A Love Letter to Grand Theft Auto’s Best Side Stories

On Staunton Island, Cipriani primarily takes missions from Donald Love, who may or may not be inspired by a certain media mogul turned something else. Unlike in GTA III, this younger and more erudite version of Donald seems straight out of Phillips Exeter and Yale, ranting to “Antonio” about his political ambitions with sing-songy glee.

Cipriani makes an early mark on the new island by assassinating Mayor R. C. Hole, somehow only engendering a one-star wanted level (so really, how beloved was he), and then derailing the campaign of Miles O’Donovan, who seeks the mayorship in the aftermath. In “Steering the Vote,” Cipriani, and by proxy, you the player, ride around in a campaign van spewing propaganda: “O’Donovan hates America” and “Donald Love is a war hero.”

Yes, the 2005 Rockstar classic predicted what even the savviest political scientists missed.

Love, with Cipriani as strongman, sabotages ballots and voting machines, stopping at nothing to win. And with just enough plausible deniability that the Entertainment Software Rating Board didn’t slap an AO rating on this wild title, it’s implied that Donald Love is also a cannibal, supping on the flesh of his adversaries, including Liberty Tree reporter Ned Burner and his former mentor, real estate mogul Avery Carrington.

GTA goes there, but with patented Rockstar humor. “Listen, Don, we need to win this election. OK, we need to make sure that there are no skeletons in the closet, if you know what I mean,” Cipriani warns.

And though Donald eventually escapes to Francis International Airport with Cipriani’s help, you’d be a fool to assume he won’t try to return to Liberty City soon.

Vice City Stories

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Vice City Stories takes us back to the 1980s vibe of Miami, two years before Vice City. Only instead of Tommy Vercetti and a Scarface storyline, the saga centers around Victor Vance, Grand Theft Auto’s second Black main character after San Andreas’ Carl “CJ” Johnson blazed the trail. Unlike CJ, or Franklin in GTA V, Victor Vance has a military backstory, not one drawn from the hood.

Vance hopes to collect a steady paycheck from the military, but that goes up in smoke because of his corrupt cocaine-addicted superior Jerry Martinez. Kicked out of the barracks, Vance takes a series of odd jobs for arms dealer Phil Cassidy, who much like Donald Love is at his most bombastic in this expansion.

In a highlight mission, “Boomshine Blowout,” Vance navigates a forklift through a burning warehouse to retrieve crates of boomshine—not to be confused with moonshine. Only, with each successful crate delivered to Cassidy’s truck, a new piece of debris reroutes your path. Another entry “Domo Arigato Domestoboto,” also plays on a ticking time bomb puzzle theme and involves controlling a Short Circuit-esque robot maid to crack a safe, all the while juggling (oh so tedious) domestic tasks. Both Vice City Stories and Liberty City Stories, rather than limited by the PSP, use the conventions of handheld games to conjure up something pretty original.

Victor Vance is a bit too passive in the early storyline, being pulled in many directions by other more dynamic and active characters, including Cassidy. A strong central character like Tommy Vercetti/Ray Liotta he is not.

Once Vance arrives on the second island, he does start to pop a bit more. Too often in media depictions, Black main characters are alone on an island, without any Black friends or family to speak of—totally removed from their community. In Vice City Stories, though, it’s almost as if we get two main characters: Vance, who does everything by the books, and his brother Lance, the little devil on his shoulder. Soon the duo get in deep with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and I cannot recall the last time I’ve seen two Black men working side by side for so long in a video game.

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