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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City brings the '80s back to Android and iOS

The sequel to the beloved GTA 3 offers more open-world gaming goodness, this time in a tropical, Miami-like setting. The pastel-colored suits are back!

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for iOS got a nice Retina-enhanced makeover.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for iOS got a nice Retina-enhanced makeover. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Has it really been 10 years since Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City made its PlayStation 2 debut? And has it really been 26 years since the big hair, pastel suits, and electronic-infused pop celebrated in that game were all the rage? Heaven help me, I'm old.

Just as Rockstar brought Grand Theft Auto 3 to smartphones and tablets to celebrate that game's 10-year anniversary, so has its sequel, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, arrived for iOS. (The Android version has been temporarily delayed but is due shortly.) And although it suffers from similar control issues, the game is as ridiculously fun (and funny) as you remember.

Because I'm a parent of younger-ish kids, I'm going to pause right here and note that although Vice City looks colorful and cartoonish, it's packed with violent and suggestive themes, R-rated language, sexual content, and other stuff unsuitable for those under the age of 17 (which is ostensibly how old you must be in order to purchase the game). Seriously, adults only.

Now that the kids are out of the room, I can tell you that Vice City is all about free-wheeling, open-world mayhem of the kind you can't legally (or morally) enjoy in reality. Set in a very Miami-like city during 1986, the game casts you as mafia goon Tommy Vercetti, who needs to clear his name and recover stolen money after a drug deal gone wrong. Thus, you embark on various missions involving driving, stealing, shooting, and other gleefully criminal behavior.

You can also just explore the city itself, ripping off cars, running down pedestrians, eluding the police, performing side-missions, and so on. This open-world gameplay is a huge part of GTA's appeal. Although you need to complete missions to drive the plot along, you can't help feeling like you have free will to go wherever and do whatever you want.

More appeal comes from the huge number of familiar voices you hear from the game's many characters, including Ray Liotta (as you), Dennis Hopper, William Fichtner, Gary Busey, Lee Majors, and even porn star Jenna Jameson (not that her voice is, uh, familiar at all). And the radio stations alone are worth the price of admission, with their great soundtracks and hilarious fake ads. You can even listen to a custom playlist from your own music library.

Vice City looks way better than it did on the PS2; Rockstar gave the game an impressive visual overhaul (including Retina support). However, it's still pretty tricky to control your guy, especially when he's driving, as you have to work steering, acceleration, brake, and handbrake controls with just two thumbs. Vice City is one of those games you desperately wish would work with a handheld controller like the 8-Bitty. (Good news for Android users: that version of the game has USB game-pad support.) The silver lining is that you can rearrange and customize the controls nearly every way imaginable.

Control issues notwithstanding, for a mere $4.99, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is too good to pass up. It's the one game that lets you relive both the 80s and the aughts.

By the way, if you're a fan of all things GTA, make sure to check out Chinatown Wars, the iOS version of the mega-popular PSP/Nintendo DS title.