Vice City: To the Skies

Much of my last session was spent airborne. First, I found the solution to my problems with that seaplane: switching back to joystick controls. There’s pretty definitely something going wrong with the keyboard input there, because getting into the air was a cinch once I was using a device that the game recognized consistently.

After that, the same mission source (a movie studio, now making porn at Tommy’s behest) gave me a multi-stage mission that involved tailing a limousine without getting too close to it, and while the mission didn’t require that I use a helicopter, it provided one and suggested that I use it. Good thing, too, because the final stage of the mission got me in deep trouble with the cops, and, as before, the easiest way to deal with this is to dash to the helicopter you parked nearby. This has become my go-to technique for evading police in missions that give you a high Wanted rating, which, in this late part of the game, is most of them. The police have helicopters too, but it’s a lot easier to evade them than to dodge all the traffic you’d encounter on the ground.

The final porn mission’s goal was to mess with some searchlights on a rooftop. Considering that it’s already been established that the studio has access to both a plane and a helicopter, you might think this would simply be a matter of flying to the relevant rooftop, but no, you’re supposed to ride a motorcycle into a tall building, up the elevator, through a plate glass window into an adjacent building, and finally over a long sequence of ramps and rooftops, with checkpoints all along the path to guide you. I wound up using a helicopter anyway. I tried to do the motorcycle thing, but fell off and lost my bike after a few jumps, and found it simpler to go back to a nearby safehouse and pick up a helicopter than to find another bike. The thing is, you can’t just go directly to the searchlights. You have to go through all the motorcycle checkpoints, but the game doesn’t care if you’re actually on a motorcycle or not. Of all the borderline cheating I’ve done over the course of the game, flying through those checkpoints feels the cheatingest.

The experience of flying through the Vice City skyline reinforces one of the game’s greatest strengths: its sense of spatial coherence. You’re interacting with the structures of the city at a different level and a different scale than normal, ignoring the streets that channel your path on the ground, instead paying attention to the spires and towers that are your only obstacles but which you seldom look at from below. And yet, everything about the city is recognizable from the hours you’ve spent driving and walking around it. It helps that the city is fairly small. From the air, you can really feel like the whole thing is spread out around you like a gaming table.

And for what it’s worth, I found that flying in the plane produced this sensation more strongly than the helicopter. In a helicopter, you essentially levitate: you take off vertically, you have buttons to ascend and descend and can rotate in place. Accelerating means tilting the rotor and therefore losing altitute, but since you can just gain more altitude at will, this isn’t very significant. In an airplane, you swoop around madly. You have to struggle to keep the thing level, you can’t stop, you have to swerve around obstacles because you can’t rise fast enough to go over them. In short, as with cars, your control is imperfect, and this forces you to engage the environment more. This reflection really makes me regret cheating on that motorcycle mission, because it seems like I’ve missed out on more of the same thing.

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