Grand Theft Auto - Liberty City Stories

Grand Theft Auto - Liberty City Stories

Written by Cyril Lachel on 11/10/2005 for PSP  

This year the Grand Theft Auto series has come under a renewed battle waged by politicians, parent groups, and a certain Florida lawyer.  These days it seems like Rockstar’s popular gangster-simulator is nothing more than a lightning rod for media attention; a poster-boy for everything that is wrong with modern day video games.  But despite its bad reputation, Grand Theft Auto has always managed to come through with a compelling story, an exciting world to explore, and plenty of immoral activities to waste your time with. 

Completely ignoring the assault against the series, Rockstar Games proudly brings us a brand new Grand Theft Auto game ... only this time it’s for your Sony PSP.  Although this is not the first time we’ve been treated to a GTA game on a portable game system it is the first time we’ve experienced a fully 3D world on the go (both the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance titles used the old-style 2D world).

Right up front there’s a question on just about every PSP owners mind: does Liberty City Stories still feel like a Grand Theft Auto game?  Can they really pull off a full city (with all the music, voice acting, and mini-games we’ve come to expect from the console titles) on one of those dinky little UMD’s??  Thankfully the answer on both counts is a resounding yes!  This is an amazing experience that manages to fit just about everything we love about Grand Theft Auto into one portable game.

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 four 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, LBC 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.

The game itself works as something of a cross between Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City, combining the best elements of both games to make a real sharp PSP game.  These changes mean that you will finally be able to race through the streets on your own motorcycle, you’ll be able to enter certain buildings for even more exploration, and you’ll be able to choose what get-up you want to wear (including everything from a jogging suit to something that would have been worn in Scorsese’s Goodfellas).  Those who went through San Andreas recently may be disappointed that this game does not feature many of the additions we’ve grown to appreciate – such as climbing over fences, swimming, and flying airplanes.  Thankfully the game is so packed with content that it won’t take long before you’ve completely forgotten about some of those missing additions.

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.

Although most of us have already visited Liberty City, it’s hard not to be impressed by this handheld game.  Four years ago when I was meeting Tony Cipriani for the first time, I would never have believed that they could fit an entire Grand Theft Auto adventure on a handheld system; it’s a testament to both the developers of the game and the PSP for being able to pull off such an impressive first-generation title.

Seeing as it’s meant to be a portable game, Rockstar has gone ahead and made Liberty City Stories a little more accessible for those who only want to play for a couple of minutes at a time.  Obviously there are all kinds of short mini games (including a few that aren’t all that short), but even the missions themselves have been condensed to make them easier to bust through for those on a limited schedule.  It’s not that there are less missions to complete in the game, but the missions themselves are often a little simpler (and shorter) than their console counterpart.  You will be doing the same kinds of things you’ve grown used to in other GTA titles, but most missions can be completed in only a matter of minutes, unlike a few of the lengthy challenges in San Andreas.

Another thing you will notice about this portable GTA is that it’s a little harder to control than we’re used to.  The various vehicles still feel the same (for the most part), but some may run into trouble running around town on foot.  A large part of the problem is due to the PSP’s lack of buttons, there just aren’t enough buttons to facilitate a working manual camera system, which leads to some very unfortunate camera angles.  This aspect of the game didn’t give me too many headaches, but it’s clear that it was a problem they weren’t able to iron out before finishing the game.

The loose car controls and strange camera angles are easy to get used to, but there is one problem with this version that should have been the top priority for Rockstar – aiming!  Aiming your weapon in Liberty City Stories is not all that different from aiming in earlier Grand Theft Auto titles, but there are some strange quirks that make it a real chore to blast through hordes of enemies on the PSP.  For one thing, when you pull the R-Trigger to aim it doesn’t always mean you will point your gun at the right person.  You are able to select different targets by pushing left and right on the directional pad, but even that comes with some problems – mainly that you are cycling through tons of targets while being shot at.  Worse yet, you can’t actually run and aim your gun at the same time, which pretty much leaves you as an open target at all times.  You will learn fairly quickly that it’s better to just use large, powerful weapons instead of the small stuff you get early in the game.

Thankfully this is just about the only real negative thing about Liberty City Stories, and even that isn’t all that bad when you get used to the way it works.  Considering that every other aspect of this game is top notch, one hopes that future GTA titles on the PSP will give players a little more control over who they shoot.  It would also be nice to be able to look around without holding down a button (and standing still), but I fear this may have more to do with the system’s lack of a second analog stick.

But make no mistake about it, regardless of how the game controls it still feels like a Grand Theft Auto title.  It’s still a whole lot of fun to race through the streets of Liberty City, to cause all kinds of chaos and get the cops (and FBI) after you.  Everything that you loved about the console GTA’s is represented here and believe me, it’s just as much fun to flee from the fuzz on a portable system.

Although the graphics are nowhere as detailed as what you would find in WipEout Pure or many other PSP games, Liberty City Stories is a good looking game … good looking in that Grand Theft Auto kind of way.  Sure a lot of the characters are kind of blocky and some of the backgrounds aren’t much to look at, but everything moves at a nice brisk speed and the animation is generally pretty good.  There are a few occasions where the game will pause for a second, but you only really notice it when you change a radio station or wreck a bike … and even then it’s not really that big of a deal.

As you would expect, Liberty City Stories features a number of different radio stations.  Even though we’re dealing with a smaller UMD disc Rockstar has still managed to load the game with an impressive amount of music.  We actually more radio stations in this game than we did in Grand Theft Auto III (10 vs. 9), each with a good 6 to 8 songs.  Unfortunately the songs themselves aren’t nearly as recognizable as what we found in Vice City and San Andreas, which may disappoint some gamers looking to sing along with the game.  The radio stations themselves are very diverse, with everything from reggae to boy bands to techno to rap.  Most of the recognizable names appear on the rap station, the Liberty Jam, including N.O.R.E., Method Man, Big Pun, Raekwon, and even DMX.  Other stations manage to squeak by with indie bands that had street cred in the 1990s, including the Sneaker Pimps and Moloko.  There’s even a radio station that is nothing but talk, including the return of everybody’s favorite host, Lazlow.  As usual the DJs and commercials are all worth listening to, even if you don’t like the music that is being played.

If you’re having a hard time finding something that fits your mood you can always import your own tunes into the game’s custom soundtrack.  Oddly enough you have to choose between the radio and your custom soundtrack (which works a lot like a CD player, just playing one song after another).  I also found that no matter what I did the imported music sounded pretty bad, but it was nice of them to give us the option of the custom soundtrack.

Along with a strong story, this Grand Theft Auto also features a number of great acting performances.  Oddly enough we don’t get the high profile actors found in other earlier GTA titles, but to this casts credit they do an excellent job.  Originally Michael Madsen (Kill Bill vol. 2, Reservoir Dogs) voiced Tony, but this time around he comes to life thanks to Danny Mastrogiorgio, who doesn’t even get top billing in the instruction manual.  Danny may be an unknown name to most people, but he does a good job of imitating Mr. Madsen.  Still, it would have been nice to get a least a couple of big names for the soundtrack.

But there’s one mode that, until now, I’ve managed to ignore completely – the six person multiplayer mode!  While San Andreas tested the water by letting two-players perform certain tasks together, Liberty City Stories goes one step further and embraces a full multiplayer mode.  Found completely separate from the rest of the game, these seven multiplayer games are all very diverse and (for the most part) a whole lot of fun.  We get the free-for-all Liberty City Survivor, we get an explosive game of catch the tank, and we finally have a chance to race through the streets of Liberty City against five friends.  Each of the seven games take place on one of the islands, which is large enough to accommodate some pretty intense action (and some well thought out strategies).  Unfortunately this mode only supports Ad-Hoc play, so anybody hoping to go online will be sorely disappointed.  If you have a bunch of friends that own the game then it’s well worth your time to play through some of these gripping games, there’s a surprising amount of depth (and sixty characters to choose from).

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is not perfect, the controls are a little loose and some of the missions are painfully lame, but that shouldn’t steer you away from checking out the biggest, most ambitious PSP game so far.  With its multiplayer mode, mini games, and lengthy story, this is one portable game that will keep you going for dozens of hours.  Jack Thompson may not appreciate how impressive this first-generation PSP game is, but that shouldn’t stop you from journeying back to Liberty City for one hell of an adventure!

 

With a lengthy story, exciting multiplayer modes, and plenty of white-knuckle action, Liberty City Stories offers just about everything you could want from a Grand Theft Auto game. It has a few quirks, but is easily one of the best portable games of the year!

Rating: 9.1 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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