, and original radio station programming make the game a delight to listen to as well. Graphically, Vice City is just as stylish and unique as it has ever been, and it looks great on a Retina screen. If you weren’t old enough to enjoy this gritty crime game in 2002, or you just want to relive all the adrenaline-fueled highs and lows, now’s your chance to take it with you wherever you go.

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