Star power is a big deal. No, we’re not talking about Mario or James Webb star power, either. The right celebrity roster can elevate a project from mediocre to magical, but the wrong one can be a budget-bloating albatross. It's why you rarely see massive movie stars show up in our games in favor of reliable (and cheaper) voice actors. But what happens when a game goes all in on star power? Can you get a big-budget Hollywood feel at home? Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games would say yes.
Back in 2002, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City showed us that you can capture that silver screen magic in your living room. Rockstar Games was flush with cash following the success of GTA III, and they broke out the big checks for this open-world homage to ‘80s action. And now the snow-blowing antics of tough guy Tommy Vercetti (Ray Liotta, rest in power) have come to Playstation Plus.
Liotta’s performance as the first voiced protagonist in GTA history can not be understated here.
Anyone with even a tertiary interest in movies is familiar with his role in Martin Scorcese’s mobster epic Goodfellas. So it’s no surprise that having him serve as both protagonist and de facto narrator gives the game some authenticity. He’s not alone, either. The supporting cast includes heavyweights like Burt Reynolds and Dennis Hopper alongside high-profile character actors like William Fichtner (this guy) and Danny Trejo. Debbie Harry, Jenna Jameson, Gary Busey, the list goes on.
Of course, without a good story, all that talent means nothing. Fortunately, Vice City entertains from start to finish. Set in the ‘80s, the fictional Vice City is a Miami-inspired playground of sex, drugs, and violence. It’s also got arguably the best soundtrack of any game ever produced.
You follow Tommy Vercetti on his journey from a fresh-out-of-prison thug to a criminal kingpin. The Hollywood influence is here too, with nods to Scarface all along the way. Is it derivative? Sure. Is it fun? Oh hell yeah.
In the 20 years since its original release, Vice City shows its age in remarkably few places. The map is big without being empty, and the driving and shooting controls hold up nicely. The real star of the gameplay is in the sheer variety of missions. Gallows humor punctuates side quests full of murder and mayhem involving drive-bys, remote-controlled planes (with explosives), and an army of homicidal taxis.
Vice City is especially worth a visit because of its time capsule effect.
The ‘80s vibe, especially the music, is epic. But for gamers, it also offers a glimpse into the evolution of one of our most iconic franchises. GTA III set the blueprint, but Vice City set the tone. Over-the-top writing (including some cringey jokes that don’t age well) and a big-budget approach to storytelling gets couched in world-class driving and combat mechanics. There is a clear line from Vice City that runs through all the games in the franchise. Fame, fortune, and flamethrowers await. Play it ASAP.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is available now on PlayStation Plus for Extra and Premium tier subscribers. It’s also available on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, Switch, and mobile.