Grand Theft Auto Vice City Review: Cruisin’ the Neon Streets

In the world of gaming, few titles have left as indelible a mark as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games, this third-person action-adventure game made its debut on October 27, 2002, initially on PlayStation 2. Over the years, it found its way to various platforms, including Windows, Xbox, and mobile devices, making it a timeless classic that continues to captivate players.

But what makes Vice City such an enduring icon in the gaming universe? How did it manage to not only follow in the footsteps of the groundbreaking GTA 3 but also redefine the open-world action-adventure genre? Join us as we delve into the world of Vice City, exploring its origins, its impact on the gaming industry, and the unforgettable experience it offers to players of all generations.

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GTA Vice City was released in 2002 but is based in the 1980s, 1986 Miami to be precise, and you can guess that the 80s retro vibe is what Rockstar Games were aiming for, and they nailed it perfectly in the game. The bright and colorful atmosphere gives off a summer vibe, a significant upgrade from the dark, gloomy atmosphere of Liberty City from GTA 3. The entire game is reminiscent of 80s culture and everything in vogue at the time, especially in Miami Beach, which is evident in the music, the clothing, vehicles, and even the drug trade (crack epidemic). 

Even though it started off as a mission pack and was released a year after GTA 3, it was a huge step from what GTA 3 was as the graphics were a lot better, especially when you look at the player movements, the color palette, which was very accurate of summer of the 80s and player customizations.

In Vice City, we play Tommy Vercetti, fresh off a 15-year prison sentence, who is a member of the Mafia, and we see Sonny, the mafia boss, explaining his plan to expand his drug business from Liberty City to Vice City. Sonny sends Tommy to Vice City, where he meets up with Ken Rosenberg and heads over to a drug trade with some members of the Vance family, where they get ambushed, with Tommy being the only survivor. 

For those conversant with 80s movies, you can quickly tell the game is heavily influenced by films such as Scarface and Goodfellas, which were both Al Pacino movies, Carlitos Way, and the Miami Vice television series. In fact, the story is essentially the story from Scarface, which sees the main protagonist enter Miami and rise to the top of a criminal empire. 

Characters in Vice City are creative, and they each have different personalities. One such character, Lance Vance, from the Vance family, whose brother, Victor Vance, was one of the murdered in the drug trade gone wrong. The relationship between Lance and Tommy quickly set sail as they had a buddy-cop relationship where they watched each other’s backs. Again, this dynamic was influenced by the undercover cops in Miami Vice. 

We also get to work with Ken Rosenberg, Sonny’s lawyer, as he takes us to meet the big players and shakers of the vice city who could be of help to us in different ways, such as Juan Cortez, a colonel from Central America, Avery Carrington, one of the biggest property developers of Vice City and Ricardo Diaz, a kingpin with a cocaine problem and a bad character.


One thing that makes Vice City better than GTA 3 is the story of Tommy Vercetti, who was just a perfect evolution for a protagonist in the game. Coming from GTA 3, where Claude, the main protagonist, wasn’t necessary, he never spoke so that players couldn’t connect with him, and it wasn’t even until a cameo in GTA: San Andreas that his name was revealed. He just represented a character who shoots people, steals cars, and carries out odd jobs for cash, but here it’s different. 

Right from the backstory where we found out that Tommy did some time in prison for the mob in Liberty City, he was repaid by them by shipping him off to Vice City with the plan that he would lay some groundwork for the Forelli crime family by setting up a few drug deals, but this doesn’t go according to plan as he gets ambushed a briefcase full of money while barely escaping with his life. Tommy then sets out to find out who ambushed him and get Sonny’s money back by working with Ken, who is Sonny’s lawyer. He teams up with Lance Vance to avenge his brother Victor Vance’s death. They form a bond based on shared interests and a common enemy until he betrays Tommy at the end of the game, and that doesn’t sit well with him, so he kills Lance. 

Sonny also allows Tommy to set up a business empire in Vice City but runs into trouble with his boss when he refuses to pay him his share, which leads to Sonny sending his goons to collect his money, but that doesn’t end well for them as Tommy kills them all. Sonny comes down to Vice City himself, and at the time, Lance had already teamed up with Sonny because of his greed and revealed Tommy’s plans to give Sonny counterfeit money. This leads to an epic shootout, like at the end of Scarface. Still, in Vice City, Tommy actually survives and kills Sonny, but not before Sonny confirms Tommy’s hunch that he was, in fact, set up in 1971 because of his fear of his fast-rising reputation with the Mafia.

Occasionally, we move outside the plot a little, taking missions from other characters, such as the band Love Fist, where you can also deal drugs and with obsessive fans.

The game is reasonably paced as it allows you to understand each character’s actions and why they take them and to follow Tommy’s growth. The incredible story is one of the reasons why, even to this day, Vice City still holds its weight compared to other GTA’s.


After Tommy finds out who stole the drugs and ambushes the deal, he plans to take over the city and build an empire. Tommy can purchase several properties and businesses and make money by doing asset missions, which is an excellent way to generate cash after completion while still playing the main story.

There are a lot of side jobs such as taxi driver, vigilante missions, assassination missions, paramedic, pizza boy, and you can even rob stores. But think twice before robbing the gun store, tho, as they can be very aggressive. It includes unique jumps, hidden packages, and murderous rampages, making the game much more enjoyable than its predecessor. Knowing the inspiration for the fun, it also doesn’t come as a surprise that most missions’ names are movie title names from the 80s era. That’s just perfect!

The weapons and vehicles aspect has also been greatly improved, as GTA 3 had only 13 weapons; now, we get 35 weapons split into different categories. New weapons include a colt python and a SPAS-12 shotgun, 4 other SMGs, an M60, a mini-gun, and a fresh load of melee weapons. The AK-47 is also available in the game, but for some reason, you can’t use it or purchase it in the store, which was weird, especially since posters of gang members were shown to be holding this assault rifle. Apparently, Teargas was also removed from PC versions because of lag issues, but there are mods to get it back.

 Vehicles were also very reminiscent of the 80s, with a wide variety. For the first time, you could ride a motorcycle, drive a boat, or even fly a helicopter to bring the total number of vehicles to 101 compared to 56 in GTA 3. However, we saw the return of the Stinger, Infernus, and Cheetah, and the vehicle physics were significantly improved. Too bad I can’t say that for player controls, as the player movement was very cramped and inaccurate.

 Fortunately, the vehicle experience made up for that since most of the time is spent driving anyway. You could now shoot from cars, bikes, helicopters, and even boats while driving. Driving the vehicles still feels very simple as all you have to worry about are acceleration and braking; heavy vehicles have the right amount of understeer, and lighter vehicles have the right amount of oversteer. Another area that is so important is that you can now jump out of a moving vehicle, which GTA 3 did not have. If a car lit up in flames and you couldn’t stop and get to a safe distance within 5 seconds, your chances of survival were close to none. You might as well get lit like an “Elon Musk’s 420 berry”.

Vice City also has a map screen, which was oddly missing in GTA 3, and even though the area for GTA is only slightly bigger than Vice City, it still managed to feel a lot smaller, which is not entirely a bad thing. It is still the only GTA I’ve played that, even after so many years, I still remember the routes and intersections by heart. While being close to GTA 3, GTA Vice City feels pretty tiny, primarily due to it being rushed to completion. A large chunk of the map on the east side is just the beach, which seems never-ending, and on the north side, the stadium was only used in a few missions, and the airports and docks took up a sizeable portion but were never part of the story. 

All this, coupled with Miami being surrounded by a large body of water, makes me wonder why Rockstar decided not to give Tommy the ability to swim and jump out of a boat, and you can expect to drown within 5 seconds. You can also change Tommy’s clothes, which helps lower your wanted level in the game, like suits, casuals, and overalls. However, Tommy’s iconic teal Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans, and white sneakers are my favorite fashion combo in the game. It is also somewhat difficult as learning how enemies attack and what weapons to use in different situations is more effortless.


The graphics were based on the same engine as GTA 3, which was released in 2001 and on the same console, but it was still massively better visually in all areas than GTA 3. From the way buildings look to the sunset and sunrise, everything was a lot more enjoyable. You wouldn’t even think they were based on the same engine, and that’s because the system was upgraded so much so with the intent to make it almost unrecognizable, which worked.

 After all, Vice City was a lot more detailed and functional. Special effects such as raindrops when driving on the window screen and even blood splatter made it much more realistic, but all this adds to the fantastic backdrop. Sunsets are so beautiful you never want that moment to end, especially when cruising down the ocean beach on a motorcycle; it seems like paradise coupled with the fantastic soundtrack from the radio stations. 

Okay, speaking objectively, GTA: Vice City had the best soundtrack of any GTA, as it was infused with 80s classic bands and singers from different genres with over 100 songs. Nothing beats listening to V-rock, Flash FM, and. In fact, I will credit GTA Vice City for sparking my interest in metal music and pop-rock, which I still listen to today. The nostalgia the game brings is immense, especially for those born in the 80s and 90s. Vice City was also graced with Hollywood star power lending their voice, which made the dialogue much more enjoyable. Actors such as Ray Liotta, who voiced Tommy Vercetti; Danny Trejo, who voiced Cuban gang leader Umberto Robina; and actors such as Tom Sizemore, Gary Busey, Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds, William Fincher.


One area where things don’t need improving is the fun part. It is undoubtedly one of the most fun GTAs out here. Gone are the days of the terribly timed missions on GTA 3. You can now enjoy side missions with a memorable plot while enjoying the beautiful scenery and soundtrack. The game can be completed within 8 hours if you know what you’re doing and skip the side missions and focus on the plot, but completing the mission to 100% might take 40-45 hours. Other spin-offs were created, like Vice City Stories, which was set in Miami in the 80s, but with Victor Vance playing the main protagonist, centered around him building up his criminal organization from the ground up.

GTA Vice City Stories, first released on the Play Station Portable, then later on the PS2 and PS3, is one of the most underrated games in the GTA franchise. 

Most GTA players don’t even know about this game, unfortunately. Vice City stories were an upgrade to Vice City, looking at the additional missions, weapons, and vehicles. It even managed to incorporate the bicycle and the quad bike, which was first used in San Andreas, and the jet ski and the empire building are more attractive. 

GTA: Vice City Definitive Edition is pretty much the original Vice City with a few upgrades to the graphics and the controls, so it’s not like Vice City stories but just Vice City with a few improvements in the texture and movement.


GTA Vice City has undoubtedly one of the best storylines in the GTA franchise because I look back with a sense of nostalgia of when I played this game, which is rated R and forbidden for children to play, realizing how it was part of my childhood and how it shaped my taste in music. Although it wasn’t that big compared to GTA 3, the simplicity makes this game enjoyable. Yes, the game has aged; I mean, c’mon, it’s been 21 years since its initial release, but the way it was able to immerse players into the game is something that Rockstar hasn’t been able to do as well as it did with this game. 

The character development and the plot are what can draw great Hollywood legends such as Ray Liotta to lend their voice to make such a great game, and the movie the game was based on (Scarface), it doesn’t come as a surprise as to why this is one of the best GTA’s ever created. The storyline and, most significantly, the timeline are uncommon settings, yet Rockstar still managed to deliver. I mean, there is a reason people have been clamoring for GTA 6 to be set in Miami in the 80s again.

Yes, Vice City isn’t perfect. A longer development time would have made it probably one the best games ever, but it still managed to deliver in other simple things that matter. When you get into a car and turn on the radio, you forget about any issue the game might have and enjoy the scenery. You might disagree that it is the best GTA game, but you can decide when I say it paved the way for what we want today and deserves a Godfather status among Rockstar games.


  • Great story and character development
  • Vehicular physics are greatly improved
  • More detailed and functional effects, great audio, nostalgia, solid visuals & setting


  • The city is covered with water but Tommy can’t swim; Ridiculous
  • Some frame rate drops & texture popping, annoying assets req
  • Gun aiming is whack

Grand Theft Auto Vice City

Above Average

With its open-world gameplay, memorable characters, and a soundtrack that perfectly captures the era, GTA Vice City delivers an immersive and unforgettable gaming experience, making it a beloved entry in the Grand Theft Auto series.

Joshua Daniel (Beowolf_Muzon)
PS2 version reviewed