Vice City is one of the all-time greats, and while we’ve got stuff like its soundtrack and setting thank for that, there’s also the under-appreciated fact that maybe the smartest thing Rockstar ever did to was to go and hire some proper celebrity voice talent.
Here's the thing about a video game soundtrack. It has to be more than just a collection of good music.
The GTA games have had a massive cultural impact, and their rosters of characters are some of the most memorable in video games, but that’s a relatively recent thing; who can even remember, let alone recall fondly, the cast of 2001's Grand Theft Auto III? It was a game made up of character-sized black holes, caricatures of mobster caricatures.
There were names in the cast, like Michael Madsen and of course Robert Loggia, but they were predictable choices who were almost too obvious for the job, and who could only do so much with what little they were given. I can remember more car names from GTA III than I can characters.
If 2002's Vice City wasn’t just going to follow GTA III but improve on it, pegging the player’s events to a functional and enjoyable story—or at least a series of cutscenes memorable enough to feel like a story—was going to be key. And while the writing definitely improved between games, it was the voice talent that really carried Vice City to another level.
William Fichtner’s Ken Rosenberg is almost perfect. Luis Guzmán’s fantastic Ricardo Diaz married Scarface and Maradona into a pastiche of GTA III’s use of pastiche, Dennis Hopper and Philip Michael Thomas were fantastic and Ray Liotta was...as deadpan as necessary in the lead role.
Yet among all that talent it was Burt Reynolds who stole the show. His appearance as the flamboyant Texan property developer Avery Carrington somehow made some of the worst sequences of missions in GTA history bearable, simply through the strength of the character and the joy of getting to sit through one of his (literally) thigh-slapping cutscenes.
He wasn’t the star of the game, he wasn’t propelling a great narrative arc, he was simply hired to act out some lines that provide the flimsiest excuses possible to beat some guys up and sit through a nightmarish helicopter mission.
Yet it was fun to be around Avery, in the way that Rockstar characters—at least in a post-Vice City world—often are. They’re cartoonish, but in a way that makes them larger than life, not lesser, and even though you know they’re hammy and not at all relatable, you can’t help but love them anyway.
So thanks Burt. You’ll of course be missed by millions for all kinds of appearances, from Cannonball Run to Saints Row, but I’ll always remember you as a loveable property developer who wasn’t afraid to wonder whether your real estate enemies deserved to be visited by a biblical plague.