"From a purely technical stand point, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is a smashing success. Rockstar have compromised nothing in bringing their crime epic to the portable front, delivering what has arguably become the PSP's premiere title... but of course, you've played it all before."
Is there anything left to say about Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto? Probably not. Beating a whore to death with a baseball bat is nothing new, but with Liberty City Stories at least, you can do it on the go. It's as such the PSP has found itself the unlikely recipient of the most violent franchise gaming has ever seen, and yet Sony's handheld feels all the better for it. I could wax lyrical as to the title's expanded port status, that however, would be doing Rockstar's effort a grave disservice. It's the familiarity that makes Liberty City Stories so great, and it's the familiarity again that'll keep you coming back for more...
Liberty City: Now portable and packing 100% more whore
From a purely technical stand point, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is a smashing success. Rockstar have compromised nothing in bringing their crime epic to the portable front, delivering what has arguably become the PSP's premiere title... but of course, you've played it all before. Like Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City, and San Andreas before it, Liberty City Stories is the tale of a lowly mobster slowly working his way up the food chain. Snatch this car, kidnap that business man, and drive them both across town. A quick visit to the wrecking yard will let you compact one into the other, and all of a sudden you're the problem solver with an eye on the future.
What separates LCS from its predecessors however, is the way players find themselves in constant servitude to local crime boss, Salvatore Leone. The empire building of San Andreas is out, and being the heavy right hand of loyalty is in. What Salvatore wants, Salvatore gets, and though you're still fielding requests from assorted NPCs, it's the big man that provides much of the story's overall focus. It's also interesting to note that such reduced ambition goes a long way in making these characters seem more realistic, adding not only a camaraderie, but an emotional investment to the action as well. You're going to become a member of the Leone crime family, and you're going to live through the assorted power grabs and back door politics inherent with such a lifestyle. Tony Soprano watch out...
Action-wise, there's not much to complain about as Rockstar have stayed remarkably close to established, GTA formula. Stepping out into the full, 3D environs of Liberty City on the PSP is a sight to behold, a joy that's made all the more memorable once you've had a chance to soak up a few of the improvements. The lighting effects that made San Andreas a real looker provide the extra eye candy, while an expanded line-up of side missions offer an incredible opportunity for extended gameplay. From courier runs to whack jobs, shake downs and bouts of rubbish collection, there's always a new challenge to complete, and a new job at hand. But Rockstar aren't done yet. Taking LCS a step closer to full, new & improved status are motorbikes, scooters, and a high speed shoot out to boot. How could you possibly go wrong?
Now, that's not to say everything's on the up and up as LCS still suffers from the usual list of GTA ailments. Where the PSP's analogue nub holds up remarkably well during extended play, the controls have been let down by some incredibly lose physics and poor definition. Likewise, combat suffers from a range of typical GTA issues, the most annoying of which is the lock-on function. Instead of auto targeting the closest threat, the system selects the closest NPC, usually to the detriment of a wayward whore, and not the angry goon with an uzi.
That being said, such complaints feel like a waste of hot air. We've been living with these problems ever since GTA first entered the third dimension, and in that time they've become an expected part of the franchise itself. Would I have liked Rockstar to put a few of those issues to rest? Certainly, but their continued presence won't affect my enjoyment of the game. What LCS does is provide a complete GTA experience for portable gamers to enjoy, and in doing so, you're left to wonder what else your PSP is actually capable of. Every once familiar street corner has been neatly mirrored, replicating the PS2 classic while avoiding many of the pitfalls commonly associated with Sony's handheld. Load times for instance, have been kept fast and friendly, and though battery abuse was always inevitable, two and a half hours of solid play doesn't feel as bad as it sounds.
And speaking of sounds, what's a Grand Theft Auto without the radio? I don't know either, but with Liberty City Stories at least, you can expect the grand tradition of great, B-list artists and humorous commercial breaks to kick on. Classic GTA3 stations K-JAH, Rise FM, and Double Clef amongst others offer a wide range of musical sounds, covering everything from hip hop to jazz and back again. And though the play-list feels noticeably smaller this time around, it's still packing more groove per minute than most games could ever muster. My only complaint then, would be the number of rings Rockstar expect players to jump through in order to take advantage of the custom soundtrack feature. The complexity of the procedure and technical know how required will likely be lost on the average Joe...
But you know what? Who cares! You'll be having the time of your PSP owning life, running drugs, bribing unions, and generally making a name for yourself. To prove this, Rockstar have gone the extra mile in creating a series of multiplayer modes that while obviously tacked on, extend the appeal of the final product no end. Get Stretch plays like an automotive Capture the Flag, only with 100% more limousines, while Liberty City Survivor is your easily executed, deathmatch variant. Then there's another five modes, each of which plays off standard GTA sensibilities. Quad damage, health boosts, and invisibility have also been included for your gaming pleasure. Neat hey?
To say that I'm excited would be an understatement. Rockstar have shown great skill in pulling off this most impossible of tasks, and they've opened the doors for some incredible sequels in the near future. For now though, Liberty City Stories is it, and its first class presentation has finally shown how great ports can be. If you're looking for a reason to justify the purchase of a PSP, or simply crave your next big challenge, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will satisfy on all accounts. To paraphrase a classic moment from Hollywood history, Rockstar are making you an offer you simply can't refuse. Check it out!
* All new missions, all Liberty City
* The story actually has some emotional pull
* Motorbikes and scooters have been added to the mix
* Same classic, free roaming missions
* An expanded line-up of side missions complete the game
* Improved visuals are a treat on the PSP's LCD screen
* More GTA radio station loving, of course you'll dig that
* The multiplayer modes are an unexpected bonus
* It's truly great to be back in Liberty City
* Targeting is as broken as ever
* Liberty City Stories will drain your PSP battery at a frightening pace
Staff review by Michael Scott (November 27, 2005)
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