Have You Played… Grand Theft Auto: Vice City?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I wouldn’t call Grand Theft Auto: Vice City [official site] the best GTA game, but I might say it’s my favourite. Between the eerie deadness of GTA 3 and the sprawl of San Andreas sat a tidy little game about ’80s Miami bathed in neon and dusted with cocaine. It was a crude sketch of future plans for the series, done on the back of a copy of Scarface‘s script, but its roughness left gaps that the atmosphere nicely filled.

Tommy Vercetti is an arsehole, but that’s fine – Rockstar hadn’t yet switched from making pastiches of their favourite films to planning to rival them with their own, ah, masterpieces. He’s a murderous thug who wants all the money and guns and drugs and ladies and so you shoot lots of men – and run them over, and light them on fire – because that’s how you get money and guns and drugs and ladies. He has a few humanising touches, making him a bit of a scamp, but doesn’t wail endlessly about his dead mother, his cousin’s mistakes, or his awful son while flying a jetpack.

In retrospect, I see a lot of Vice City as Rockstar exercising restraint, but they probably simply hadn’t had the time, money, or ideas to cram in everything later games added. Yes, rival gangs war and you might find yourself caught in trouble your gang starts, but it’ll never ping alerts urging you to rush to a zone to defend it against invaders. It’s a part of a living world rather than a game-y system. No fitness stats. No friendship meters. Just you, a lot of murders, and a little silliness.

Over the top of all that is the cool ’80s vibe, with the music and colours and cars and outfits and… it’s a charming sketch.

I do want to stop playing every time I fall into water and instantly die, though.

76 Comments

  1. dangermouse76 says:

    My fav in terms of memories. Great intro great style, fun story line that didn’t hide it’s influences.But I was at that age when games burned a deeper impression on me than they do now.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I don’t know why gamers do more hand-wringing about nostalgia than anyone else. Vice City is, objectively, very different from…well, every other GTA game. It’s closest to GTA3, but with a bunch of improvements.

      Compared to later games, it has a small map which you can eventually memorise. This completely changes the experience of driving around the game world, which is the main activity of the game.

      • Solidstate89 says:

        You know I hadn’t thought of it before, but you’re absolutely right. The only time I’d ever look at the map in Vice City was to see where it I was I needed to go. After that, I could drive there perfectly from memory.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        I knew where all the jumps were in Vice City, I’ll tell you that for nothing.
        Although with the bigger maps there is a chance of random emergent game play that comes with the unknown, and that in of itself creates interesting sub narratives to your experience.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        Also I’m not hand wringing !

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        Henke says:

        Heh, I memorised the maps in all the GTAs eventually, then again I’m a huge fan of the series (yes, even IV). One of the first videos I uploaded on youtube was of VC, almost a decade ago: link to youtube.com

      • Baf says:

        To me, the fact that you come to know the map so thoroughly is part of the appeal. Vice City as a single contiguous object has a very strong sense of place, and comes to feel like home in a way that few other games do. Especially when you eventually start flying around in helicopters and such, and get to see all that familiar territory from a new perspective that changes how you interact with it, but at the same time it’s all recognizable.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      It’s not just nostalgia, I played all the series up to IV thanks to a Steam sale and I must say Vice City is the one I liked better, San Andreas is bigger but there are already the seeds of the ludonarrative dissonance in IV with a protagonist that is just a bit too “normal” to fit this kind of game (IV is kinda ridiculous, you can spare some of your targets during missions but at the same time you probably ran over a bunch of old ladies just to get the mission to start), the comedic sociopathy of Vercetti fits with this murderous sandbox games much better than a nice guy that turned to crime because he is poor, it’s a lesson that Volition understood well.

      • Urthman says:

        Yes! Vice City feels more like it belongs with the Saints Row series than with any of the tediously-serious Rockstar games.

  2. Yachmenev says:

    Played it, but never really rated it that high.

    It has the 80’s style, and the soundtrack, but other then that, I think it’s the worst entry in the series. The city isn’t much fun, the story isn’t interesting at all, the missions aren’t especially memorable, and it’s quite a mess in terms of bugs (cops who rather stand shooting at unbreakable glass then move two steps to the right and enter the building you’re in, people and cops spawning in your private parking space, etc).

    San Andreas was a massive upgrade on this game.

  3. slerbal says:

    This was the last GTA that I enjoyed and the best in terms of atmosphere. I stumbled on for a couple more but after GTA4 I decided never to play another GTA.

  4. CannedLizard says:

    I’d probably have fonder memories of this one if it had San Andreas’s camera controls. As is, the times I’ve tried to replay it I’ve been baffled by the not being able to look around when driving with my mouse. None of this Q & E rubbish!

  5. thelastpointer says:

    I too have fond memories about this game because of the wonderful 80’s vibe. Try playing it after San Andreas though, and it feels very primitive. The only thing I liked better is that you could buy quite a few discos and whatnot, while SA only had like three or four such locations (and you acquired them by completing missions).
    Vice City, with the SA engine would be the most brilliant thing ever. (Or, let’s dream big, and imagine it with the GTAV engine. Hell yeah!)

  6. Synesthesia says:

    The only rockstar game I managed to finish. They make them too damn long.

  7. Barberetti says:

    I do want to stop playing every time I fall into water and instantly die, though.

    I know that feeling ohhhhh so well. The amount of times I had an awesome mayhem session ruined by being knocked into 2 feet of water and drowning … gah! The only thing that stopped the game from being perfect. But yeah, apart from that it’s easily my favourite GTA.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The funniest thing about nobody being able to swim in GTA:VC is that about half the map is a beautiful beach.

      Also there was a cheat that meant you could drive vehicles into water and their wheels would fold down like the BTTF DeLorean and skim over it, which was the best thing ever to do with big, top-heavy ambulences.

  8. Sin Vega says:

    Only one of the series that I finished the story in. 3 had better levels, with those glorious long tunnels and multi-storey neighbourhoods, and San Andreas had more stuff, but VC had more personality and was just the right size. And Tommy was cartoonish enough to be fun, not a cretin like CJ or dreary miseryguts like Niko.

    • Geebs says:

      I really liked the way that Tommy’s default reaction to getting double-crossed was mostly just irritation at how stupid everybody was being.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Yes! And however horrible Tommy’s actions were, he often sort of had a point, at least within the confines of the utterly amoral setting.

        • Baf says:

          “Amoral setting”, yes. That’s a perfect way to put it. I remember noticing that when you start buying businesses, you find out that nearly all of them are already engaging in crime — the used car dealership routinely deals in stolen merchandise, the print shop does a little counterfeiting on the side, etc. So Tommy isn’t a corrupting influence, he’s just better at it than most people. When he expands the scope of his business partners’ crimes, he’s just helping them realize their full potential. This takes a lot of the sting off what he’s doing.

          • Unclepauly says:

            This is exactly how I justify my large scale pimping operation. My girls potential will be fulfilled or bust.

  9. Jakkar says:

    The GTA in which everything went wrong…

    The GTA in which open-world fun, dynamism, exploration and black humour took a back seat in favour of making an inferior copy of dubious classic crime cinema, and filling it with missions even more infuriating than the ones in 3.

    3 was the game that gave me hope for oneday playing GTA 2 in 3d – a blackly comical cyberpunk adventure, the closest I’ll get to a Snow Crash game until I manage to get Neal Stephenson at gun point to sign me the right.

    Vice City shocked me with how.. Shallow, and unimaginative it was, and how far it fell from the dark comedy and creative freedom suggested by the earlier games. San Andreas rewarded persistence by finally letting you escape the unbearable plot missions and run free in a ridiculously large world full of secrets and toys, but if you had the energy to properly enjoy a VTOL jet, jetpack and wide open countryside after ten hours of wzupmahniga and infuriating plot mission bottlenecks (the remote control planes.maskjrhakjsrasras)… Well, you beat me.

    And what more needs be said about number four, except ‘HAI COUZIN! YOU WANT GO BOWLING?! :D’, screamed into your eat seventeen times a minute until you seek a self-induced coma by means of keyboard percussion.

    I miss what I hoped Grand Theft Auto would become.

    Saints Rows 2 and onward certainly hit the ridiculous comedy angle but it didn’t provide the satisfying world and thick atmosphere I was craving.

    Something that combines GTA 2, Syndicate Wars, Red Dead Redemption (do not mention the plot), and Fallout.

    I’ll make it. Just fund it.

  10. trjp says:

    To my mind, Vice City is the best GTA because it’s the one which mixed GTA with pop culture in it’s purest form and it shone as a result.

    San Andreas changed the game – it became grim and serious and – well – dull-as-hell AND it dated faster too (people may still watch Michael Mann – no-one watches gangsta hood movies?).

    GTA4 was worse again and 5 certainly wasn’t a major change-of-direction – GTA was stuck with dislikable characters in a dislikable world which wasn’t even a parody anymore.

    The humour which originally marked GTA as classic British satire only (barely) survives on the radio in more recent games, everything else is crass and dumb (just add Jewish angst/cringe for US Hit Comedy!!)

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      San Andreas is not at all “grim and serious”.

      • trjp says:

        Oh yes it is

        • Det. Bullock says:

          There are still a few silly bits here and there like the jetpack mission.

      • P.Funk says:

        San Andreas was definitely grim and serious in the post betrayal part of the Grove Street main storyline. Once you get sent out into Bone county or whatever it is and you meet such characters as The Truth and Mike Toreno (best argument in favour of R*’s defunct use of celebrity actors in every role) it gains some of that joyful absurdity that made VC such fun.

        To be honest what made me love VC and most of SA were the side characters. Ken Rosenberg, Love Fist, the Colonel, definitely Torino.

        I was most disappointed in GTA IV when it turned out how few missions you had with Brucie.

  11. Brinx says:

    I never could get past the mission, where you have to place bombs with the remote helicopter. At least I’m not the only one. This game was hard. (As was GTA III, though.)

    • Premium User Badge

      kregg says:

      To complete that mission the easy way:

      1. Go into the building. Kill every construction worker there (do this without picking up any bombs, as picking up the first bomb starts the timer)
      2. Pick up the bombs and place them one by one. You should have plenty of time.

      • Baf says:

        Similarly, the mission where you ride a motorcycle over a series of rooftop checkpoints with ramps is most easily accomplished by ditching the motorcycle and getting a helicopter.

  12. malkav11 says:

    Still probably my favorite, yeah. I knew Vice City like the back of my hand, and could and did spend hours pretty much just driving around listening to the amazing soundtrack. It’s also the one I’m closest to having beaten. I haven’t actually finished any Rockstar open world game other than Bully (which is my absolute favorite of all of their games), but Vice City’s endgame is doing missions related to properties you yourself have purchased (pretty sure that’s the endgame, anyway), and I’ve hit that point. I just can’t beat the damn race to recruit the driver for a planned heist, and that stops me in my tracks. :(

    San Andreas is more technically impressive and has a better story overall, so maybe I’d love it more than Vice City if I had spent nearly as much time with it. But I haven’t. I think part of it is simply that 90s California isn’t as vivid and singular a setting aesthetically as 80s Miami. And part of it is that SA came along at a point in my gaming career where I was already starting to have more limited time to game and more games to split my time between.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Urgh, god, that race. One of few missions I vividly remember, for it was TERRIBLE. Every GTA has shitty, mandatory missions, it’s why the series is stagnant, but some were so bad they were inexcusable even if you like the game’s structure.

      • Baf says:

        Fortunately, that race isn’t mandatory. You need to do it to collect one of the properties, buy you don’t need to collect every property in the game to reach the ending.

        • malkav11 says:

          Yeah, come to think of it, there were probably other things I could have kept on with. But I wanted to beat every mission. And now I don’t know if I still have the save.

    • frenz0rz says:

      That damned race. Vice City is a marvellous game and my favourite GTA, but that race was infuriatingly difficult. The “Follow the damn train CJ!” meme has being going for years, but chasing down Hilary King in his Sabre Turbo? Hardest GTA mission I’ve ever done.

      Except perhaps the one in which you plant bombs with the remote control helicopter. Uuuuuurgh.

      • Jackablade says:

        The GTA3 mission where you had to steal 3 cars from around the map and get them into an annoyingly positioned garage without scratching the paint before a timer runs out is the one that sticks in my mind as game breakingly frustrating. I don’t think I ever finished that one.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        The hardest GTA mission is the fucking Red Baron mission in San Andreas on PS2 (possibly Xbox as well). There is a glitch in that version making the plane’s fuel level drop even when you are not hitting the gas. Most infuriating level I have ever played in a game.

  13. fish99 says:

    Played about half of it. I loved the music/setting, but once I had a big mansion and access to the whole map I guess the story wasn’t compelling enough for me to finish the game. I seem to remember getting stuck on a hard mission too.

  14. El_MUERkO says:

    And I ran

    I ran so far awaaaay

    I just ran

    I ran all night and daaaay

    I couldn’t get away

    :*)

  15. Grovester says:

    GTA3 was amazing, for its time, but quickly showed its limitations.
    GTA:VC had better characters, more story, and technically was far better, but I never bought into the 80’s schtick in the 80’s so wasn’t going to do so now.
    GTA:SA only got good once you escaped LA (or Los Santos or whatever it’s called). Once out in the countryside, it suddenly broke loose and became brilliant. And then far too long.
    GTAIV – sheesh, what a pain the arse game. Stop phoning me, goddamn you.
    GTAV – sheesh, what a bunch of pricks. A beautiful engine and setting, a dreadful game.

    • eggy toast says:

      Sounds about right.

    • Premium User Badge

      kregg says:

      For me, San Andreas was actually really great when you were inside Grove Street. When you get forced out to the country side is when I found the game pretty dull.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        I dunno, I enjoyed shooting down harriers with a P-51, to the seven-minute-long “Freebird.” The jet pack mission was a nice touch, as well as the casino heist chain.

        There were gems outside of Grove St, but they were oases surrounded by a vast wasteland of mostly empty map.

    • fish99 says:

      I don’t really agree that scummy protagonists (they are violent criminals afterall) made GTAV a bad game, or that friends phoning you ruined GTA4 since you could ignore them with almost no penalty. The only perk worth having from the friend activities was Jacobs gun van and all it did was save you time.

      • Jay Load says:

        By itself, the mobile phone spamming didn’t ruin GTA, but it was a massive annoyance. I mean, how no-one complained loudly enough to have that feature toned down will remain a mystery for the ages.

        But no, what ruined GTA IV for me was the ludicrous driving physics, perfected and rarely altered since the start of the series but now changed to something resembling a supermarket trolley with a broken wheel. Unforgiveable.

  16. Philopoemen says:

    Best soundtrack – My favourite GTA other than GTA itself, which was just crazy for the time.(I still remember the games store here offering a discount if you produced a speeding ticket when you bought it…)

    • caff says:

      Best soundtrack of the series by a long way. Sadly the game feels so dated I’d struggle to go back to it now.

  17. apa says:

    Whenever a new GTA is announced everyone (yes!) is hoping that the setting would be Vice City or it would be GTA VC remake. And that’s me too!

  18. jonahcutter says:

    The last GTA that works completely, and uniquely, as a game. All those that follow break down to various degrees (even though having better, more polished game mechanics at times) because of their attempts to make the protagonist more of a nice guy.

    The dissonance between the (comparatively) better sides of the later protagonists and them being able to go postal without lasting consequence breaks the entire structure down at times. GTA Vice City holds up completely, all the way through, in structure and narrative. Tommy never belongs in any other medium than a video game.

    Plus it has the most fun, cartoonish, Dukes of Hazzard car physics.

    • Dicehuge says:

      I agree, Vice City is the one well written GTA game. Tommy’s ‘charming psychopath’ doesn’t try to flimsily explain away the horrid things you do throughout the game in the way that the horrendously written, pathologically boring protagonists from San Andreas to GTA5 do. Vice City was happily self indulgent, before the writers got obsessed with trying to make the series satirical, which made GTA5 in particular play like the world’s worst South Park episode.

  19. median says:

    I enjoyed the game, but dearly wished the lighting scheme had been different. It was much too bright. I know, that’s what Miami look like. Maybe I should have played with sun glasses.

  20. eggy toast says:

    You want to know how much Vice City I played? So much that that screen shot doesn’t look aged or shitty at all.

  21. Blastaz says:

    VC was probably the game where GTA achieved its potential. 3 had broken through with the 3D but VC moved up several notches just by letting your character talk. Suddenly Tommy became someone and the game came to life. It’s amazing how such a small change was such a great leap forwards…

  22. Murikov says:

    The only GTA that motivated me to finish it to 100% – only to get “a lousy t-shirt” at the end…

    But there’s still nothing better than listening to “Owner of a Lonely Heart” while spraying the city with bullets and missiles from your Hunter attack helicopter. Indeed good times.

  23. Al Bobo says:

    The thing that made this particular GTA stand above others for me was the day, when I discovered that there’s multiplayer option for it. Suddenly the game changed to something entirely different than before. There were these mad 10 car chases and drive-by -shootings and shotgun duels and self -made missions, like “protect the pope” and clans and all kinds of weird stuff.
    I learned that it’s possible to drive monster truck on top of a high-rise building and jump to another high-rise building. I learned that there’s a palm tree that you can use as a ramp to jump 20 meters high and on top of a building with a motorbike. I learned that in the little island on the upside of the map, there is a glitchy perimeter wall that you could run inside and you would warp on the other side of the town. There was also a store with a similar glithy stand. Walking on it wasn’t enough; you had to precisely jump on it and you would get teleported in front of Mr. Whoopee -building. I learned that you can escape stubby shotgun insta-kill when knocked down, if you jump at precisely right moment. I learned how fun it is to fight against grenade -lobbing sailors on the docks as a greasy mexican while wielding m-60 and molotovs.
    Sure, there was no npcs and it was all working more or less wobbly, but hot damn, it was fun.

  24. varangian says:

    I’ve only ever played two GTA games. The early iterations didn’t appeal but VC sounded like fun, the case was colourful and had a pouting babe on the cover so I gave it a go. It was great fun, didn’t really care about the main storyline though I finished it in the end, murdering people wasn’t particularly compelling either. But outrunning the police while listening to the radio stations was all the entertainment I needed.

    Skipped SA for some reason but rejoined for GTA IV. Big mistake, a total miseryfest. VC made being a criminal fluffy fun whilst IV made it a dreary slog. Which might be more realistic but not what I play games for.

  25. Risingson says:

    I don’t like GTAs for a number of reasons, but the main one is that it replaced the mission oriented space games with non sci fi stuff. But I liked VC the little I played: the start is funny enough and the city is cool. However, I would have taken better songs. Or no songs at all. I hate going to youtube to see discussions about my favourite songs and the only positive comments are “OH GTA, MEMORIES”. Memories? Memories is being drunk and tell a confused girl that you loved her, or trying to say so and throwing up in the attempt, while in the bar they were playing that song. But… A game?

    Same thing with fifa and pes songs.

    Back to gta vice city, as with other games in the saga, i got bored because the missions were quite boring to me.

    • drewski says:

      If you’ve never made any fond memories while playing a game, I kinda feel sorry for you.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      You mostly don’t like GTA because you want the kids to get off you kawn, with the lawn being the comments section of YouTube?

      Does it sound stupid when I spell it out like that?

  26. Cyrus says:

    On my top 3 list of favorite games, definitely.

  27. Jimbo says:

    Vice City is the best GTA game and always will be. San Andreas was alright too, but I found both 4 and 5 pretty difficult to enjoy. I feel like Saints Row 1 & 2 were the true (and just plain better) successors to the GTA 3 games, while GTA itself went off in a different direction and became completely confused about what it was trying to be.

  28. dkfgo says:

    To me, its the best GTA all the way, followed by San Andreas. I still didnt play GTA V though. I was a bit disappointed with GTA IV, it sure had a somewhat more serious tone (comparatively), a slightly more charismatic protagonist (still a psycho though), but the storytelling per se is weaker. Missions are so disconnected, you feel like there is no main storyline, its all subquests loosely tied up, you never feel like you’re improving, going somewhere. And the radio isnt as good as they were in VC and SA for example. VC specially, had a very dinstinctive tone, and the radio was responsible for a lot of the immersion, specially the ads and VCPR. The life of the city, something you couldnt see on the streets due to technical limitations, was showcased very well through the radio stations.

  29. dethtoll says:

    It’s a real shame that Vice City Stories never made it to PC. It’s objectively the better game, with a better soundtrack, better mechanics, better visuals, better everything really. I love it.

  30. G_Man_007 says:

    GTA:VC, first played it on the PS3, then got it to play on my (then) brand new, superduper TIME Machine with ramped up gfx and improved framerates. Wish I had left it for the PC as it would have been more ground breaking for me; being able to play my own MP3s made it more immersive.

    I completed it a couple of times. Then I got into the mods and the stunts scene…

    I tell you, you haven’t played GTA:VC until you’ve put KITT, the A-Team van, Mustangs, Deloreans and many other classic cars into it (I seem to remember a Semi Cuda being a favourite), along with a totally new area in the wasteland behind the Car Showroom, and attempted to pull off a successful grind, bike flip (hard because you’d fall off if you just tried to do a straight flip) or barrel roll. That alone made this the one game I have played the most ever, aside from perhaps Fallout 3 and NV. I ploughed 250+ hours each into those two and the DLC; I have no way of knowing how much I played GTA:VC, but it might be that much or more.

    Coupled with this, I watched countless stunt videos which are probably still there to watch 10 years later.

    This is all on top of the 80s setting, the style, the missions, going “off script” and rampaging, the step up from GTA3 with story and main character, the cameos, and the radio stations – I had a Sony Discman, and I hooked that up to my PS3 to record the stations, especially the chat shows and Laslow. I didn’t just play that game; I lived it.

    Incidently I remember when I first experienced art imitating life; walking home from work and seeing the cars from GTA3 driving past, especially the Cartel Cruiser. That’s when you know a game has transcended the gamepad/mouse & keyboard.

  31. hausser0815 says:

    The most dissapointing thing about VC for me was, whe i got the call that the mafia finally came to my city to get their money, and i thoughed a whole new chapter would begin were i would have to defend my criminal empire, but it was just the final mission.
    Apart from that, best gta game ever.
    In comparisson, when i took over the whole first town in sa, and then continued the next main mission, only to get kicked out of “my” city”, i declared it the games final mission.

  32. Neurotic says:

    I have many fond memories of spending my post-completion time selling drugs from an ice-cream van in VC, and also of having a hell of a time finishing that last mission. Man, that was satisfying when I finally did it.

  33. drewski says:

    Great game. Loved it to bits. Probably couldn’t quite handle the wonky mechanics these days, but it’ll always be my favourite GTA game I suspect.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      Yeah, the driving in particular is very floaty, compared to the tight, razor’s edge control we got in San Andreas, or the stiff, terrifying mess that was driving in IV.

      I wouldn’t mind an “HD Update” copy that fixes all of that, actually, if anyone at Rockstar is paid to troll the comments section of Rock Paper Shotgun.

  34. Universal Quitter says:

    I’d say it’s the best. The tone is more upbeat than the other entries, and that’s the type of GTA I enjoy. I can still hear Ken Rosenberg saying “Tommy Vercetti doesn’t even own a gun,” probably chiming in after I was captured in the midst of killing a battalion of police officers with a minigun.

    The soundtrack alone was enough to play this game for hours. Hell, V-rock alone was enough to keep me up all night.

    I’m sure there’s nostalgia at work here, but it’s well-deserved nostalgia.