'Grand Theft Auto' raises vice to an art

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" is the game your parents warned you about.

Loaded with mayhem, bloodshed and opportunities for gratuitous violence, the latest in this wildly politically incorrect series is saved by the fact that it is beautifully done and a ton of fun to play.

Developed by Rockstar North for the PlayStation 2, GTA:VC improves on one of the most popular game in PS2 history. "Grand Theft Auto III" has sold more than 6 million copies in the United States and Europe -- and everyone who bought that game is likely to ante up for the latest version.

Why? Because it's better (or worse, depending on your point of view) in every way.

More missions for the mob. More chances to earn cash to buy automatic weapons. More vehicles to steal -- over 100, including planes, motorcycles and boats. More cops to chase you around. More places to see and go -- Vice City is twice as big as III's Liberty City. More and better weapons.

There's a new system that makes it far easier to hit your targets. And the soundtrack is incredible, from wild rock music to hilarious talk shows to a cast of stars handling the voice acting, including Ray Liotta, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Hopper and Burt Reynolds.

You play as Tommy Vercetti, a down-and-out thug who is given a chance by a sleazy mob boss to make a few bucks handling a series of jobs in a Miami 1980s look-alike city.

But your main task -- finding the goons who stole the boss's cocaine -- forces you to use all your underworld skills, from shooting and fighting to beating people with hammers.

The series has been a whipping boy for everyone who opposes videogame violence, because it turns the gaming world upside down. In most games that are ripped for violence, at least you generally play as a good guy ridding the world of scum.

In the Grand Theft Auto series, not only are you one of the scum, but you have a 007 license to kill not only other criminals but anybody you happen to see, just for the fun of it.

Graphics get an A. This is a huge game, full of colorful people, excellent interior and exterior scenes and miles of territory to explore. Graphics are not incredibly detailed, but the "Miami Vice" pastels and huge cast make the game a treat to look at.

Control gets another A. Vercetti is easy to guide, and while vehicles don't always do exactly what you want, they handle well enough. It's great fun to roar around town on a Harley-Davidson or in a pricey sports car or cruise overhead in a helicopter, targeting unsuspecting bad guys.

Sound gets an A+. The sound track, sound effects and the fabulous cast of real actors make the game a delight to the ears. The music is so good, it's being sold separately as a seven-CD boxed set.

As a videogame, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" gets an enthusiastic A. If the moral issues don't bother you -- this is just a game, after all -- it may well be the best title this year. And morality aside, it's likely to be among the top sellers for the holidays.

"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" gets a well-deserved M rating for ages 17 and older. This is absolutely not a game for children, and there also are probably a lot of adults who shouldn't be allowed near it.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: