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.
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