Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition (iOS) Review

Throughout my time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, I couldn’t shake one thing: the captivating novelty of playing the game on a phone. For full disclosure, I never had a Playstation 2, and before recently I had never played either GTA III or GTA: Vice City for more than a few minutes. I didn’t consider myself a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, but I had definitely enjoyed playing the GTA games which I had, and so I always felt like I’d missed out on experiencing what essentially amounts to a crucially groundbreaking generational leap in sandbox games. So, basically, I was very interested in playing the GTA games I’d missed, sure, but in the end they just kind of passed me by regardless. Fast forward several years and I ended up playing GTA III when it was released on the iPhone, and, well, despite its age I loved it – I invested a great deal of time in that game, whiling away countless train journeys and filling idle moments with its timeless charm. Following this I can’t help but compare GTA III and GTA: Vice City as I was hoping that the latter would provide the same sort of memorably great experience as the former.

Hence, after having had such a decidedly positive experience with GTA III on the iPhone, I was outrightly excited for GTA: Vice City’s recent 10th Anniversary Edition release. It’s a peculiar thing to get so excited about perhaps – a re-release of a ten year old game on a mobile platform – however, there you are, I was unashamedly excited.

Unfortunately, when I downloaded it and began playing, that excitement diminished somewhat unfortunately.

I now have to espouse a potentially unpopular opinion: I much prefer GTA III to GTA: Vice City, and I honestly think that they are worlds apart. This preference is for several reasons but the most important one being the time period in which the GTA: Vice City is set. The main thing that GTA: Vice City exuberantly conveys within even a few moments of playing it is its unique epitomization of both 1980s Miami and the 80s itself. The game embodies 80s culture in so many different ways, from the general attitude of hedonism and over-indulgence, to the vividly flamboyant clothing, to the often cheesy music, to the gradual casualization of sexuality and the rampant drug trade/use, and so on.

This is all well and good, and Rockstar certainly have to be commended for so dedicatedly and convincingly personifying the character of the 80s, but the problem, of course, is that I wasn’t around during the 1980s, and so I simply have no pleasant memories of it which the game could evoke the nostalgic recollection of. In point of fact, I wasn’t even born until the 90s, and I haven’t had cause to retroactively dote upon the eighties, so without any affection for that era, this game, which is so centrally formed around portraying it, just loses so much in translation. For example, take Vice City’s soundtrack, which is regularly lauded as being the ultimate compilation of 80s music, I simply don’t know the songs it features, and when they play in the game I may recognize one or two of them which have manged to avoid contemporary obscurity by escaping the ephemerality of their time, and I can certainly tell that they are a product of the 80s, but they don’t inspire within me those fond memories which they would do with someone who lived through that time. In comparison, I could actually relate to the early 2000s setting of GTA III: I was intimately familiar with that era’s music, I comprehended the sociocultural evolution taking place then, I understood the tongue-in-cheek references to the period’s pop culture, et cetera. When a game is so intrinsically tied to the time which it’s set in it can be really quite difficult to appreciate it to the utmost without a decent knowledge of that setting, and so I feel like, from the outset, I was at a disadvantage when it comes to fully enjoying this game.

The faux Miami setting of GTA: Vice City really didn’t do anything for me either. Out of personal preference, I much preferred the New York City esque metropolis of GTA III. A specific problem with GTA: Vice City’s tropical island location is that I think it more readily and clearly exposes the unfortunate technical limitations of that era of GTA games’ 3D engine. With GTA III, the map is really just roads and generic buildings, and so even though the models are pretty unimpressive, it doesn’t matter, because the end result still effectively depicts the trademark look of any big city: a claustrophobic labyrinth between big nondescript gray buildings. Whereas Vice City attempts to up the ante with a more diversified cityscape, so instead of just depicting countless rectangular buildings, the cityscape is populated with more complex architecture, and so despite likely utilizing more complex 3D modeling they somehow look more noticeably janky. Also, Vice City, especially its dazzling sunny skies and resplendently shimmering ocean, is almost too flamboyantly colorful: the bright colors which everything in the game seems to have been imbued with or bathed in end up lumbering the scenery with an obnoxious hyper-realism which often breaks the immersion by becoming unpleasantly distracting. With the visual improvements which Rockstar have added to this re-release, Vice City certainly looks less graphically dated than it could have, but it is still unmistakably a ten year old game.

The one thing I certainly was not disappointed by was the actual play experience, in fact, as I mentioned at the start of this review, the compelling novelty therein was probably the most striking aspect of playing the game. I played GTA III on an iPhone 4, and one of the few major complaints I could level at that game’s play experience is the frustrating amount of the screen which ends up getting obscured by your thumbs when you’re playing. Oppositely, I played Vice City on an iPhone 5, and the (relatively) slight increase in screen space makes a critically noticeable difference: your thumbs, whilst controlling the virtual controls, no longer block a significant part of the screen, and, in fact, they’re almost always covering an irrelevant part of what is happening on screen. With a new generation of phones and tablets toting larger touchscreens, the problem of too much of the screen’s real estate being taken up by your thumbs working the virtual controls should thankfully either be uniformly lessened or made irrelevant (of course your mileage will vary depending on the device you use to play the game).

As someone who is thoroughly used to playing mobile games, and having already gotten comfortable with the almost identical controls of GTA III on the iPhone, I felt right at home with the virtual controls implemented with Vice City. If you aren’t experienced with virtual controls, there will be a learning curve, and you may feel clumsy at first, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it and find they work surprisingly well. Thankfully, the game allows you to extensively manipulate the placement and sizing of the virtual buttons too, which I very much appreciated as it allowed me to personalize and streamline the virtual controls to my liking. Unfortunately, the shooting controls can be unwieldy and unresponsive because of the game’s automatic lock-on function, and so in firefights I often ended up switching to an automatic weapon and just holding down the fire button, hoping I killed the enemies before they killed me. This does not make for fun or satisfying gameplay, I assure you. With the weapons which allow you to control the aiming more directly, the touch screen controls are excellent, and the shoot-outs become more enjoyable, but there are too few opportunities to conduct the action in this way.

Some of the touchscreen specific additions to gameplay end up being really quite invaluable, with the pinch-to-zoom camera controls being a prime example of the seamless integration of an intuitive modification to capitalize on the touchscreen functionality.

The actual gameplay is directly comparable to GTA III in that it provides the same brand of classic GTA freeform fun. The structure of missions is far more complicated in GTA: Vice City as opposed to GTA III though, and there are regularly multi-stage missions where you’re venturing from location to location to perform different objectives and, pleasantly, this can make missions feel like they have their own self-contained narrative. The variety of missions is also tangibly better, but not by a huge degree (e.g. they can still generally be categorized as shooting or driving missions).

The game’s story is fairly typical for a Grand Theft Auto game, and remains both predictable and predictably entertaining throughout. The voice acting is, of course, stellar, and the characters, despite often being exaggerated caricatures, provide memorable personalities.

I can only speak to how well the game played on my iPhone 5 of course, but Vice City runs extremely well on it, with a smooth framerate. The only instances of slowdown I routinely encountered was momentary lagginess when crossing a bridge from one island to another (this was presumably as the game was loading the new area).

All in all, if you’ve played GTA: Vice City before and you loved it, this re-release is the same great game as before, with the added marvel of functioning on a mobile platform. If you haven’t played the game before, and you’re thinking about checking it out because you enjoyed the recent Grand Theft Auto games, you might want to think twice about it: if you’ve no particular fondness for the 80s, the majority of game’s noted charm may be lost on you as it was on me. However, the game nonetheless possesses that trademark GTA sandbox fun which has so rightfully earned a high prestige, and so, if you’ve no consideration for anything else, Vice City can still offer the same mindless fun as it has always done.


  • Classic GTA gameplay remains undoubtedly fun
  • Memorable characters and story
  • Vice City? On a phone? What kind of black magic is this?!


  • So much of what the game can offer is intrinsically reliant on a working knowledge of the 80s
  • Shooting controls are frequently frustrating and unwieldy
  • The Vice City location is hit-or-miss, and blatantly exhibits its severely outdated technical prowess

[xrr rating=6/10]


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