ADDICTIVENESS: Killing is contagious.
ANTI-SOCIAL FACTOR: Draw the blinds and disconnect the phone.
PROXIMITY TO THE REAL THING: Real-life thugs agree -- this is it.
Having spent most of my weekend intimidating witnesses with hammers, chasing thieves with chainsaws, running a mobster's wife off the road and instigating gang wars between packs of Haitians and Cubans, I can honestly say that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is one of the most reprehensible video games ever created. It's also one of the most fun.
Vice City is the wildly anticipated sequel to Grand Theft Auto III, a game with no plot and limitless violence. You drive around the city stealing cars, beating people for cash, taking drugs and doing the bidding of various drug lords and mob dons.
Even those desensitized by the everyday brutality of movies and TV were shocked by the amoral carnage, and more than a couple of governments tried to have it banned. That it sold some 6 million copies worldwide is also worth noting.
Not to be outdone, Vice City sold more than a million copies on its first day out. Until the end of this weekend, simply finding a copy in Toronto was all but impossible. Those stores that decided to sell it -- several didn't, saying it was too violent -- reported people lining up outside their doors the day it was released to buy a copy.
The premise is delightfully simple: someone stole your cocaine, and you've got to get it back. Our thug is operating in Miami in the mid-1980s, where pink suits and gold chains rule. In a stroke of genius, Miami Vice star Phillip Michael Thomas provides the voice for one character. The setting and props are impeccable, from the shoe-sized cellphones to the period music pumping from car radios -- everything from Miami bass to Hall and Oates and Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
The plot is slightly more complex -- no one's quite sure who has your suitcases of coke -- but violence is still the number-one aim. If anything, the level of brutality is ratcheted up a notch. Screwdrivers, golf clubs, helicopters, gun-toting seaplanes and the aforementioned chainsaw are all at your disposal, as is the coveted ability to do drive-by killings.
It's unconscionably violent, utterly depraved and represents the worst society has to offer. It's also big business. Name-brand actors like Ray Liotta and Dennis Hopper provide the voices for characters, and seven different soundtracks from the game are being released.
I defy anyone to play Vice City for more than 10 minutes and not become seriously addicted. There's an almost cartoonish element to the violence here. But it is fun as hell and, ultimately, harmless.
After a weekend of sheer brutality, I had no desire to walk down the street clubbing people with a baseball bat or carjacking someone in his Bentley. How about one of those pastel suits, though? email@example.com
GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY for PlayStation 2, $80. Rating: NNNNN