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Vice City

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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, there is law, but it bends to the wallets of the powerful criminals, or the temptations of the law enforcers. Much less chaotic than some Wretched Hives as the vice in the city is caused by organized corruption rather than greed induced every-man-for-himself-ism. The police are often noticeably 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 few seconds, too. Except, of course, our heroes, especially if they take effectual 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 
  • 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 knifes, 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind: Naples at the beginning of the part is presented as a corrupt town where the mob is more feared by the police, and said police is also near totally corrupt or ineffective.
  • 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 entirely of undercover spies, criminals profiting off the conflict, and a handful of innocents with nowhere else to go.

    Comic Books 
  • 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). Of course, that was before it became a Doomed Hometown....
  • Sin City
  • 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 on-going graphic novel series Heathen City, both by Alex Vance.
  • Bete Noire, the setting of Peter David's Fallen Angel.
  • New Port City in Bomb Queen, to a parodic degree.
  • Madripoor in the Marvel Universe is a dystopian, crime-ridden and utterly corrupt version of Singapore. Like the Philippines!
  • 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.
  • Downlode in Sinister Dexter is a massive city run entirely by gangsters.
  • In Garfield: His 9 Lives St. Paul, Minnesota is described this way.

  • 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.
  • Detroit as portrayed in The Crow and Robocop
  • "New Angeles" in Double Dragon.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 pretty much 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. Basically, 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.
  • 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 essentialy a dark version of Coruscant.
    • Coruscant itself has aspects of this, though mostly on the cities lower levels.
  • 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 entirely 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Discussed in Treme, New Orleans is considered a risque but harmless, fun and friendly "vice city" that may be devolving into a "sin city" because crime is in 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gotham, of course, 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.

  • 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 
  • These occur on planetary scales in Warhammer 40,000. The entire Dark Eldar race lives in an extradimensional, planet-sized Vice City, for one, and these are people who quite literally survive by crossing the Moral Event Horizon every day, if not every hour.
  • In most Cyberpunk games, the background setting is one of these. Night City, in Cyberpunk 2025, is one prime example.
  • 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.
  • 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 city of Kaer Maga in Pathfinder is an anarchic metropolis in which "anyone can fit in, and anyone can be bought and sold".

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • The Trope Namer is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas expands this into a Vice State.
  • 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'.
  • Pacific City in Crackdown.
  • Antiva is a small country that so far has never been visited in the Dragon Age games, but gets mentioned a lot.
    • 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'."
  • The city of New Radius in Mark Ecko's Getting Up.
    • Arguably an inversion, as the conflict in the game is based around fighting a totalitarian (though admittedly still corrupt) local government and police force.
  • New York in the Spider-Man video games — particularly Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3.
  • New York in Max Payne.
  • To a lesser extent, Tokyoto from the Jet Set Radio franchise.
  • Haven City in Jak II; 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 even better example as there are criminal syndicates involved in pretty much everything going on in the city, notably the titular races.
  • Rogueport in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is a parody of this setting.
  • 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.
  • Let's not forget the grittily overblown "gangs control the city" version of this that primarily crops up in Beat 'Em Ups:
  • Santa Destroy in No More Heroes definitely fits this trope, with street thugs in bondage gear armed to the teeth and out for the player's blood, to the point where pretty much no-one actually stays in the city willingly and desperately wants to take the first bus out of town. The ending of the sequel implies that with the UAA destroyed, Travis and Sylvia are going to fix it up.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Zozo in Final Fantasy VI. Everybody's a thief and a liar, and unlike most towns, you'll hit random encounters while exploring.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Omega, the unofficial capital of the lawless Terminus Systems in Mass Effect 2 fits in the trope quite well. More subtly all the basic elements of the trope also fit to 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.
  • 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 even staying away from known Mafia fronts doesn't guarantee your safety from running gunfights in the streets.
  • 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! Let's not forget that this is a 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 All Points Bulletin, San Paro has some of the things mentioned, minus the prostitution, but it does have drug rings, assassins, and carjackings. As a side note, you have the choice of playing a criminal or a cop.
  • Midgar in Final Fantasy VII. The Wall Market is a sleazy red-lights district owned by Don Corneo, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • 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.
    • And that’s not excluding its spinoff series Helluva Boss.

    Web Comics 
  • Greysky City from The Order of the Stick.
  • Unsounded: Sharteshane has a reputation as a home to criminals run by gangs, and its capitol Sharteshane City is shown to have prostitutes carrying out their buisness 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.

    Real Life 
  • As of early 2015, Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia probably fits. While the UN-backed government IS most active there, it's a severely troubled and violent city. Eyl, a coastal city, qualifies as well by virtue of all the pirates and how unsafe the ports are by extension.
  • Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo qualify.
  • Many areas of Baltimore, Detroit and Los Angeles may qualify.
  • Many cities become this under weak or nonexistent central authority. Iraqi cities are the leading suppliers of child prostitutes in the world.
  • Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. The prophet Amos blasted it for its corruption, its decadence and its lack of concern for the poor.
  • New York City until the mid-'90s, such that it is the subject of an entire trope of its own.
  • Heroica Ciudad Juárez in Mexico is practically overrun by drug cartels, street gangs, serial killers, rapists and so on. Experiencing an average of eight homicides a day, Juárez has been nicknamed "Killer City" ("Ciudad Asesina"). Some, like Charles Bowden, even allege the police and army are really fighting the cartels—and each other—for control of the drug industry, not to restore order.
    • Averted by El Paso, Texas right across the border, which is considered one of the safest cities in the United States.
  • Las Vegas during the 1950s came pretty close, being Mafia-controlled and all. The official crime rate was twice the national average in almost every category, and the amount of unreported crime was apparently greater. Today, it markets itself as this, or at least The Theme Park Version of a Vice City, an American take on Freestate Amsterdam filled with experiences that are legal there and nowhere else.
    • Its predecessor in Mafia control was Galveston, Texas, from 1920 to 1957.
  • Chicago has always been notorious in the American and global imagination for rampant corruption, gang activity, and prostitution. The peak was in The Roaring '20s, when the city was ruled by its openly criminal mayor "Big Bill" Thompson — who eventually got away with it all, scot-free — while Al Capone rose to the top of the city's underworld. It's gained back its reputation in modern times as well, due to rising murder rates. A common moniker for the city, especially among its working-class black population, is "Chiraq", owing to a widely-repeated (if highly disputed) statistic alleging that the city's murder rate was higher than that of Baghdad during the Iraq War. Most of it is still very nice, but the rougher areas are really rough, and Lord help you if you accidentally find yourself in Englewood.
  • Butte, Montana in the 1920s was a wide-open town which completely ignored Prohibition and got away with it, even while an FBI field office was located there. Organized crime from Chicago and other parts east made a few perfunctory attempts at taking over the town, and were politely but firmly informed by the locals of the dire consequences they would suffer if they kept up with it. They departed empty-handed. The setting of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest was based heavily on Butte, with the labor dispute at the center of the novel based on the Anaconda Road massacre in 1920.
  • Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was notorious for the fact that it was, for all intents and purposes, completely lawless.Why?  The triads would flock to the Walled City to ply their trades, the police wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, and every business that operated out of the Walled City was completely unregulated, from meat markets to dentists, from gambling parlors to prostitution. This was also reflected in the city's unusual architecture: free from any building codes and confined to approximately six acres, the city came to resemble a massive, singular, slipshod building. Even Wikipedia's page on "Dystopia" used it as the page image.
  • Havana under the reign of Fulgencio Batista was full of casinos and prostitution as a precursor to Las Vegas.
  • Phenix City, Alabama was deemed "America's Wickedest City" during the 1940s until 1955.
  • Grozny, capital of Chechnya. Between the Soviet Union's fall and The Chechnya Wars, it was a barely functional cesspool whose source of income was illegal activity, gambling and smuggling. It's a little better today after its reconstruction, but the Russian Mafia has a great presence there, and abductions are a very common danger.
  • Miami, Florida, or Florida as a whole, is infamous for this. Heck, the Trope Namer is explicitly based off Miami.
  • Washington, D.C. fell headlong into this trope during the late 1980s; with the city becoming known as the "Murder Capital of the United States" after breaking records for homicides each year between 1988 and 1990 along with the city's Mayor, Marion Barry, getting busted in a sting operation for using and possessing crack cocaine.


Video Example(s):


Vienna, 1949

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

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