GTA Liberty City Stories Review

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Graphics: 9.0
Sound : 9.0
Gameplay : 9.0
Multiplayer : 8.5
Overall : 8.8
Review by Andy Levine
The ongoing and controversial Grand Theft Auto series has been extremely successful on both the PC and console formats, and now, for the first time, Liberty City Stories allows PSP owners to enjoy a slice of GTA in 3D—and on the go. In this handheld iteration, protagonist Toni Cipriani is caught up in Mafiosi troubles (aren’t they always—ED), and it’s up to him to protect Liberty City from the chaotic underworld. Managing to squeeze all the expected cars, weapons, and free-roaming environments into the game may well have been a difficult challenge for developers Rockstar Games, but they’ve clearly managed to perform a great job while producing Liberty City Stories.

Taking place before the events of Grand Theft Auto III, the PSP’s Liberty City Stories follows the Mafioso troubles Toni Cipriani faces throughout the troubled city. GTA games are famous for allowing the player to travel freely through cities and do whatever they feel like, while still offering a captivating storyline with plenty of missions. Delivering that beloved GTA gameplay to the PSP would certainly be an incredible feat, and Rockstar have accomplished this admirably. For starters, Liberty City Stories essentially uses the same map as GTA III, so the entire game world is broken up into three separate islands again. Saving must still be done at one of your assigned ‘safe houses’, where you will also be able to store cars, change outfits, and pick up certain weapons—depending on how many hidden packages you’ve collected. Vast arrays of vehicles are also available this time around, including gang-exclusive cars like the Sindaco station wagon, motorcycles, and even special objective-based rides, such as the fire truck or ambulance.

As usual, everyone’s favorite gun store, ‘Ammu-nation’ is stocked up on the latest weaponry, and can always supply plenty of assault rifles, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, and submachine guns for your underworld adventures. Access to considerable firepower certainly comes in handy when the police decide to chase you using helicopters, street cruisers, tanks, and anything else they have available. While the local Pay ‘n’ Spray garage will get the cops off your tail, it’s always more rewarding to blow up anything that crosses your path. Just because Liberty City Stories was designed for a handheld platform doesn’t mean anything had to be compromised in terms of content—and Rockstar has certainly remained aware of this. From important aspects, such as the massive, free-roaming 3D environments, to some of the smaller, more subtle, touches like the in-car radio stations, Liberty City Stories is a complete PSP translation of the GTA series.

Probably the biggest concern relating to a GTA game’s development on such a small device would be in regards to the control scheme. Unlike the PS2 controller, the PSP only has one analog stick, so obviously this would make maneuverability slightly more difficult. The analog stick is used for movement, whether Toni’s on foot or in a car. A lock-on system is used to target enemies, but you also have the option to enter a ‘free-look’ mode that lets you aim weapons manually, making it easier to pop tires on vehicles or deliver headshots from long distances. You can switch between weapons using the D-pad, which can be costly because you’ll have to take your hand off the analog stick in the heat of battle, but it’s still relatively easy to quickly find your weapon of choice. The camera isn’t an obstruction to the game’s flow—for the most part—but there are certain instances where it becomes almost unbearable. In any indoor or close-quarters settings, the camera will likely get stuck behind a wall or trapped on some object, which will either cause a severe graphical glitch or mean Toni remains out of sight. Outdoors, the camera occasionally rotates around Toni in the wrong manner so you won’t be able to see directly in front of him, but the view usually manages to center itself after a second or two, so it isn’t too distracting.

The driving physics are perhaps more exaggerated than in other GTAs and, as a result, cars have a tendency to slide and flip over more. If you practice enough you’ll be able to save your car from flipping by steering when overturned, which means you literally see your car turn itself over. Quite an amusing visual. The motorcycles in the game, which weren’t even included in GTA III, can be used to perform wheelies and stoppies at high speeds by leaning back or forward, and although falling off will cost you some time, cruising around on a crotch rocket through a crowded city has never been so much fun. Considering the hardware limitations, Liberty City Stories doesn’t possess any major control problems that drastically detract from the gameplay.

Specific missions aren’t too cleverly designed and seem rather linear, but it’s still entertaining to work for the city’s biggest leaders in crime. Just like in any other GTA title, Liberty City Stories will have you roaming the streets in search of work. Along the way you’ll be responsible for taking care of some important tasks, most of which are resolved in a rather violent manner. Each job—or mission—takes on some unique characteristics, but somehow everything feels as though it was built and developed upon the same foundation. You’ll usually have to drive to a certain location, kill some people, and escape from the crime scene before the police intervene. This can be pretty exciting at the beginning of the game but, after driving around for a few minutes only to be killed in a surprise ambush, the missions start to feel uninventive. Plus, if you don’t pay close attention to the evolving storyline, then the lack of originality will be even more of a problem. It’s not like driving recklessly, getting into shootouts, or preventing drug trafficking, is in any way boring, but the game can occasionally lapse into the realms of repetitiveness.

Luckily, new areas are constantly introduced throughout the missions, and this change in level design makes the game feel fresh for a long time. Sometimes creative missions will come up, including street-racing challenges, assassination missions, and even drive-by shootings on enemy territory. And these entirely new mission structures are usually the more memorable levels. If you’re not a big fan of having to follow specific guidelines, or if you’ve already completed all of the missions, you’ll always have the ability to run around, explore the three islands, and kill until your heart’s content. Going on a rampage is still as fun as ever, and between outrunning the police, sniping unsuspecting citizens, and blowing up helicopters with a rocket launcher, Liberty City Stories proves that you don’t always need some sort of narrative guidance to enjoy a game. Whether you prefer to play through the unoriginal (but still exciting) missions, or if you enjoy being a wandering freelancer, Liberty City Stories is packed with hour upon hour of excessively violent action.

New to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, wireless support for up to 6 players via Ad-Hoc Wi-Fi is available, so you and a couple of friends can come together for some multiplayer mayhem. The multiplayer modes are pretty basic, including game types such as Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill, which can be played as either free-for-all or with teams. If you manage to gather all 6 people, then playing together can be a rewarding experience. However, with only two or three people you’ll spend most of your time just wandering around—which isn’t especially invigorating. With a bunch of unlockable characters and environments, the multiplayer aspect of Liberty City Stories offers some occasional mindless fun, but there really isn’t too much depth here.

Like any other GTA edition, Liberty City Stories has an impressive overall presentation, especially considering the PSP’s slightly limited hardware. The visuals are top notch, including some meticulously detailed character and car models, and the brilliant explosions and weapon effects are always eye catching. The most notable aspect about the graphics would be the actual design of the city; the atmosphere created just by residing in a city is truly commendable. Whether you’re driving on the crowded streets of the ghetto, or if you’re running alongside exotic cars amid magnificent skyscrapers, the visual flare of each environment is stunning. In addition, the audio performance is also excellent. The in-car radio stations appeal to a multitude of musical tastes, ranging from hip-hop to rock, and even some classical opera. The streets are always alive with the chatter of citizens, the honking of horns, and of course the blaring of police sirens. Individual weapon sound effects are also convincing and, once the shootouts really start to escalate, don’t be surprised if you can’t help but turn the sound up all the way. Overall, the audio and visual presentation in Liberty City Stories easily lives up to the established GTA excellence.

In conclusion, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is an astounding addition to the Grand Theft Auto catalogue, and it barely suffers from the supposed constriction to a handheld device. The enjoyable gameplay is back, along with the mindless killing, dirty Mafia work, and—of course—having sex with hookers to regain health. Without a doubt, Rockstar Games has done a fantastic job in bringing GTA to Sony’s PSP. Step aside Jack Thompson, Grand Theft Auto is here to stay.