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Vice City

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Today's forecast: anarchy with a high chance of bullets.
Ken: What did you find out?
Tommy: That there are more criminals in this town than in prison.

Vice City is a sprawling urban town, infested with crime. You can find every bad example of humanity here — thieves, carjackers, gangsters, assassins, drug rings, arsonists, murderers, jaywalkers — and will probably get the chance to partake in all of it yourself.

Here, law enforcement bends to the demands and bribes of powerful criminals or to the temptations of the Dirty Cop. Much less chaotic than some Wretched Hives as the vice in the city is caused by organized corruption orchestrated by The Syndicate rather than greed-induced every-man-for-himself-ism and anarchy. The police are ineffective in Vice City, only getting off their asses to stop a criminal who is running over little old ladies repeatedly in the middle of the street. They'll only incarcerate the offender for a short sentence, too. Except, of course, our heroes, especially if they take effective actions against crime.

The setting used in most Wide-Open Sandbox games, particularly the "true crime" ones of the Grand Theft Auto variety (one of which is the Trope Namer). The city may be based on a real one, such as the ones seen in the Spider-Man games, but mostly it will be a loose amalgamation of various cities, so the designers don't have to worry about adhering to the laws of geography.

There will almost never be anyone under the age of 18 in Vice City. Presumably, children are shipped away from their parents to a certain boarding school or somesuch, and only allowed to move in once they hit the age of 18. It could possibly be a Childless Dystopia.

Some of these cities are so bad they can bring about Fridge Logic when there are More Criminals Than Targets. Occasionally, there is a Close-Knit Community in one (appallingly poor) neighborhood, which tends to be desperate for any help it can get. Naturally lends itself to The City vs. the Country.

Compare City Noir, City of the Damned, Crapsaccharine World, Gangster Land, and Graffiti Town. Contrast Heel–Face Town. For more general crime-infested areas see parent trope Wretched Hive.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Joke: Japan has been made the 51st state of the United States and prostitution has been banned in Tokyo. An artificial island, the Neon Island, has been built in Tokyo Bay for gambling and prostitution. It is a place swarming with organized crime.
  • City Hunter: Shinjuku often appears like this. While it's not completely in the hands of its criminal elements, there's a number of crimes that the police can't or won't deal with (such as a serial killer who raped his victims as he kidnapped them in or close to the pleasure neighbourhood of Kabukicho, the police simply blamed them for supposedly being loose women), crimes that City Hunter deals with once the victims or their relatives ask for his help (the serial killer above, for example, was dealt with when the sister of one of his victims, who was waiting for her when kidnapped, hired City Hunter to do the police's job).
  • Durarara!!: The Tokyo entertainment and commercial neighborhood of Ikebukuro blends this trope with the City of Adventure, with a bunch of gangs around, people cutting each other with knives, Shizuo throwing random vending machines at Izaya everywhere around the city, and a headless motorcycle rider going around, freaking people out and stuff. While it does have a somewhat "noisy" reputation in Real Life, its "Vice" aspects in both the books and their anime adaptation were heavily overplayed due to Rule of Cool.
  • Heavy Object: The city of Lost Angels was built near a Faith Organization Object maintenance base. The other superpowers sent spies to infiltrate the city, founding gangs to act as cover for their operations, and the Faith Organization responded in kind. The four gangs grew out of control as the crime rate exploded while the majority of the city's civilian populace fled. By the time Qwenthur and Havia arrive, the city consists of undercover spies, criminals profiting off the conflict, and a handful of innocents with nowhere else to go.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind: Naples at the beginning of the story is presented as a corrupt town where the mob is more feared by the police, and said police is also near corrupt or ineffective.
  • Texhnolyze features Lux, possibly the bleakest example of this trope.
  • Tokyo Crazy Paradise: Tokyo, where robbery and murder in broad daylight is considered just a normal day.

    Comic Books 
  • Mega-City One from 2000 AD flagship title Judge Dredd certainly qualifies, and the Angeltown district from its Spin-Off The Simping Detective is depicted as being worse than the city as a whole.
  • Gotham City, mostly since Batman, now. Except the GCPD is full of honest, hard-working people (and Harvey Bullock), and organized crime isn't nearly so big as chaotic, supervillain crime.
    • Or at least it is now. Year One and The Long Halloween show that organized crime and police corruption were prevalent, and, after The Mafia was taken down, the "freaks" took over.
    • And its neighbor, Bludhaven, where Batman's former sidekick Nightwing set up shop in his solo book (later to be supplanted by the current Robin and Batgirl in their solo books). That was before it became a Doomed Hometown.
  • New Port City in Bomb Queen, to a parodic degree.
  • Bete Noire, the setting of Peter David's Fallen Angel.
  • In Garfield: His 9 Lives, St. Paul, Minnesota is described this way.
Heathen City, both by Alex Vance.
  • Hub City in The DCU, from The Question comics, was specifically written to be the most corrupt city in the U.S. Less than ten police officers were considered honest and the firefighters went out armed.
  • Maranatha, Florida in the titular unfinished web novel Maranatha and the ongoing graphic novel series.
  • Madripoor in the Marvel Universe is a dystopian, crime-ridden, and utterly corrupt version of Singapore. Like the Philippines!
  • Sin City.
  • Downlode in Sinister Dexter is a massive city run by gangsters.

    Fan Works 
  • The city of Iwatobi in Eyes Wide Open All the Time. Rather than the idyllic seaside village, it is in Free!, this Iwatobi is a poverty-ridden hellhole where the yakuza and gangs run rampant, nearly every cop is a corrupt one, and the drug trade is the city's main business.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Hill Valley in the alternate 1985 in Back to the Future Part II was turned into this by a super-rich and corrupt Biff.
  • Cidade de Deus (City of God) as presented in the 2002 film of the same name — it is a part of the Favelas, and thus a case of Truth in Television. Notably, none of the scenes of the film were shot within the City of God itself, because the location was too dangerous to film in.
  • Conan the Barbarian (2011): Argalon is a city of thieves. Conan's friend Ela-Shan, a thief, goes there after Conan frees him, where he finds him to get his help with breaking into Khalar Zym's castle later.
  • Detroit as portrayed in The Crow and Robocop.
  • "New Angeles" in Double Dragon (1994).
  • Rio de Janeiro as portrayed in The Elite Squad is this (like City of God, it's Truth in Television). Drug dealers rule the favelas, brutally murdering those who "offend" them. The normal police are corrupt and firmly in their pocket. Rich, ignorant students fund the drug dealers and misguidedly rail against the police. The closest thing to a beacon of light in this darkness is the fascist, torturing BOPE, who would be villains in a less cynical work. The sequel adds Lawman Gone Bad militia who violently feud with the dealers and the corrupt politicians aiding them.
  • Free Guy: The in-universe videogame Free City is set in one of these. It's an MMO equivalent of Grand Theft Auto in which players are encouraged to murder and steal for their own amusement.
  • Hong Kong, as depicted in many, many movies, is populated by nothing but gangsters, dragon ladies, foreigners looking for a quick buck or an easy lay, and rogue cops.
  • One of the most famous scenes in It's a Wonderful Life involves an angel showing a despondent, suicidal George Bailey what his hometown of Bedford Falls would be like if he'd never been born. In this world, it's been turned into Pottersville, a decadent slum run by his rival Henry Potter and filled with crime, drinking, cabarets, pawn shops, poverty, and general loutishness.
  • Mexico City as portrayed in Man on Fire.
  • In The Phenix City Story, the titular city is run by the mob, who is able to commit all kinds of crimes up to and including murder with impunity. The police look the other way, meaning the mobsters don't get charged, and if one of them does stand trial, the jury daren't convict them.
  • The city in Se7en. The constant rain gives the city a run-down, depressed feel, and the fact that it is never specifically named (characters only ever refer to it as "this city" or "this place") makes it feel like it could be any large metropolis, though it is very clearly inspired by New York City more than any other.
  • Streets of Fire's unnamed city is an example.
  • The song "No Place Like London" during the 2007 film adaption of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street summed up London as this.

  • The Arts of Dark and Light has Malkan, a great trading city in the mountain passes between Savondir and Amorr, which is run by merciless merchant lords and full of corruption, loose living, slavery, and barely contained crime. It's an expy of ruthless Renaissance Venice, except that it derives its wealth from caravan rather than maritime trade.
  • The last four circles of The Divine Comedy's Inferno are contained beyond the city of Dis. Guarded by harpies, within the walls of the cities are graves of fire, literal blood baths, the forest of suicides, and a desert where fire rains. Past that, there's a deep drop into the Malebolge (Evil Ditch) that leads even further down into Cocytus, a frozen lake made from all the evil rivers of Hell.
  • In Gene Stratton-Porter's Freckles, Angel argues that Freckles's parents and relatives did not have to have neglected and abandoned him.
    ''Chicago is a big, wicked city, and grown people could disappear in many ways, and who would there ever be to find to whom their little children belonged?'’
  • New Crobuzon from China Miéville's Perdido Street Station certainly is this. Even the government itself is involved in criminal activities that are hardly petty. There are thieves, spies, drug dealers, religious extremists and underground activists on every corner, as well as the god-damn most creepy prostitutes in the history of literature, the people who are not involved in any sort of crime are likely to be the first ones to die or worse or alternatively perform things that are not illegal in New Crobuzon itself, but morally inexcusable to the modern western reader.
  • Pair-O-Dicenote  in Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love is a shabby, makeshift town whose primary population appears to consist mainly of backwash miscreants delirious with Gold Fever, and prostitutes. Lots of prostitutes.
  • Zemphis in Raising Steam, filled with unlicenced beggars, people on the run from the law on the Sto Plains, and dealers in illicit goods including drugs and — this being the Discworld — raw treacle. Commander Vimes suggests that Vetinari allows it to exist so it doesn't exist closer to home, and complains that local law enforcement isn't even corrupt, because they're not competent enough for anyone to think them worth bribing.
  • Grimpen Ward in the Shannara novels, which sometimes seems to consist of run-down, disreputable taverns. Being in the middle of the Wilderun, the only reason to live there is if you aren't welcome elsewhere.
  • Han Dold City in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. The only mention of law enforcement comes when one police gang sets off some alarms to lure a rival police gang into a trap.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe brings us Nar Shaddaa, this trope in planet form, it's essentially a dark version of Coruscant.
    • Coruscant itself has aspects of this, though mostly on the city's lower levels.
  • The Thebaid: Home to men born of monsters, the alcoholic god, and kings of incest, Thebes is a microcosm of all of man's sin. The whole brutal war against Thebes is brought about because Jupiter is frustrated with just how much evil there is in the world and uses Thebes as a representation of that evil which he can take out his frustration upon.
  • Wars of the Realm: Implied, although not directly described. New York City and Los Angeles are both mentioned to be hubs of Fallen activity (with L.A. being the literal headquarters of the Fallen commander of North America). The actual states of these cities are left to the imagination.
  • Wings of Fire: The Scorpion Den is the crime centre of Pyrrhia and you pretty much have to steal (or worse) to stay alive there. Oddly enough, one of the nicest characters, and probably the best queen in the series both hail from there.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrow, Starling City is ridiculously corrupt. The cops and judges are mostly on the pad, the administrators of the local mental hospital exploit their patients for profit, the leading candidate for mayor is secretly a costumed supervillain, and the city's wealthy elite are plotting to destroy the The City Narrows with an earthquake machine.
  • Gotham, definitely verging on More Criminals Than Targets levels. And its status as a prequel means until a millionaire socialite and his young ward take up the fight, it won't be improving in a significant fashion any time during the course of the series.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): Louis de Pointe du Lac and Daniel Molloy discuss how New Orleans in the 1910s was the perfect home for a vampire; it was a port city which boasted a very exciting nightlife, and since most people were expected to spend the day sleeping off the previous evening's entertainment/damage, no one questioned someone like Lestat de Lioncourt (and later Louis) only socializing at night. Lestat also notes "the laissez-faire attitude of the local police force," meaning law enforcement is rather lax.
  • Cabot Cove in Murder, She Wrote seems to have a murder rate that's extremely high for a town of only a few thousand residents. An analysis of the show has revealed that it has one of the highest murder rates in the real world.
  • Discussed in Treme, New Orleans is considered a risqué, but harmless, fun, and friendly "vice city" that may be devolving into a "sin city" because crime is on the rise and the police and the authorities are worse than useless in the aftermath of Katrina.
  • Explored more thoroughly with Baltimore in The Wire, written by the same creator as Treme, with regards to the city's drug trade and how the criminal, political, and law enforcement systems perpetuate each other.

  • Halsey: the Badlands are depicted this way, a dangerous urban sprawl full of dead-eyed kids and neon nights, reminiscent of Las Vegas.

  • Mega-City One in the Judge Dredd pinball; the main purpose of the game is to visit various Crime Scenes and put away lawbreakers.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In most Cyberpunk games, the background setting is one of these. Night City in Cyberpunk 2025, is one prime example.
  • In Blades in the Dark Duskwall is a cramped city living off its leviathan blood exports, and the only people who seem to truly uphold the imperial law in it are the Inspectors, who are foreigners and thus don't have any local ties.
  • The Edge, capital city of Al Amarja, in Over the Edge. All the normal laws against drugs, violence, fraud, trademark infringement, and the like exist but are only enforced if you piss off the government. In the event that you are arrested for something, bribing the local magistrate to let you off is not only legal, it's actually a major source of income for the state.
  • The city of Kaer Maga in Pathfinder is an anarchic metropolis in which "anyone can fit in, and anyone can be bought and sold".
  • Shelzar in the Scarred Lands is a city-state devoted to hedonistic pleasure and pursuit of physical freedom, earning it the in-universe moniker "City of Sins". Slavery, drug-use, prostitution, polygamy and homosexuality are all legal and applauded, sintaurs are a status symbol, and it delights in rubbing its perversity in the face of more uptight city-states. It often comes as a surprise to outsiders to discover that even Shelzar regards some things as unacceptable, most prominently rape.
  • These occur on planetary scales in Warhammer 40,000. The Dark Eldar race lives in an extradimensional, planet-sized Vice City, for one, and these are people who survive by crossing the Moral Event Horizon every day, if not every hour.

    Video Games 

In General:

By Title:

  • In All Points Bulletin, San Paro has some of the things mentioned, minus the prostitution, but it does have drug rings, assassins, and carjackings. You have the choice of playing a criminal or a cop.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: Noctis City is described in the Lore Codex as being a free land in fog and shadows. Citizens are said to flock towards Noctis to seek a life of freedom to fulfill their dreams while most die from the chaos and evil that happens beneath. Some choose to leave after experiencing such pandemonium, others adapt to the city's nature by becoming chaotic.
  • In the original BioShock, the underwater metropolis of Rapture was founded precisely to escape urban decay. Unfortunately, the discovery of a Psycho Serum on the sea floor created a drug market, which the Mayor refused to police. The drug eventually became the biggest economic force in the city, as every citizen was now hooked on it.
    • In BioShock 2 we are treated to Siren Alley, described as a Vice City within a Vice City. As best described by Augustus Sinclair...
      Augustus Sinclair: I do love Siren Alley. The kind of place you go to scratch an itch you're ashamed of — even in a town with no laws.
  • Paragon City in City of Heroes is a far more idealistic version, with clear lines drawn between good and evil. The upshot of this is, even though there's just as much crime going on, you don't get to partake in any of it. You're a superhero, after all. The Rogue Isles in City of Villains are closer to this, though with their own twists. (For one thing, the "police" will attack you even though you technically work for them.)
    • Not so much 'work for' as 'are mercifully allowed to live and roam free in case you are the one destined to become strong enough to bring about The End of the World as We Know It'.
  • Condemned: Criminal Origins deconstructs this concept by showing how scary such a setting would be. All the crime-ridden buildings in Metro City that the main character has to crawl through (and there are a lot of them) are filled with nothing but junkies and crazy homeless people.
  • Pacific City in Crackdown.
  • Night City, the setting of Cyberpunk 2077 is filled with crime, poverty, violence, prostitution, and people desperately trying to rise to the top. The city is independent from the USA and practically owned by corporations, with politicians being merely their puppets.
  • Dragon Age: While yet to be visited within the games, the small country of Antiva is frequently mentioned and described as one of these:
    • Zevran grew up in an Antivan brothel and some time after his mother had died, he was bought by the local Assassins Guild to be trained, which he says was a lot better than being a street urchin once he survived the first years. He has a lot of stories to share about political assassinations and mentions a particularly funny one which ended in one of the assassins almost becoming king.
    • While being originally from the neighboring Rivain, Isabela had often been there as a pirate and a few stories of her own.
      Isabela: I had a husband. He didn't beat me, that's the best I can say about him.
      Bethany: So you left him?
      Isabela: He was murdered. By my lover... It was all very... 'Antivan'.
  • Fallout:
    • The Den in Fallout 2 is referred to as a Wretched Hive, as a blatant Star Wars Shout-Out, although it's rather tame compared to New Reno, the true Vice City of the franchise.
    • Fallout 4 has Goodneighbor, a city founded by criminals who had been exiled from the comparatively straight-laced Diamond City. Even with Hancock working to maintain a semblance of order and vigilantism encouraged, Goodneighbor is still rife with thievery, drug abuse, and murder. It may be safer in comparison to wandering the wastelands, but only to a point.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Zozo in Final Fantasy VI. Everybody's a thief and a liar, and unlike most towns, you'll hit random encounters while exploring.
    • Midgar in Final Fantasy VII. The Wall Market is a sleazy red-lights district owned by Don Corneo, a wealthy pervert and Mafia crime boss, and muggers can be encountered as enemies in Sector 5, who may steal your items and run away from them, taking them forever if you fail to beat them in time. Corel also suffers from having thief enemies.
  • The Godfather: The Game presents NYC this way: You can't go far without running into a business controlled by The Mafia, Dirty Cops are a dime a dozen, and staying away from known Mafia fronts doesn't guarantee your safety from running gunfights in the streets.
  • Every city in the Grand Theft Auto universe is a crime-ridden city filled with violence.
  • Haven City in Jak II: Renegade; Spargus City in Jak 3 is like this, but much more orderly, considering everyone is armed and are likely to shoot you if you try anything funny with them. The Kras City from Jak X: Combat Racing is an even better example as there are criminal syndicates involved in everything going on in the city, including the titular races.
  • To a lesser extent, Tokyoto from the Jet Set Radio franchise.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure: Crossbell is presented as this. It's not quite as bad as the reputation that preceeded it, but it still has a powerful underworld with ties to City Hall, sharply divided politics and police that are generally perceived as useless.
  • Mafia II has Empire Bay, home to three Mafia Crime Families and several other organized crime rings such as Triads and a local Irish Mob.
    • Mafia III has New Bordeaux. While publicly a pleasant place to go to and live, the reality has it being controlled by The Mafia and The Klan, who use the city to illicit their illegal activities ranging from prostitution to drugs.
  • Manhunt takes place in Carcer City. It's populated by various gangs who are (unknowingly) part of a Snuff Film empire.
  • The city of New Radius in Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
  • Mass Effect 2: Omega, the unofficial capital of the lawless Terminus Systems fits in the trope quite well. More subtly all the basic elements of the trope also fit Illium, an asari colony world where everything is legal as long as there is a contract for it, and criminal organizations and ruthless CEOs struggle for power behind the serene image presented for tourists.
  • New York in Max Payne.
    • Arguably an inversion, as the conflict in the game is based around fighting a totalitarian (though admittedly still corrupt) local government and police force.
  • No More Heroes:
    • Santa Destroy features street thugs in bondage gear armed to the teeth and out for the player's blood, to the point where no one actually stays in the city willingly and desperately wants to take the first bus out of town. The ending of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle implies that with the UAA destroyed, Travis and Sylvia are going to fix it up. It does look better by the time of No More Heroes III... and then the aliens obliterate a huge chunk of it anyway.
    • No More Heroes III: Perfect World, located at the south, is how Santa Destroy would look like with a bigger quality of life. It does still host assassination challenges as well as some required fights for the Rank 9 fight, but by default it's a thematically safer (and prettier) city.
  • Rogueport in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a parody of this setting.
  • Pokémon Colosseum: Pyrite Town. Even for a Lighter and Softer work like Pokemon, Pyrite is a Vice City within a Wretched Hive - it's the only city with police officers in all of Orre, and despite them, the hoods freely roam the streets. This is the city Miror B. ruled over during his days as a Cipher Admin, and it has an even worse Vice City underneath it, The Under, an underground city that's all one big Cipher hideout.
  • In the Saints Row series, the first two games have Stilwater, while the third and fourth have Steelport. They range between Vice City and Wretched Hive.
  • Scarface: The World Is Yours makes Miami one of these, albeit not to as large an extent as most.
  • New York in the Spider-Man video games — particularly Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3.
  • True Crime: Streets of LA and New York City took this to a unique level by having the featured cities replicated, or at least with an accurate street and landmark layout. One review for the first game claimed that " residents of LA could use any shortcuts they know in Real Life in-game.
  • Wild ARMs 3 has Little Twister, a Wild West town of outlaws. The various arena towns in the Wild ARMs series may also apply, though they aren't really towns per se.
  • In a bizarre example, the little town of Goldshire in World of Warcraft has become a Vice City of sorts, at least on RP servers. It's filled with strippers (13-year-olds watching their naked female characters dance), prostitutes (13-year-olds cybering), and criminals (13-year-olds powergaming.) Goldshire is so well known for this that among the fanbase it is also known as Whoreshire. It's also filled with a bunch of people who are desperately trying to ignore the aforementioned children. It's a pretty common gathering spot all around, especially for big groups of friends, as it's obviously rather easy to reach.

  • Greysky City from The Order of the Stick is all but controlled by the Thieves' Guild, with crime rampant on the streets and omnipresent flyers for corpse disposal that don't even bother with euphemisms.
  • Unsounded: Sharteshane has a reputation as a home to criminals run by gangs, and its capital Sharteshane City is shown to have prostitutes carrying out their business in the streets while pickpockets slip through the crowds and Jab Beadman, a gangster who bought his way into the nobility, is the real power behind the throne.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time features the City of Thieves. The name isn't hyperbole - every resident is a thief and staying in the city for too long causes outsiders to become thieves.
  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command gives us a Vice Planet in the form of Tradeworld. The economy is essentially one big black market where anyone can buy anything, no questions asked, regardless of legality.
  • Hell is depicted this way in Hazbin Hotel, a dark red city where demons indulge in every evil they did in life, just without any shame or subtlety. Gang violence is rampant, the porn industry is booming, and hard drugs are sold from vending machines. One particular example is the main location alone, Pentagram City.


Video Example(s):


Vienna, 1949

Vienna was a city of bombed-out ruins, poverty, black marketeering, and military occupation.

How well does it match the trope?

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