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.