Grand Theft Auto: Vice City celebrates its 20th birthday today, and for many people, the title holds a special significance, given its influence on the open-world genre. Following the astronomical success of Grand Theft Auto 3, which in many ways completely changed the video game industry, developer Rockstar’s franchise was thrust into the spotlight, and with that came the heavy weight of expectation. To say Grand Theft Auto: Vice City had big boots to fill, then, is something of an understatement.

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Released just one year after its groundbreaking predecessor, Vice City was met with equal amounts of critical acclaim, with particular praise heaped onto its story, setting, and soundtrack. While GTA 3 chose to use Liberty City, a modern-day setting, Vice City instead opted for a 1980s aesthetic, complete with neon-lit nightclubs, speedboats, and power ballads. Without a doubt, the chosen aesthetic can make or break an open-world game, and it’s safe to say Vice City made a perfect choice.

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Vice City Led the Way for Future Open-World Games

Vice City attempted to use everything that had made GTA 3 such a revelation while fixing any of its shortcomings. Arguably, one of the weakest areas of GTA 3 was its use of the muted protagonist, Claude. While his silence allowed gamers to interpret his actions and reactions however they wished, it definitely made it more difficult to relate to Claude, and given the outlandish personalities of the protagonists that came after him in the series, it put him at a distinct disadvantage in terms of popularity. In contrast, Vice City opted for an extremely memorable protagonist in Tommy Vercetti, brought to life by the voice of the late Ray Liotta, whose resume included the gangster epic Goodfellas. The talented voice cast also included Burt Reynolds, Robert Davi and Tom Sizemore.

Vercetti is a violent, temperamental ex-mobster who is released from prison after serving 15 years for murder. Inevitably, the character is immediately drawn back into a life of crime as he seeks to establish dominance over the lush, sprawling Vice City. The game draws heavy inspiration from popular gangster movies, with some missions and locations such as Vercetti’s mansion pulled directly from the 1980 classic Scarface, while Vercetti’s lawyer is almost a carbon-copy of David Kleinfeld, the seedy Lawyer in Brian DePalma’s epic Carlito’s Way. These references and memorable characters and situations serve to draw players further into Vice City and add life to the game’s open world.

The gameplay in Vice City was almost identical to GTA 3. With only a year between their releases, this was to be expected to a certain degree, and at the time fans didn’t seem to mind that at all. Vice City‘s third-person perspective, gunplay, and mission structure work much like its predecessor. However, the new addition of motorbikes for the player to ride, as well as the ability to purchase properties and businesses which generate a residual income for the player over time, made the world more dynamic. Critics agreed that Vice City‘s open world offered far more detail and depth than GTA 3, and that depth encouraged players to get to know Vice City‘s neon streets.

The recent release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition, a remastered compilation of GTA 3, GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas, was met with an adverse reaction from both fans and critics. This was mainly due to the sheer volume of bugs and glitches that accompanied the titles, but there was also criticism aimed at some of the gameplay mechanics which haven’t aged particularly well too. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it can help gamers to overlook glaring issues with some of their most treasured titles.

The video game industry has come a long way in the last 20 years, and as a result of this some of Vice City‘s gameplay elements, in particular the shooting mechanics, are now exposed for being rather clunky and inaccurate. It’s important not to allow these retrospective criticisms to tarnish the game’s reputation in any way, though, in order to remember Vice City for what it was: one of the most innovative, diverse and memorable open-world games of all time.

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition is currently available on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

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