Liberty City Stories may have had all the usual GTA mission types, but it shortened nearly all of them to the point where it barely felt like you were doing anything of consequence. Vice City Stories corrects this by extending out the majority of its missions a great deal. You'll run into plenty of multitiered missions, with several objectives that appear over time. Yes, you're still killing rival gang members, stealing contraband, chasing down crooks in cars, and the like, but these missions are much more satisfying than anything found in LCS, and it'll take you a decent bit longer to complete the main story than the 10 hours or so that it did in last year's game.
You'll have the opportunity to build your own unique criminal empire in VCS--just don't expect to be able to do too much with it.
Of course, story missions aren't the only thing to do in Vice City Stories. Along with the usual types of firefighting and vigilante missions, there's a whole empire system to contend with. The premise here is that each of the city's gangs holds a number of businesses around the city. These properties can house any number of illegal activities, ranging from prostitution and loan sharking to smuggling and drug dealing. As it happens, you can take over these businesses by sparking a fight with the gang members inside. Once you do, all you have to do is kill all the nearby gang members, walk inside the business, and smash up the place. After that's done, you can buy the property and install whatever type of illegal venture you please. Doing this earns you a nice chunk of cash each day, and each business you open acts as a save point. Making these business save points seems like Rockstar's way of trying to circumvent the limited save-point issue with the game design, but not being able to just save anywhere is still annoying--even if it's not quite as annoying as it was when this was a handheld game.
The game gives you the option to upgrade each of these businesses over time, both by simply sinking more cash into them, or by doing missions to up each business' reputation. Unfortunately, the missions are woefully uninspired. Each mission tasks you with 15 objectives done consecutively, though in reality, it's more like two. For a prostitution business, for example, you will pick up a hooker, drive her to a client, then pick up another hooker, drive her to another client, go pick up the first hooker, drive her to a new client, go grab the second hooker, chase down the client who ran off without paying, drive that second hooker to a new client, go back and rescue the first hooker from a client trying to beat her up, and so on, and so on, and so on. Calling these missions repetitive would be the understatement of a lifetime. In truth, the amount of cash you get just by leaving businesses at their default reputation is plenty, especially after you take over several of them, so there's no real reason to ever want to bother with the missions.
One aspect that Vice City did better than anything before it (including Grand Theft Auto III) was atmosphere, and Vice City Stories is just about as good in this regard. Everything about the cheeseball decade of the 1980s is on display here. Neon lights, slick sports cars, awful fashion, and fantastic music all permeate the experience. This game nails the same look that Vice City had, and the basic graphics engine looks a good bit better than it did in Liberty City Stories, especially regarding the frame rate, which stays fairly consistent throughout the game. A few technical limitations do tend to still get in the way. The game's lighting is sometimes a bit off-putting, especially around sunset. It just makes everything look rather dark, and sometimes the glare from the sun will totally obscure your ability to see anything on the screen other than bright light. Of course, the biggest issue here is that this is a PSP game that's been blown up to PS2 proportions, and as a result, a lot of the various textures and models look much lower in resolution than what you'd typically find in a PS2 game. It's not an awful-looking game, but it's pretty far from impressive.
The game's audio is easily the high point. Vic, annoying as he is, is voiced well, as are the other characters voiced by celebrities and unfamiliar actors alike. The writing is still sharp, even if the overall storyline isn't. Of course, no GTA game is worth much without great radio stations, and much the way that Vice City set the standard for how music in games ought to be handled, Vice City Stories delivers another fantastic soundtrack. The same selection of radio stations from the original Vice City is on hand here, letting you enjoy the best of '80s rock, pop, dance, and hip-hop, among other genres. There are too many songs to list, but particularly atmospheric highlights include Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," Quiet Riot's "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)," and Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield." Of course, the mix goes much deeper and more eclectic than this, but it'd take forever to list all the fantastic songs included in the game.
This game was pretty clearly designed for the PSP, so it doesn't hold up nearly as well as a console game.
The radio DJ chatter was another huge highlight of Vice City, and Vice City Stories brings back all the best DJs and their parodic banter. The best one of all is Fresh FM DJ Luke "Skywalker" Campbell, whom hip-hop aficionados will recognize as the foul-mouthed, sex-crazed mastermind of 2 Live Crew. You'll also hear plenty of bizarre, hysterically funny radio commercials that take plenty of jabs at the cinema, TV, music, fashion, and politics of the '80s. If there's any specific difference between the comedy in Vice City and that found in Vice City Stories, it's that Vice City Stories is a bit meaner, a bit darker in its edge. Vice City certainly had its dark moments, but VCS seems a little more bent on taking angry jabs at aspects of American culture than the first game. This is less a flaw and more a stylistic choice, really.
For those of you who already bought Vice City Stories on the PSP, the PS2 version doesn't offer any additional content (and, in fact, removes content in the form of the PSP game's multiplayer mode), so there's no reason to even consider this release. If you skipped Vice City Stories the first time around, just know that this, much like Liberty City Stories, scratches the same basic itch that the other GTA games do, but not as satisfactorily. The storytelling is some of the weakest of any GTA game, and the game engine isn't nearly as impressive as it once was. Still, for $20, those who just want to experience the gaudy delights of Vice City one more time won't be doing themselves wrong by checking this one out.