An anniversary worth celebrating.
Traditionally, the mobile space has been thought of as a separate style of gaming, one geared toward casual time-wasters rather than deep experiences and rich worlds. In the last few years, we’ve seen that change, and this site was founded in part to celebrate that maturation. The Grand Theft Auto series coming to mobile platforms seems especially relevant. The series helped to bring the open-ended sandbox gameplay associated with European PC games to masses of American console gamers for the first time, and now – even 10 years later – it shows that mobile gaming is growing up. No longer are small, linear games the order of the day, and gamers are entrusted with the keys to an entire open world.
Vice City should need little introduction. After the breakthrough success of GTA3, Rockstar North decided to forego a conventional sequel, and instead produced a spin-off dressed in day-glow ‘80s nostalgia. Set against the backdrop of America’s cocaine capital at the peak of its opulence, Vice City pays homage to the period’s crime films like Scarface and Carlito’s Way. Its world and time period are almost inextricable, and from the Commodore 64 loading screen at the beginning to the synth-heavy tunes on the radio, it’s a period piece to the bone.
If you played last year’s Grand Theft Auto III: 10th Anniversary you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the mobile treatment of its follow-up. Although Rockstar has smoothed out some of the blockier parts of their character models, most of the extra polygons seems to be spent on their hands. Improvements to the lighting are more noticeable, but it’s hardly a bottom-up makeover. By modern standards – even mobile ones – this is still a pretty blocky game, but the extended draw distance and new effects keep it looking competitive.
This is a port, not a remake, and it still carries with it much of the original’s baggage. Like Jet Set Radio, it feels almost like an emulation, with controller-centric gameplay that has changed very little. Rockstar has responded to criticisms about the lack of control options in GTA3, but don’t expect a major paradigm shift. The controls are very customizable, with different steering options (including accelerometer controls), editable button layouts, and refined targeting, but this does little to fix just how cluttered the screen can get. Games like Dead Space and Mass Effect: Infiltrator have proven how well complex, console-style control schemes can be adapted without filling the screen with buttons, and it would be nice to see Rockstar follow their lead by rethinking the controls from the ground up. At least, to their credit, they have included support for external controllers, so those who don’t mind wielding an external pad can relive the experience just as it was.
Still, once you adapt, and maybe move a few buttons around, the controls prove very workable. Rockstar has thoughtfully reworked the original’s rather stingy save system with a solid auto-save that will hold your place when you exit the game. The retry feature from later games makes an appearance as well, taking some of the frustration and wasted time out of flunking missions. These features ultimately highlight the aspect of GTA that seems so well suited to the handhelds. Despite having a huge world to explore, this is ultimately a game of bite-sized missions that are fun to take on a few minutes at a time.
Vice City is still a great game, with a well-told story and a compelling world, but it’s dated now, for more than just the soundtrack. The world, which once seemed vast, now seems fairly simple and small, and the clunky fighting and shooting are pretty far from this generation’s action games. Time and the awkward transition to a new kind of input have done this game no favors. To truly do justice to GTA in the mobile market, Rockstar is going to have to build a game from the ground up, or at least redesign their gameplay for the platform. While it’s doubtlessly better than Gameloft’s Gangstar series or any similar competitors, these ports have me hankering for an original chapter in the GTA saga.
Is it Hardcore?
Although the graphical enhancements are underwhelming, and it carries some of the usual control baggage of a console adaptation, Rockstar’s latest port remains faithful to the decade-old classic; and until we get an original GTA made for mobile, Vice City is the next best thing.