For me, GTA: Vice City was one of those special games, the ones that take hold deep in your subconscious and refuse to let go, the ones you plough hours and hours into, the ones you’ll never ever forget. It’s probably my favourite game of all time (the stunning adventure offered by Uncharted 4 is now pushing it hard), and it quite simply blew my mind as a 13-year-old, finally making me realise just what this medium was capable of. More than anything, it was a world I loved existing in, there’s no GTA game that can match its sense of place and time, just a few bars of synth-driven pop and the sight of main character Tommy Vercetti gunning down foes in his classic blue jeans/Hawaiian shirt combo instantly transports me to Rockstar’s twisted version of 1980s Miami.
However, while Vice City was a fantastic game for its time, that time was 15 years ago, a period in which the gaming industry has changed completely, changes that have in large part been driven by subsequent GTAs. The obvious thing to do is revisit Vice City in GTA VI, but then it’s been the obvious thing to do for over a decade now and hasn’t happened yet, Rockstar mostly sticking to Southern California and New York. However, of the rumours swirling around the next GTA (including outlandish speculation that it will star Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling and include the whole US as its map), the most credible is a return to Vice City, even if the most tangible evidence is an I♥VC towel in GTA V. This, of course, begs the question of just what a return to Vice City could look like, and here are some ideas on just what it could include in terms of graphics, location, music, and story.
Obviously, the new GTA game is going to look absolutely gorgeous, Rockstar raises the bar for visual fidelity with every game, and for a new GTA, the studio will truly pull out all the stops. In the case of Vice City, that would mean an incredible level of detail, the neon along the waterfront glinting on your bonnet, the rolling waves in the bay gently tossing sailboats back and forth, and the sea beyond a rolling, undulating mass begging to be tamed. It must also surely mean more dynamic weather than ever before, Miami’s tropical climate is defined by its thunderstorms, and while it did rain in the original Vice City, the PS2 couldn’t get close to simulating the ferocious power of Mother Nature throwing everything she can at the coastal city. This time round, Rockstar would have the power to recreate this properly, with rain soaking you through in a few seconds, gale force winds battering palm trees and potentially even forcing you off the road entirely. And then over time, the city would dry out again and return to the land of sunsets and golden sands that you see in the tourist brochure.
There’s no doubt that Rockstar returning to Vice City would require some sort of expansion of the map, the game world is tiny by modern standards and wouldn’t satisfy today’s players for long. Others have already written about how it might incorporate a trip to Havana, Cuba, a superb idea that would tie into the strong Cuban presence in Vice City and get the franchise away from its US focus, giving players one of the world’s most vibrant cities to explore. However, I would also argue that going inland is packed with exciting possibilities, Miami is basically surrounded by the Everglades National Park, an astonishingly diverse region that includes a network of swamps and tiny islands that, in the 80s at least, was a haven for drug traffickers. I’m picturing rural “eccentrics” along the lines of GTA V’s Trevor, airboat chases and encounters with the alligators and snakes that make up the local wildlife. The Everglades also encompasses prairies, grasslands and wooded forests, all of which could be packed with stuff to do and provide some of the most beautiful backdrops ever seen in a GTA game.
GTA Vice City’s soundtrack is so good, I’ve spent most of this week listening to it on Spotify to get me in the mood for this article, it’s the best music collection in the history of GTA, and nothing else really comes close. Spanning power ballads, funk, Latin jazz, pristine pop, hard rock, new wave, and old school hip-hop, it’s packed with classic songs that define the era, from Broken Wings by Mister Mister to Sister Christian by Night Ranger. The game also throws in two of the best parodies of talk radio ever, Vice City Public Radio (VCPR) features the arrogant and deluded host Maurice Chavez interviewing various lunatics from across the political spectrum, while K-Chat is a mix of phone-ins and interviews with Vice City celebrities, like Love Fist lead singer Jez Torrent and football player BJ Smith. Obviously, we would expect a new Vice City to be packed with more iconic 80s tracks (believe it or not, the original game barely scratched the surface) and talk radio parodies, but it would be great to get a station focused on the post-punk that was emerging at the time, the likes of The Smiths, Joy Division, Violent Femmes and New Order would provide an edgy counterpoint to the pristine pop that dominate the airwaves.
It seems inevitable that GTA VI will feature multiple characters, GTA V having singlehandedly established that as a key part of the franchise. I do think though that it would be a mistake to completely abandon Tommy Vercetti, Ray Liotta’s wisecracking mafioso who had built a criminal empire by the end of the original Vice City. While every GTA has been different, all have featured some variation on the rags to riches storyline, criminals working their way up the totem pole in search of greater power and the privileges that come with it. It would be a fascinating change of pace to play as Tommy, perhaps a couple of years on from his ascent to the throne of his own illicit empire and now needing to fend off challengers to his kingpin status. You’d probably need some sort of mechanic to limit access to firearms, funds etc, like a treacherous lieutenant or supply issues, but it could give a whole new perspective on GTA. The other thing that really defined Vice City was the tension between the various gangs that fought for control of the rackets that brought the money in. Letting you play as characters in these gangs would give a greater insight into their distinct identities and let Rockstar truly tell Miami’s complicated cultural backstory. Basically, the original Vice City was full of memorable characters, and it would be fascinating to see them fleshed out from 2D archetypes into nuanced depictions with actions governed by their own particular motivations and passions.