Reviewed: December 17, 2003
Released: November 4, 2003
Back in October of 2001 Sony (in cooperation with Rockstar Games) launched a preemptive strike on Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox console by releasing perhaps the biggest PS2 game in the history of the console. Of course I am speaking of Grand Theft Auto III, the 3D sequel to DMA’s top-down crime-ridden driving game. The PS2 (and the US Senate) would never be the same.
One year later Rockstar followed up their mega-hit with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game that took the core gameplay of GTA3 and expanded it by a factor of ten in almost everyway possible. The city was massive, there were more cars, more people, more missions, and an epic story that borrowed on classic cult movies like Scarface and TV shows like Miami Vice.
While PS2 owners were basking in all their crime and debauchery, Xbox owners were left to sulk in the corner mumbling things like, “Oh yeah…well we got HALO”. It took two long years for Sony and Rockstar to finally “tear up” the PS2 exclusivity agreement and now Xbox owners can finally go on this now legendary crime spree, complete with plenty of next-gen improvements so Xbox owners can finally taunt the PS2 crowd.
Since GCM has already reviewed both of these titles when they originally shipped for the PS2 and PC I am simply going to refer you to those reviews for information on the core gameplay and basic premise of the game. The rest of this review will cover the enhancements to the audio/visual presentation and any improvements to gameplay.
Here are the improvements you can find on the new Xbox version:
Grand Theft Auto 3 / Vice City Collection is also available for PS2, but this is merely a repackaging of the original two games. No improvements or changes have been made.
While the content for both games are identical there are some significant performance upgrades simply due to the more powerful Xbox hardware. The first and most obvious is the greatly reduced load times that will have you loading up the game almost twice as fast as the PS2, and loading up the individual missions are also equally as fast.
Control is significantly different from the PS2 version, mainly due to the different button configuration and lack of shoulder buttons. Inventory items are now cycled with the D-pad, which in my opinion is a better way to do it. The gas is the right trigger instead of the A button which gives you a better range of throttle. The Xbox controller has a much more responsive stick than the Dual Shock (regardless of the brand you are using) so you have much better control over your car allowing for much more precise driving.
The biggest improvement for both games has got to be the graphics, which now exceed the quality of the PC version. Everything has been retooled from the city to the cars and even the people. Not only are the textures crisp and of much higher resolution, but the lighting effects are simply stunning thanks to the nVidia chipset in the Xbox.
You can now read every sign and see inside every building (sort of – window textures are really nice now). Cars have more polygons and look smoother with curvier lines. Their shiny surface reflects their surroundings in real-time and the damage model is significantly improved. Character models have been upgraded so you can see fine details like clothing, hands with fingers, and perfectly lip-synched voices during the cutscenes.
The draw distance is staggering. Vice City allows you to take to the air in planes and helicopters. On the PS2 this definitely showed the limitations of the PS2 but the Xbox can draw clear out to the horizon with stunning detail. That’s not to say the game is not without its fair share of pop-up. Yes, even the mighty Xbox cannot manage to keep up with the level of oncoming traffic and detailed buildings as you race through these massive cities. But at least the Xbox is able to push the pop-up much further into the distance and draw it in much faster than the PS2. It’s only mildly annoying and still a huge leap forward.
You can still toggle the atmospheric effects on the Xbox. This puts the game in a perpetual haze, almost like a thick humidity that creates lens flares and “enhances” the nighttime neon lighting effects. I found the game looks much cleaner with these effects turned “off” but feel free to experiment.
The final feather in the Xbox cap is the HDTV 480p support that makes this game look just as crisp and clean as the PC version running at the same resolution. Plus, playing in widescreen just gives you that interactive movie feeling. Even with all of these enhancements I am still forced to admit that this series looks a bit "dated", especially in light of the more recent games we have been seeing on the Xbox. It's definitely a step up from the PS2 and even the PC but not exactly a showcase title for the Xbox.
It’s no surprise that the sound presentation has also been enhanced to take advantage of the Xbox. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is simply astounding and even puts the PS2 DTS mix to shame. Everything is just so much cleaner and spatial with deep low frequencies being routed to the sub-woofer and dialogue channeled to the center speaker. You’ll catch yourself literally looking over your shoulder when the sounds of sirens and gunfire start coming from those rear speakers.
Voice acting and the scripts for both games are unchanged and just as strong as they were in the earlier versions. There is a great story to be told in both games and the quality of the speech along with a famous list of credited and unaccredited contributing voice actors makes this a flawless theatrical presentation.
Both GTA3 and Vice City are famous for their music, Vice City more so, having spawned a CD soundtrack box set that should be on every gamers music shelf. The included soundtrack is presented as a series of radio station broadcasts that you can cycle through, but both games also allow you to use your own music by implementing a new tape deck/CD changer option. Considering I have already ripped my Vice City soundtrack to the Xbox hard drive and play it in just about every other Xbox title it almost seems ironic to even consider playing “other” music in these games. Given the 100+ hour nature of both titles it’s quite possible you might get tired of the included content, so rip away. The feature is there if you need or want it.
You won’t find a better bargain or bang for your buck than this combo pack. While each game can be finished in 30-40 hours the designers have included enough hidden packages, unique stunt jumps and other addictive content to keep you working toward that 100% completion goal, and reaching that perfect mark for both titles can easily take you up to 150 hours. When you figure that both games are being sold for the price of a single new Xbox title how can you go wrong?
Those who may have already played the PC or PS2 version might not find enough reason to invest another $50 and 2-3 months of their gaming life in this collectors set, but if you have never played the other versions then purchasing the Grand Theft Auto 3 / Vice City Collection is a no-brainer.
This game has already been made famous (or rather infamous) on the PS2 and PC, and with some amazing technological improvements you can now play the best version of one of the best games of our decade.