When Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories was released back in October, it automatically became one of PSP's best games. Rockstar Leeds had somehow managed to cram in all the charm and gleeful excess of the original Vice City into something the size of a Jammy Dodger. But being one of the best games on PSP is akin to being champions of the Scottish third division, begging the question - can Victor Vance's exploits survive in a PS2 market choked with the likes of Scarface and Just Cause?
Well, that all depends on your expectations. Those expecting something radically different from the PSP version or indeed the original Vice City are likely to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you look at VCS for what it really is - a 20 quid port of a thoroughly decent action game - then you'll do just fine.
And the advantages of shifting the game to PS2 are immediately apparent. Smooth camera control, an improved frame-rate and the ability to perform a drive-by without developing crippling arthritis are all welcome additions that help improve the VCS experience.
Vice and easy
What was once a stunning technical achievement on Sony's handheld is now a good-looking PS2 title, and Rockstar have used their experiences on San Andreas and Canis Canem Edit to iron out many of the graphical flaws from the Tommy Vercetti days. Vice City now looks far more solid and vibrant than it once did, with much improved lighting effects and a greater draw distance helping to create a vivid picture of '80s sleaze and decadence.
The driving model for GTA's vehicles is still a Miami mile in front of the competition, with the PS2 pad feeling more responsive and satisfyingly weighty than the PSP controls. It also helps that the game feels like less of a watered-down PSP port than Liberty City Stories, with a complement of vehicles closer to San Andreas' selection. Cars, copters, bikes and BMXs all litter the streets of this sun-drenched metropolis, with Rockstar even managing to squeeze in a variety of hovercrafts and jet-skis to navigate the city's shimmering waters.
Unfortunately, not all of the game's features have translated over so well from the handheld realm. The general structure and length of many missions feel poorly implemented for PS2, and this creates a problem with pacing throughout the game. For example, the beginning of Victor's adventure is decidedly low-key and the first few hours in Vice City are a real slog, with overly simple collection and escort missions that have clearly been designed for short handheld bursts. Things do eventually pick up, both in challenge and complexity, but never threaten to reach the giddy heights of San Andreas.
Sink or swim
While some of the new features that Rockstar have added since your last trip to Vice City are welcome - the pick being a enjoyable business development system, as in San Andreas - others feel undercooked, such as Victor's inability to clamber back to shore from all but the flattest slopes around the city. This was a forgivable restraint in catering for a handheld, but it's a problem that really should have been fixed for the full-fat version.
So back to that question. Can VCS survive against the likes of Scarface and the other pretenders to GTA's throne? Well... yes and no. GTA's winning combination of quality arcade driving, coupled with its established tongue-in-cheek humour and scathing satire, really help keep it ahead of the competition in some ways.
But in others it's plain to see that you're playing with a six-year-old game engine. Shooting and targeting feel more archaic than ever and just aren't as involving as running around pretending to be Tony Montana, shooting people in the shins and taunting them with inventive Cuban obscenities.
The GTA template is beginning to feel a little stretched these days and, with games like Xbox 360's Crackdown bringing new toys to the sandbox, it's clear that Rockstar need some fresh ideas to bolster their much-loved series.
For 20 notes, though, you can't really complain. Played the PSP version to death? Leave this on the shop shelf. But if you're looking for a sunny spot to fritter away the hours until you get a PS3, then GTA is still the only vacation we'd recommend.
Overall A welcome trip back to Vice City, but GTA is in need of a revamp if it wants to truly shine on PS3.
- Better graphics
- Improved controls
- An advert for children's pants