Gene is right—Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is all about Thanatos. It's all about death, and the destruction and violence that surround it. But this is nothing new to games, and this is nothing new for game reviewers. As Chi brought up in his Dynasty Warriors 3 review, at some point you have to stand back and ask yourself why you receive such enjoyment from this gruesome spectacle.
But is this a unique situation for videogames? Is it a unique situation for art in general? It is not in either case. Carnage and destruction has been used for comedic effect and the amusement of the audience in many different areas, to differing levels of success. The crucial thing is how the violence is presented. One reason that the violence can remain appealing in Vice City is because of the level of abstraction. Since you are killing stereotypes in an over-the-top (i.e., unrealistic) manner, there is not the level of human connection and thus, not the compassion that one might expect in the situation of a brutal murder. Since it's all presented as a cartoon and the simplistic bodies just disappear over time, it is easy for the player to revel in a carnival of excess.
This is heightened by the satirical nature of the game. As much as Grand Theft Auto borrows from gangster movies, it borrows from social satires, treating everything in the game as a parody, as something to be lampooned. It can be argued whether it does this successfully or not, but it brings up the question of how to analyze the violence. Do we negatively criticize 'A Modest Proposal' for its insensitivity regarding the serious taboo of cannibalism? To do so would be to miss the point entirely. Surely, Grand Theft Auto is not in the realm of Swift in terms of sophistication, but it deserves to be considered within the context of its genre, that being satire.
As a sequel, Vice City is barely a progression from Grand Theft Auto III. It's probably better to view it as a refinement, and one that is seriously flawed at that. As Gene notes, there are numerous graphical flaws and aspects that can only be viewed as bugs in the game's programming. But there have been some beneficial changes, and some that have a very real impact on the gameplay. The main area of positive change is in mission design. Missions are now more complex and much harder. Another area of progress is the persona of the main character. Having a personality and a voice to attach to the main character gives the game great focus and narrative flow than the anonymous story of Grand Theft Auto III. The negative changes have been well chronicled by Gene, and it's clear that this game was released well before it was finished.Even though Vice City has its problems, it still is a case of two steps forward, one step back. Taking all the glitches and the essentially still-born nature of the game into account, it's hard to say that this game deserves all the accolades that it has received. At the same time, it is still a fantastically fun game to play, and that is because it retains the formula that worked so well just a year ago. A great driving engine plus a tongue-in-cheek satirical bent mixed with a healthy dose of black humor equals one of the more mindlessly entertaining modern experiences in videogames.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PS2 version of the game.