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
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
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!