Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PS2, PSP) – Review

Liberty City Stories Cover (PS2 version)Adapting the Grand Theft Auto games to the PSP seems like a no-brainer particularly to help boost the lagging sales of the portable console, just as Grand Theft Auto 3 was successful in boosting sales of the PS2. Certainly, one can expect certain concessions to be made to work within the limited PSP scheme, but with Liberty City Stories, developed by Rockstar’s Leeds and North divisions, and published by Rockstar games, there may have been too much made in the graphics department and too little in the controls. Furthermore, the game adds little new to what GTA3 provided, making the game feel like a rehash rather than a sequel.

Story: B+

Liberty City Stories takes place some time before the events of Grand Theft Auto 3, and sets up how the gang and mafia control of Liberty City is split as they were in GTA3. You play as Toni Cipriani, one of the top mafia people in GTA3, though in Liberty City Stories, he’s trying to make sure to get on Salvatore Leone’s good side. The game goes through some of the machinations of what happens in Liberty City on how certain gangs achieve footholds in parts of the city, why some of the buildings are destroyed or under construction in GTA3, and the pre-history of a few of the characters. Outside of those connections, the game’s plot is similar to

LCS ScreenshotGameplay: B-

Unfortunately, Liberty City Stories adds hardly anything new to the gameplay from Grand Theft Auto 3. It’s better named as “Grant Theft Auto 3 with Motorcycles”. All of the usual side missions are there (taxi, vigilante, racing, etc.) and there are a few additional side missions such as using a firetruck to wrack as much vehicular damage as possible in a limited time period. But, that’s pretty much it as no new forms of gameplay or the like are brought into the mix. If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto 3, you’ve played Liberty City Stories. Missions themselves are nothing really new, simply follow the dots on the maps and kill those that are in red. (This is in comparison to how Vice City Stories adds several concepts from both Vice City and San Andreas and makes it feel like a much deeper game).

There are a couple of elements that have been added in from other games in the series. Motorcycles are the predominate change, and not only quickly become the best means of transportation in the game, but can make or break certain missions due to the need to perform drive-by shootings on moving vehicles, which is made easy by just shooting the vehicle in front of you on a cycle. The game also adds in the feature of grabbing a taxi after you have been busted or wasted to take you right back to the start of the mission you were just on, should you need to. There’s no planes that you can fly, and there are a couple of boat missions, but that’s pretty much it.

LCS Screenshot 2Now, I originally started this game on the PSP when it came out, but immediately had problems with the controls due to the analog nub of the PSP. While you can map the movement controls to the d-pad, which helps a lot, there’s still a lot of problems with just the flexibility of the controls, the limitations of the PSP, and some of the missions. About half-way through the game’s story line, I hit upon three missions that gave me incredible problems on the PSP: one where you have to shoot off the back of a boat in choppy water, another that required me to torch some papers and then give chase to speeding vans, and a third that required me to take down two speeding trucks in a very short time. All these (as I would find out later) required pretty good finesse with the controls, a task very difficult to do with the PSP. I was able to eventually work through the first two, but pretty much put the game aside after attempting the third one multiple times and failing every time. After picking up the PS2 version and getting to this point, I was able to do the first two the first time through, and I needed to restart once on the third mission before going on. After that, none of the missions were any problem whatsoever, though that’s not to say they weren’t a piece of cake either. But regardless, Liberty City Stories really makes the poor controls of the PSP stand out, and it would have been nice if they adopted more of the game to work around these even further.

The missions aren’t too hard; if you’ve played the other three games since Grand Theft Auto 3, you’ll like zip through 75% the first time without problems. Of the remaining ones, the largest problem I had was knowing the routes that the targets took, something you don’t know the first time you encounter the mission. Even then, most missions took me only 2 or 3 retries to complete. The very last mission in the plot is definitely much easier than the comparable final missions of the other games. As an example, I never had to deal with a wanted level of more than 3 stars, even though the usual 6 star wanted level is there.

The game does little variation from the general progression of the first game; you start on the same initial island (of three), with the bridge to the next island down until a critical plot, then you move to the next island and perform some missions there, and finally have a handful of missions on the last island once it opens up. There’s only a couple of “island hopping” missions in the late game, but at least loading times are much better on the PS2 version and acceptable on the PSP version when you switch islands. However, the lack of variation from Grand Theft Auto 3 in format even makes this game feel like an expansion pack rather than a new game to enjoy.

Value/Replayability: B+

As with the other Grand Theft Auto games, there’s plenty of extras outside of the main plot to do, though as noted, there’s little new here. The main story took me no more than 15 hours to complete, and based on the extra side quests I found, you probably can get another 10 hours out of the game. Many of these are the same as from the other GTA games, and thus may not be that unique to really merit a full playthrough.

Graphics: C+

The game is designed to work for the PSP. As such, the graphics take a step back from the original Grand Theft Auto 3 for the PS2, reducing the detail of the models slightly but very obviously when it comes to the character animations, and reducing the detail of the textures. For the most part, it looks fine, but the game is build to deal with the slow refresh rate of the LCD screen on the PSP, in that it specifically appears to use some features to help reduce the effects of ghosting. While this is great for the PSP, it has the same appearance on the PS2, making it look like ghosting has been added in on purpose and definitely a bit disconcerting. The lower-resolution textures targeted for the smaller PSP screen are more obviously out of place on the PS2 version as well. Draw distances are definitely shorter and it is very easy to move faster than the loader can keep up with, causing buildings to just pop up in front of you if you’re racing on the fastest cars or motorcycles in the game. That said, the lower graphics do help to make the PS2 loading times when switching islands pretty fast, and the PSP loading times aren’t terrible either.

Audio: A-

All the same sound effects from the GTA series are present, and those are fine for what they are. The game features a good number (though smaller) of radio stations like the other GTA games, though following Grand Theft Auto 3 more, all the non-classical music is written specifically for the game and no licensed music is used. Voice acting is good, though not all of the original voice actors for the same characters in Grand Theft Auto 3 return here, and there’s not many top-tier actors that both Vice City and San Andreas have.

Overall: B-

If you’re really itching for some Grand Theft Auto action before GTA IV releases this fall, Liberty City Stories will at least whet your whistle a bit, though certainly falls sort of really sating your palette. It’s mostly a rehash of Grand Theft Auto 3 with minimal additions, and the accommodations made for the PSP limit some of the game’s features. While the GTA formula itself is not a problem, the lack of any changes to this formula makes Liberty City Stories a game to rent or try first before buying.

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