Vice City from GTA trilogy highlights importance of self-reliance in sandbox games

On November 9, 2002, I promised my mate Gav that he could borrow a pair of dress shoes for his aunt’s birthday. I told him I would meet him “halfway”, at the bridge between Cathcart and Merrylee in Glasgow at 7pm, which, to be honest with him, was much closer to my home than his home. Six hours earlier I had skipped school (don’t do that) and traded four games against Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, released in the UK that day, and I still owed ten cents to the man behind the counter (don’t do that either). Six hours later, I was totally obsessed with Tommy Vercetti, Lance Vance and roamed the sunny, neon-drenched, Vice-drugged pseudo-Miami streets on a pastel pink scooter listening to Billie Jean. And poor Gav was soaked in the rain, slamming my door and trying to borrow this pair of shoes. Sorry my friend.

Nineteen years later, and that first example of riding a moped to the tune of Michael Jackson’s hit in 1982 is considered essential in the GTA series. But after playing Vice City as it appears in the GTA Trilogy, without Jackson due to an expired musical license, I think Vice’s crowning achievement comes much later in Tommy’s attempt to dominate the city.

Speed ​​regulator

GTA Trilogy

(Image credit: Rockstar)

“Six hours later, and I was totally obsessed with Tommy Vercetti, Lance Vance, and I was strolling through the sunny, neon-drenched, Vice-drugged pseudo-Miami streets on a pastel pink scooter listening to Billie Jean. . ”

That’s not to deny the importance of this permanent set-piece in Vice City. It might sound silly now, but the inclusion of scooters in Grand Theft Auto was a big deal back in 2002. The first downline GTA had featured both bikes and superbikes five years ago, along with its DLC spinoff, GTA London 1969, also including mod scooters. But bikes of any capacity hadn’t appeared in the Grand Theft Auto 3D universe yet at this point, and while 2001’s GTA 3 had a pretty impressive music library, Vice City increased its audio repertoire with a multitude of the best songs that captured the era. The combination of switching on the ignition this Faggio in the alleyway adjacent to Ken Rosenberg’s office and audience this The iconic bassline and synth pop intro as you sink into the main drag was pretty special then.

So much so that it’s such a shame that the gravity of the moment has been entirely lost in the GTA trilogy, in part because we’ve gotten used to the two-wheeler in Grand Theft Auto ever since, and also because, honestly, Mr. Mister just can’t resist the Thriller album at its best.

Vice City is remembered for much more than messing around on mopeds, of course, but without having the first doors foggy-eyed, I found myself fully focused on everything modern GTA pulled out of its palm-fringed predecessor – not so much of his take-over missions and linear narrative fronts, but more of the time he opens his world to the player and lets go of them to explore, loot, and conquer. Nostalgia is at the root of much of what we remember about Vice City in 2021, but, in fact, it’s worth remembering for the groundwork it laid for GTA Online.


(Image credit: Rockstar)

A full decade before GTA Online arrived – and six years and a generation of consoles before 2008’s GTA 4 – Vice City of course presented a very different Grand Theft Auto experience than we know today. It had no in-line components, so it was story driven from start to finish; task players with completing confined missions assigned by specific contacts scattered across the map, until they are finally routed to a narrative conclusion. For context, in late 2002, Battlefield 1942 had just stormed the online war zone for the first time, and online gaming was almost exclusively PC-related – with ’90s gems such as Starcraft, Ultima Online and even Doom and Quake defending online play. to varying degrees from years earlier.

A GTA-inspired online business was as such a long way off, and yet the final stretch of Vice City empire-building casually bends over asset and property buying, passive earnings, and a good bang. of grind – all the central tenets of modern GTA Online. . Again, it might seem odd to get lyrical about these features in 2021, but that was alien to the Grand Theft Auto series at the time, where, despite their stories unfolding in their respective sandboxes, the Vice City’s precursors were pretty much entirely linear, at least structurally.

Let’s go to the beach


(Image credit: Rockstar)

“I mean, I traded four games for Vice City at launch – Gran Turismo 3, Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 2 and FIFA 2002, no less – and I still owed the merchant money at the other side.”

Returning to Vice via the GTA Trilogy and reaching the point where the game opens correctly – after taking down Ricardo Diaz and taking over his succession, helping Col. Juan Garcia Cortez escape the city and shopping for Avery Carrington afterward taking into account his advice on expanding your newly acquired drug empire – is a neat reminder of how far we’ve come since GTA, while also emphasizing that the game is at its best when it lets the player choose their next move.

Are you taking over the ramshackle InterGlobal movie studios and charging money for tenant protection, or are you taking over the Pole Position gentlemen’s club to launder money? Maybe buying the old Printworks and letting it generate a steady stream of money day to day is your best bet, or maybe you buy the Malibu and chat with the A-listers in the center. of Vice nightlife. During my first game at the time, I remember seeing these side adventures as a distraction from the game’s main storyline – but this time around I reveled in the power, variety, and autonomy. they gave me while leaving my mark on the Magic City at my own pace.


(Image credit: Rockstar)

Discussing why San Andreas fog doesn’t matter, I touched on how the orientation of the GTA trilogy on SA configures GTA 6. There are many features from the original San Andreas that I would like to see reintroduced into the next one, whenever needed. And with rumors suggesting that number six is ​​destined for a faux-Miami again, I’m sure the autonomy that GTA Online has given players over the past decade will continue and, no doubt, will be extended. Which is great news for me. I mean, I traded four games for Vice City at launch – Gran Turismo 3, Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 2 and FIFA 2002, nothing less – and I still owed the merchant money back there. other end. Despite the deserved praise San Andreas received two years later, Vice has always been my favorite of this era – in terms of GTA and in video games in general.

There’s no denying that the GTA trilogy had a turbulent launch, and while I was fortunate enough to avoid any bugs or glitches, there is now enough flawed footage to suggest much of the criticism being leveled at Grove Street. Games and Rockstar was justified. Yet aside from the technical issues, one thing I really enjoyed about the GTA trilogy as a whole was how it made me rethink what I know, or thought I knew, about the series. I took for granted how tight the San Andreas Mission structure was back then, and here in Vice City, I overlooked the key elements that Rockstar was putting in place for one of my games. favorite online a decade later – whether he realized it in time or not.

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