Vice City knows and understands it's greatest assets
All three entries in the GTA 3 trilogy are well represented by legions of fans as the best in the series. GTA 3 may have the landmark significance, and San Andreas may have the overwhelming scope, but Vice city contains the undeniable style. In terms of American decades, the 80s has perhaps the strongest sense of pop culture style, and Vice City runs with this.
Vice City plays almost exactly like GTA 3. There's the addition of motorcycles and more aircafts among some other tweaks, but for the most part, the same strengths and weaknesses are present from GTA 3. Freedom and frustration catch the flight to Vice City, which I should note, isn't quite as large or interesting as Liberty City, though it's not an uninspiring location by any means.
The biggest difference in Vice City is obviously the story and setting. Rockstar once again crafts a great cast of criminal characters, and this time around, the main character joins the ranks. Being an era specific set piece setting, Vice City goes all out on amplifying what american pop culture knows and loves about the 80s. During the game, vehicle designs, outfits, radio stations, and pop culture references are always present to remind you that it's 1986.
While the gameplay continues to struggle in areas, Vice City's excellent story, characters, and unabashed love for the 80s successfully differentiates it from it's predecessor and creates an experience you'll want to see through to the end.