Wednesday, 09 February 2005
Style isnít really something thatís high on a game fanís agenda. I mean, the traditional visualisation that occurs in any non-gamers mind when a gaming fan is mentioned is a spotty adolescent male hunched over a small TV, fantasising about Lara Croft. However such a ridiculed past time brings to us one of the most stylish titles ever created in the guise of Grand Theft Auto Vice City, one of the double pack which seeís the series debut on Microsoftís Xbox. The wait for the series to come over to the Xbox has been a long one. But the one question that needís to be answered is, has the wait been worth it?
Iím not one to beat around the bush, so first things first. I answer to the question above, yes, itís been worth it. You see Rockstar havenít gone about simply porting over the PS2 originals, the graphics for which seemed a bit lacklustre compared to itís PC brother. Not only have the graphics been given a lick of paint in every conceivable way, but lip-synching during cut-scenes makes an appearance too thanks to the Xboxís obvious power advantage. But the additions donít stop there. As is becoming custom in many of the Xbox big releases, the ability to incorporate your own custom soundtrack is something else that makes a welcome appearance. It works in a very simple way indeed too. As you flick through the various (and hilarious. Believe me, youíll park up many a time to hear Lazlow and his guests on Chatterbox.) radio stations already incorporated including virtually every musical taste known to man, the last brings about the selection of your saved tracks on your Xbox. Okay, it can be argued that the games soundtracks best left alone (In Vice City, your mad to even dare mess with the soundtrack selection) but at least it gives the option if itís wished to be taken.
Fortunately the gameís improvements donít end there. The targeting system which utilises the padís left trigger makes flicking through possible targets so much simpler and more intuitive. In fact the controls a whole feel a cut above the PS2 version. Again thatís not all. The overall graphical touch up manages to make the game feel much more sturdy, and dissolves that feeling of flimsiness that could at times be felt when the slightly off collision detection meant your car crashed and burned rather than flying away at high speeds. Praise must go to Rockstar for making all these improvements, when a straight port would have no doubt sold by the truckload.
No doubt youíll know the basic premise of both games by now, this isnít a game thatís not been hyped to the moon and back by every stream of media after all. If you happen to have a lived on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for the past decade however, Iíll give you a quick overview. You find yourself as one small cog in a huge city, doing exactly as you wish. You want to take on a mission? Then head to one of the points of call by foot, wheels or train, get a little briefing and head off to complete one of the varied tasks. Would you rather run around the city, causing as much mayhem as is humanly possible? Then your perfectly able to. You want to earn some cash by becoming a taxi driver for the day? Then hijack the correct vehicle and away you go. Itís all so open ended, it shows what can happen when freedom is done correctly. You do have to go through the admittedly impressive storyline to open up new weapons and areas of the city, but to be honest it doesnít feel like a chore, more like a trip to heaven. The fact that completing the huge storyline only brings around a 40% (ish) percent completion shows the amount of things to play around with in both games.
I do have my qualms though. The instant death when plunging into a river or sea remains a constant annoyance, especially when itís caused by a slight clip on a AI car which spins you out of control. Repeating missions which you find inherently difficult can bring the annoyance factor sky high, but thatís usually down to your own poor play than the games fault.
To name a favourite of the magnificent pair would be literally impossible. The introduction of bikes, and the ability to shoot out tires in Vice City addís a little something, but to go back to the first game doesnít make you miss them. Both cities are fantastically detailed and varied, each with their strengthís and weaknesses.
Iíve no qualms whatsoever giving this Grand Theft Auto Double Pack my highest score so far out of the 30 or so games Iíve reviewed for AltGaming. It has the longevity, and the one more go craving that all the top games require to place them on that higher echelon of greatness. Plus itís damn good fun too! If youíve yet to sample the delights from Rockstarís masterpiece, then go out and buy what can now be considered the definitive console version of the two games, and get ready to while the hours awayÖ