A console classic in your pocket

Last updated 09:53 14/01/2013
Ros Pochin

SO RETRO: GTA - Vice City's 80s setting gives the game a unique atmosphere.

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REVIEW: Grand Theft Auto – Vice City: 10th Anniversary Edition. (iPhone, iPad, Android) Rockstar Games, $4.99-$6.49.

With 2012 marking the first drop in global sales in more than a decade, Christmas provided a much needed sales boost for games, consoles and PCs. Despite a strong month putting some gloss on a disappointing year, the real winners over the festive period were smartphones and tablets – with the already dominant Apple leading the way.

Although the California company has never formally announced its presence as a competitor in the video game industry, it has nevertheless established itself as a market leader, particularly in the portable sector. Handheld gaming, traditionally dominated by Nintendo’s Gameboy/DS models and Sony’s PSP/Vita, has been shaken up by phenomenal popularity of the iPhone and iPad, as well as other phones and tablets powered by the Android operating system.

Despite having a huge advantage in pricing (smartphone games range from free-$10 compared to $40-$80 for Nintendo/Sony titles), one area that mobile platforms have struggled with is complexity. Touchscreen devices are perfect for pick-up-play gaming – simplistic titles like Angry Birds and Bejeweled have been huge hits, but for gamers with an appetite for something with a little more depth, the pickings have been relatively slim so far.

Recently, things have begun to improve, as developers become more familiar with programming and studios dedicate more resources to capitalise on new revenue streams. As well as investing in some innovative new games, publishers have been digging through their archives to update some classic titles.

Arguably the best of these is the seminal sandbox shooter Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The best-selling PlayStation game of all time, this 80s-themed adventure shook up the games industry on its release in 2002, and is fondly remembered by GTA fans as one of the franchise’s most memorable moments. Updated for mobile to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its release, this modern classic is worth a look whether you’re a nostalgic veteran or a newbie who missed out first time round.

Unlike other games of its era, this is one title that has aged superbly. Despite, or perhaps because of, its retro setting, GTA: Vice City doesn’t feel dated or stale, and is as engaging and captivating as any current generation game. Not only was it well ahead of its time in the early noughties, it was also one of the first examples of a digital city with its own unique personality. A twisted take on 80s Miami, Vice City’s vibrant virtual world is a joy to explore as you guide protagonist Tommy Vercetti through its art deco seafronts and neon-lit nightlife.

Gameplay stays true to the tried and trusted GTA formula – steal cars, drive like a maniac, and work your way up through the criminal underworld from stick up kid to kingpin, meeting all manner of crazy characters along the way. The x-factor here is the 1980s theme; rarely has a gaming period piece been so expertly executed. Although many regard it as the decade that style forgot, there was more to the era than pastel suits and shoulder pads. Vice City is dripping with 80s largesse – the fashion, cars, slang and attitude all add to the atmosphere.

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Nothing evokes nostalgia more than music, and the game’s soundtrack serves as a reminder of just how many good tunes came out between 1980-89. From Motley Crue to Spandau Ballet, Gary Numan to Run DMC, you’re sure to find something on Vice City’s in-car radio to get your feet tapping .Talkback stations and spoof advertising add some comic relief and it’s no exaggeration to say that Vice City’s virtual radio network is streets ahead of its modern day, real life equivalent.

Translating a console classic to a buttonless, touchscreen format is not without its challenges and occasionally the lack of close control is frustrating. Driving can be especially difficult when weaving through traffic with police in pursuit, and it’s often tricky to target baddies in frantic shootouts but these minor niggles can be overlooked simply by reminding yourself that you’re carrying one of the greatest console games of all time around in your pocket.

In pure value for money terms, it’s difficult to look past GTA: Vice City, with its $5-$6 purchase price offering hours of fun and more bang for your buck than arguably any other handheld game on the market. If you received an iPad, iPhone or Android device for Christmas and have been looking for something a little more substantial to get your teeth into, you could do a lot worse taking a trip down memory lane with this retro classic.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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