The Grand Theft Auto series is, as everybody knows, one of the most notorious in recent years - at least it is if you are a Daily Mail reader (which, we presume you are not). Gamers love it though, simply because it was one of the first, and remains one of the best, examples of truly free open-world game play you can find. The series has recently been transferred to the PSP hand-held, and Rockstar has tried to cram as much as they can into those little UMDs. The first result was Liberty City Stories, which found instant acclaim in the Sony community (and again when it was ported to PS2 earlier this year). Now the developer is eager to talk about the next in the series, and SPOnG was invited to Rockstar London's swanky Kings Road pad to get a sneak preview of Vice City Stories. Not before we did a drive-by first though. You know, to get into character a bit. (Well, in reality we actually threw a bit of cheese out of the train window at a pigeon).
Much like its hand-held predecessor, this game is set around a location most GTA veterans are familiar with. The events that take place in this game happen two years prior to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and as such the game world is both familiar and refreshingly different. You play a 28 year old soldier called Victor 'Vic' Vance, the rather more level headed brother to Lance Vance who adorned our screens in Vice City on PlayStation 2. Vic has been placed in Vice City as an easy posting job before being moved onto Guantanamo Bay, and soon ends up experiencing the seedier side of life (alongside trying to save his brother half the time).
Rockstar's PJ Sim detailed the setting and the time line a little bit more, with an interesting backdrop that not only keeps an existing game world fresh, but adds depth, character and history to the PS2's Vice City: "The city at this point in time is experiencing a state of change, with construction work going on to rebuild the place. As a result, there's a big divide between the rich and the poor, allowing for a lot of corruption on many levels, from crime syndicates and drug dealing to crooked politicians."
The changes aren't just narrative-based either. We had a quick exloration of the game world, and improvements over Liberty City Stories were evident even as we were running around the beach - NPCs and vehicles are more varied now, meaning that in any given area you won't be counting how many people look exactly the same. There are a lot more civilians milling around the world too, making for a much more vibrant city to immerse yourself in.
The graphics are clear and crisp, owing to the PSP's pretty nifty screen, and the extra draw distance means more often than not you can see right to the horizon, with more locales and backdrops to look at. We were told that the rich/poor divide will be a factor in the game too, based on the story setting, so you will also see sports cars drive past one moment and end up in a run-down trailer park the next.
After a little run around, we were shown an example of some of the missions we would expect to see in Vice City Stories. David Manley took us through several interesting missions, each showcasing at least one unique element that makes this title stand out against past Grand Theft Autos. One that stuck in our mind was "Say Cheese" - which involves Vic looking for some cash and winding up in a local production studio's shoot for a chocolate commercial.
After a quick cut scene involving a rather fruity director that gets excited about Vic for some reason, you're hired to become a stuntman for the advert. From this point you hop on a bike and follow checkpoints in order to leap across ramps and land perfectly. Owing to the massive ocean space that surrounds Vice City, you also get to exchange the motorcycle for a brand new vehicle to the GTA series - the Jet Ski - and continue your stunts during the mission.