Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories has me utterly confused about what to think. On one hand I love the Grand Theft Auto series; I'm a strong supporter of each and every one of their 3D outings. I also gave Liberty City Stories a high score when it was released on the PSP last October. But as a PlayStation 2 port this game loses something, it's just not as exciting as when it was in your hands on the go. So what am I to think? Is this a good deal at $20 or is the whole thing completely unnecessary?
Two years ago PlayStation 2 owners were treated to the giant world of San Andreas. This was an enormous sandbox that allowed you to climb to the top of the of the tallest mountains and overlook the world, gave you the opportunity to swim in the ocean, fly over desert area, and skydive any where you want. It was a game that offered you a lot of brand new freedoms that had yet to be seen in the Grand Theft Auto series.
In every way possible Liberty City Stories is a step backwards. You can't swim in the rivers, there are no airplanes to pilot, there is no skydiving, and the city you call home is flat and boring. All this is fine when you're talking about it being the very first 3D Grand Theft Auto game on a portable game system, but as a follow up to San Andreas, Liberty City Stories is a major let down.
As you might guess from the title, Liberty City Stories takes place in the same Liberty City found in Grand Theft Auto III, a faux-New York City complete with three separate islands (Portland, Staunton Island, and Shoreside Vale). The map itself is exactly the same as it was five years ago when the series made its 3D debut on the PlayStation 2, so veteran GTA fans will feel right at home in this new adventure.
Despite being in a familiar locale, Liberty City Stories manages to weave a brand new web of intrigue. Set three years before the events of Grand Theft Auto III, Liberty City Stories tells the story of Tony Cipriani, a mafia-type that gets caught up working for some real rough dudes. If you’ve played any of the previous Grand Theft Auto adventures you will already know pretty much how the story works -- you start with very little and work your way up spiting anybody that gets in your way. The theme of the game may not be any different, but there are some nice twists and turns in the story that make it a real pleasure to go through.
Tony Cipriani is not a lovable character … at least, not at first. For much of the game it’s hard to identify with this guy; he seems awfully distant, just doing what he’s told and rarely talking back. But as you work your way through the lengthy story you’ll start to appreciate Tony, he’s never the character that Tommy Vercetti or Carl Johnson are, but he gets the job done and fills in some of the gaps between now and his appearance in Grand Theft Auto III. Thankfully the supporting cast (which includes both familiar faces and brand new characters) is top notch, offering a lot of eccentric players with all kinds of memorable quotes.
While the performances and production values are good, they aren't up to the same level of the other PlayStation 2 Grand Theft Auto games. San Andreas featured nearly every major player in Hollywood and Vice City was no slouch when it came to the soundtrack. But you won't recognize many names in Liberty City Stories; this is a low-key Grand Theft Auto, one with brand new actors and unfamiliar music. Part of the reason for this is because it was originally a PSP game, but after playing through a game like San Andreas it becomes noticeable when the biggest name is Frank Vincent.
Although it's set in the world of Grand Theft Auto III, Liberty City Stories plays more like Vice City. Most of the big improvements found in Vice City are featured in this game, including the addition of motorcycles. You will also be able to change your clothing, explore interiors of some buildings, and mark targets on the map to remind you where to go. Unfortunately none of the big enhancements from San Andreas - RPG elements, customizable characters, bicycle, etc. - make an appearance in this game.
Since this was originally meant to be a portable game Rockstar Games has gone ahead and made it more accessible for people on the go. For example, the missions are generally shorter than what you would find in San Andreas or Vice City. The various action bits are on a much smaller scale and aren't nearly as drawn out as before. All of this makes sense for a portable game, but on the console it just seems too short and easy.
Thankfully it's not all bad for this PlayStation 2 version of Liberty City Stories, many of the game play problems critics (like myself) complained about when it was on the PSP have been ironed out. The second analog stick makes it easy to look around while you're out and about. Along with that we are also given a character that is easier to control thanks to all of the buttons on the PlayStation 2's control. No more being limited by the lack of buttons on the PSP, Liberty City Stories really feels like all of the other Grand Theft Auto games on the consoles.
But not all of the game play problems have been addressed in this PlayStation 2 version. Aiming is still a major problem in Liberty City Stories. Although Rockstar Games has addressed the series' aiming problems in games like San Andreas, this port takes us back to a time when aiming was a major chore that generally included a lot of innocents dying by accident. I also take issue with the vehicles loose handling; it would have been nice to see Rockstar address that problem in eight months they had to take it from the PSP to the PS2.
Another concern I have with this version of Liberty City Stories is the way it looks. On the PSP the game shined, it was a little rough around the edges, but it was a great example of the power Sony's portable was packing. Who knew that those small graphics would look so bad when stretched out to fit a full-sized television? This port looks horrible, the graphics are fuzzy and there's a complete lack of detail. The characters are all very simplistic looking and the vehicles have no definition to them at all. The graphics are a mess; it's hard to believe that this game was released nearly two years after San Andreas.
Not only does the PSP version of this game look better (and allow you to add your own music), but it also offers you a lot more ways of playing the game. The portable version of Liberty City Stories features seven different multiplayer modes, each allowing you to blow up five friends all at the same time. These modes were fairly basic and limited when released on the PSP … but at least they were there. Liberty City Stories on the PlayStation 2 lacks any of the multiplayer games found on the PSP; a real loss to what is otherwise a so-so port. I'm not looking for six player online support or anything, but to simply take out all of the multiplayer modes is a real disappointment.
Liberty City Stories works as a portable video game. On the small screen it's easier to forgive the shorter missions, lack of detail, and control problems. As the first Grand Theft Auto game on the PSP fans and critics are more accepting of the shortcomings, Rockstar Games was able to do what seemed impossible only a few years earlier. But we can't give the PlayStation 2 version the same pass. On the PS2 it has to be compared to San Andreas and Vice City, two games that are better in nearly every way. On the PS2 some of game's imperfections are harder to overlook. With all of the better Grand Theft Auto games on the PS2, Liberty City Stories just doesn't feel necessary.
If you've never played the PSP version of Liberty City Stories then by all means check this PlayStation 2 port out. However, I found that the PSP version of the game was just a much better experience, not to mention that it features sharper graphics and your own homemade soundtrack. For $20 the game may be worth buying for collectors of the series, just don't expect anything on the same level of San Andreas or Vice City.
Liberty City Stories is a great PSP game that didn't need to be ported to the PlayStation 2. If you're in the market for a Grand Theft Auto game on Sony's current generation console it's better you stick with Vice City or San Andreas.