Today marks the 15th Anniversary of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, steeped in pop culture and 80’s Americana it is literally one of – if not THE – best game of the 21st century.
When I think of my dusty old PlayStation 2 console, which is still tucked away somewhere underneath a labyrinth of rotting books and CDs (remember those?), a teary glint forms in the corner of my eye because I associate it with one game, GTA Vice City.
Just like those books and CDs, which I’m sentimentally attached to, my PS2 and Vice City is a passage to a former life. A simpler time when I was still a happy-go-lucky Journalism student attending a third-rate University (who shall remain nameless).
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To be honest, I don’t think any amount of words can justify how important the Vice City entry is – to not only myself and millions of other gamers – but to Rockstar Games and the GTA series itself.
You can argue its predecessor, GTA III, is much more important, and there’s merit to that. After all GTA III not only revitalised the company and the series, but it inadvertently gave birth to the notion of sandbox gaming. Basically GTA III is dad.
But dad’s aren’t cool – well, my dad isn’t cool – yes, you might have come from their sperm but let’s be honest, their ideas are outdated and you get embarrassed every time they open their mouth. That’s what GTA III is – your embarrassing dad doing a dad-dance.
If that’s the case, Vice City is your cool older brother, he took what dad passed on and said here’s how to do it better. GTA III might been the founder but Vice City is the game which turned the series into a staple art form which goes beyond gaming.
And where to start with that greatness…
I guess the easiest place – for me anyway – is the music.
Think back to the start of the game, the first car you get into, the music kicks in. There’s a familiar base, then the synths begin to stab and all of a sudden you hear the King of Pop’s melodic voice. The minute you hear Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, the first proper song you hear in-game, you know you’re in for a unique journey.
Even casual gamers will tell you the first thing they think about Vice City is the excellent music on the radio stations (Wave 103.3 being the best). Before that, the idea of pulling off a bank heist while you bop your head to Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles seemed far-fetched and ludicrous.
After Vice City it seems if you don’t have an appropriate playlist when you’re in a car chase then you’re not doing it right. Just ask Edgar Wright and the cast of Baby Driver.
Which leads us nicely onto our next point…
Before its debut, the series was your run-of-the-mill crime simulator but its coming heralded a change in attitude towards games and the series as well. The series (perhaps inadvertently) became a mouth-piece for pop culture and socioeconomic issues of its time.
Another obvious point would be its homage to the 80s, as someone who was old enough to play the game in their formative years, I saw this as a starting point for our current generation’s love for nostalgia. Before Vice City the need to shop at stores like Beyond Retro was almost non-existent – at least from a gamers’ perspective.
Furthermore, due to its influences, it introduced a new generation to cult movies and TV shows like Carlito’s Way, Miami Vice and – it’s most obvious inspiration – Scarface. In an inspired move, Rockstar Games hired famous actors who were quintessential to the 80s-to-early-90s era to do the voice over’s – such as Ray Liotta, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds and Debbie Harry from Blondie.
It was proof that video games could be more than just fun entertainment- it could also be artistic. If Metal Gear Solid was an education for geopolitics and warfare, then GTA: Vice City was an education in art and zeitgeist.
While it perfectly encapsulated the allure and glam of 1980s Miami, it also was a stinging parody that showed the paradoxical line between tourism and the criminal economics which was needed to run it and through main character Tommy Vercetti (voiced by the brilliant Liotta), we could vicariously live out our criminal fantasies.
Without the innovation of Vice City we wouldn’t get a game like GTA V, which while a fun crime-sandbox-simulator, is also a gross look at how those at the bottom of the food chain do all the back-breaking work and those on the top reap the true benefits and rewards – a bit like everyday life.
Think about it, apart from the bank robberies and side missions, did Franklin, Trevor and Michael make any money for the people they work for?
Like most video games which I played religiously from the ages of 14 to 25, I look to look them as capsules to a simpler time – when I didn’t have to worry about rent or my editors breathing down my neck because I’ve (purposely) missed a deadline for an article – back then all I had to worry about was ‘am I riding for 50 Cent or should I remain loyal to Ja Rule’. [FYI: I picked Fiddy].
It is also a symbol of my growth, an evolution in how I wanted to play video games (a growth which started with from my PlayStation days and continues to manifest). It was the first time I cared about owning property and making in-game currency (which was meaningless) to further my influence in a digital playground which was at my beck-and-call.
I’ll tell you why Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is the most complete game of the 21st Century… it’s because for the first time in my life I had a game which treated me like an adult – Rockstar Games told me told do whatever I felt like doing. So what did I do? I carjacked some poor NPC off his super bike, took it to the nearest beach and listened to a whole set of Fever 105.