The Nov. 4, 2002 issue of Time Magazine featured an article on Vice City. As kinglink's writeup alludes to, there is and will continue to be considerable outcry from the mainstream family-values touting politicians and media about the Grand Theft Auto series. However, the Time article really impressed me. The writer gave a very objective view of the game, correctly pointing out that while the game did contain considerable violence, it was somewhat different than the violence present in games like Quake. If you shoot some random joe, you might get chased by the police. Or you might not, depending who you shot. It's not total senseless violence. In Vice City, if you senselessly kill someone, there's no reward and no fanfare. It's boring. The writer went on to conclude that Vice City really transcends the video game medium - it borders on something that could be called art.
Personally, I was delighted to see the game get the recognition it deserves in a popular media outlet. Vice City is not my favorite game of all time, but I will concede that it is probably one of the most extensive and impressive games ever made. Though it is really the same engine, it's a much more mature game in the attention to detail that you just don't get in GTA3. One of my favorite features is how the city is really stratified. In 3, the city was basically all the same. The same builings, the same architecture. In Vice City, you can taste the difference. You can drive down Ocean Drive ("the strip") at night and be bathed in bright technicolored neon lights, or you can visit the run-down, dirt-road lined shantytown slums of Little Haiti, complete with the tourism bureau billboard proclaiming "LITTLE HAITI: LIFE'S A BEACH"...only the "EA" in beach has been changed to an "IT" by the locals with spraypaint.
Then there's the addition of a heliocopter, a motorcycle, and better boats. They used real music from the 80's instead of fake music like in GTA3. The talk radio station is wittier and more incisively political and social. I wonder what the religious right would think if we told them GTA was a legitimate, protected form of social commentary? Parody is, after all, protected by free speech.
Maybe it's not perfect, but it's pretty damn close, especially for a video game on the somewhat underpowered PlayStation2. It's a game that really appeals to the American audience - finely tuned to the sort of sarcastic wit combined with wanton carnage that American gamers seem to enjoy (which is odd, considering Rockstar is based out of Scotland. It amazes me that they had their finger so perfectly on the pulse of 1980's America). It's also a game for people who want to make games themselves. As one such person, I personally drool at how they managed to fit an entire city into the PlayStation2's 32MB of RAM. The period is brought to life perfectly both in graphics and sound, and you can almost taste the dank tropical night air. The atmosphere is incredible.
There's something in GTA:VC for everyone, especially people like me who used to consider themselves too good for shoot-em-up, violent games. It's not that kind of game, it's the saga of a man living in period America. Shooting people just happens to be his job.