Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories was hailed as the “killer PSP game”. The popular GTA series had to make its way onto the PSP sooner or later, and it’s PSP debut is great.
The game takes place, as the title suggests, in Liberty City, which is the city that Grand Theft Auto III (the series’ first 3D game) is also situated in. Rockstar Leeds simply converted the city onto the UMD, and changed a few things to make it look more modern, as LCS is set after III. Having said that, the only real changes are shops, which have different names and styles, which is quite disappointing. A new city to explore would have been much better.
You play as Toni Cipriani, a no nonsense guy who’s willing to do anything and remove anybody in his way. Unlike GTA III, he can talk, which makes the cutscenes better. The basic story mode consists of missions that do tend to get repetitive. You’ll go to a guy on your map, he’ll give you a mission that usually involves killing someone, and you get paid once you’re done. Once you’ve completed enough missions, you’ll move on to the second island of Liberty City. There are three islands in total, and you unlock them over time. It’s a good incentive to complete the missions, but for people who have played GTA III, there’s nothing really new.
Though the game focuses on missions, the free roam ability is truly magnificent. You may find yourself playing it over and over again, and rarely getting tired of it. There is no free roam mode, in fact there are no modes, the game simply loads when you turn it on. Whether or not you choose to engage in a mission is up to you. If you choose not to, you can roam freely around the city, causing havoc, or just exploring. You can also collect a number of weapons, ranging from pistols and UZI’s to rocket launchers, flamethrowers and sniper rifles. You’ll also have melee weapons such as knives and baseball bats. Or, if you want to do some damage from a distance, use a grenade or Molotov cocktail.The amount of weapons in the game is similar to the PS2 versions, which means there’s loads.
The cops are still present, so if you blow off too many heads, you’ll get some heat on you. The cops are divided into levels with the usual system. You have 1 star at the beginning, and if you keep blowing things up, eventually it will increase to 6 stars, and you’ll have the army after you.
The vehicles in the game are again similar to previous versions. Veterans will remember the Patriot, Cheetah, Infernus, Banshee and so on, although some have redesigns which look more modern. You can also have motorbikes, which have never been seen around Liberty City before Motorbikes are generally faster and have better handling than the cars, and make it easier to perform unique jumps, and such. There are no bicycles in the game, which was a nice addition to San Andreas. As you progress through the game you will also have the chance to ride boats. It’s not as fun as it sounds, and it never really has been in any of the GTA games. Boat handling is sluggish and it’s not fun to drive them. You can no longer fly. Anything. Not a thing. The Dodo was a plane on GTA III that was located in the airport, which you could fly, or at least try to. This time there is no Dodo, no helicopters, no planes whatsoever. It really feels like a missing factor, although in one of the missions it is possible to steal a helicopter, so the physics and controls are still technically in the game. Why there are no planes to fly is confusing. The police still have choppers following you, so watch out.
A new mode of transportation is the ferry. It’s basically a slow boat ride and you don’t get to drive the boat. You even have to pay for the service. It is a quick way of getting from island to island though, and you do get to keep your car.
The general controls of vehicles is good. Sports cars have great speeds and handling, and slow cars have reduced turning capacity. The controls on foot have been changed dramatically. You use the small analog style stick to control Toni, and vehicles. The directional buttons are used for changing weapons and starting various side missions. Of course the PSP has less buttons than the PS2 controller, so condensing everything was not an easy task. Sometimes the controls do feel very fiddly and it can be frustrating when you need to target things quickly.
Adding on to the “Toni Can’t” list, is the ability to swim. Implemented in San Andreas, this feature is absent. It’s only really missed when you fall off a cliff into the water, as you could swim to the side and get out. Instead, Toni simply drowns. All of the abilities to increase stats are no longer present, but it’s not particularly missed.
Toni can change clothes, and there are some nice options. He is unable to change specific body parts, instead you choose from full suits. Though changing clothes is a small part of the game, you probably would never notice this option if it wasn’t required for some missions.
If you don’t want to do any main missions, you can engage in some of the side missions. Famous in all PS2 GTA games, these usually involve Taxi missions, in which you act as a taxi driver and deliver passengers before time elapses. Ambulance missions, where you take sick people to hospital. Firetruck missions, which involves putting out fires like burning cars. A new side mission is the dump truck mission. You simply need to collect all the green trash cans within the time limit. All these missions are basically the same repetitive actions. The rewards are worth the effort though.
There are also hidden packages throughout the game in various locations. Nothing new to the series, but collecting all 100 adds weapons to your hide out. Unique jumps are large jumps where the camera changes and it goes in slow motion. When you successfully complete a unique jump, you’ll get money for your effort. While these things are by no means new additions, they are nice to have, and it expands the game.
We all know that the PSP has wireless capabilities, and Liberty City Stories takes advantage of that. The wireless multiplayer action is staggeringly good. You must have friends with PSP’s and copies of the game, but if you do, you’re in luck. The game allows for total free play with your friends. There are many different game modes which adhere to the capture the flag premise. Most of the games work in this way. Liberty City Survivor allows players to play against each other. This is the mode you’ll be playing none stop. Even after you have finished the game, it is unlikely that you will get bored of the multiplayer action.
Liberty City Stories has the same radio themed soundtrack. When you enter a vehicle you can choose from a number of radio stations, all of which have different styles of music. The soundtrack has some known tracks from the era, but nothing too impressive. In comparison with the Vice City and San Andreas soundtracks, this is sub-standard.
The graphics throughout the game are fairly cartoony. The series was never meant to be a simulator, but some smoother graphics would have been nice. Sometimes it can seem that Toni has several legs when you are running. Also, at times the frame rate has trouble keeping up, but only when there is lots on the screen at once. For the most part, the frame rate holds up well. The loading times are acceptable. There is a loading period at the start and then as you cross between islands, a loading screen will appear, but only for a few seconds.
Overall, it’s a great addition to the Grand Theft Auto series, and the PSP line up. You can’t help but feel it’s just a watered down version of a PS2 GTA, or simply an expansion pack, that doesn’t expand on much. Nevertheless, the action in single player, and in particular, multiplayer, is well worth the purchase.