Review by UnknownMercenary
"A few flaws here and there, but overall, a solid GTA title no PSP owner should miss"
Ever since the Grand Theft Auto series made the leap to 3 dimensions with GTA3, the series has taken the gaming world by storm, pioneering the violent, action-adventure sandbox genre that has been imitated countlessly since the third game was released. With two successful sequels, Rockstar Games has now moved GTA to the PSP, bringing just about everything that you know and love from the home console versions into the palm of your hand.
GTA: Liberty City Stories (from here on referred to as LCS) is a prequel to the aforementioned GTA3. Taking place in 1998, 3 years before GTA3, you play as former Mafia big shot Toni Cipriani. Gamers familiar with the series, and with GTA3 in particular, will recognize this name, because Toni was one of many bosses that provided you with missions. Toni has just returned home after lying low, having killed a made man. He's back, but times have changed, giving other people a chance to move up above him in the family hierarchy. Thus, you're back at the bottom of the barrel and you'll have to move your way to the top. You're tasked with bringing all of Liberty City under the control of the Leone crime family, and this involves a myriad of plot twists, double crossing and lots and lots of murder.
You'll find many returning characters in this game, such as Donald Love, Salvatore Leone, Maria and Ma Cipriani. Most of the new characters are also pretty wacky, in true Grand Theft Auto style. Many parts of the story explain why things are the way they are when you hit Liberty City in GTA3. The actual story itself, I find, is better than most games in the series (save for Vice City). However, the main character isn't too compelling - he's kind of thick. Toni isn't the brightest of the whole bunch, and he often doesn't ask too many questions.
Visually speaking, Rockstar has done a tremendous job with LCS. Imagine the same kind of graphics featured on the console versions, but compressed to a 420x272 resolution. The result isn't that bad. Everything looks great, from the pedestrians and non player characters to the vehicles and the layout of Liberty City itself. You'll recognize many of the vehicles, although they look slightly different from their appearance in GTA3. This goes for Liberty City itself. The map is, for the most part, the same, but anything that's missing just hasn't been built yet. I'd give a few examples, but then I'd be spoiling the game for you.
To sum up my points on the graphics: they're simply spectacular. Sometimes you'll just want to stop and admire the view. There are a few times when the game tends to slow down or have severe hitches in the frame rate, but this doesn't happen too often, and only when there's a lot happening onscreen. You will also notice that the game uses the same level of detail feature as previous games, where the game will use low quality textures and architecture and load the high quality stuff once you get up close. This might interfere with you a couple of times, when you hit a fence or lamp post that seemingly pops out of nowhere, but it's no huge deal.
Just like with the graphics, Rockstar spared no effort with the audio. The game sounds fantastic. Many of the car and sound effects seem to be recycled, but the radio stations and dialogue are all new. Once again, LCS features a wide variety of radio stations that are accessible in any vehicle except for emergency ones such as the police car or firetruck. These radio stations play music ranging from pop to classical to rap, and they're accompanied by the usual humourous DJ banter we've come to expect from GTA. Also present is a talk show station. Unfortunately, it's not entirely Chatterbox - something I loved in GTA3. Instead, it's split off into several different talk programs that are usually 5 to 10 minutes in length, with Chatterbox being one segment out of many. A few radio stations much their return here, such as Head Radio and Flashback FM.
As for the dialogue, it's about average. The script feels weak at times, but the voice actors deliver their lines well enough to carry the dialogue. Only a handful of voice actors return to reprise their roles, such as Frank Vincent, who voiced all iterations of Salvatore Leone in the GTA games. Other characters, such as Donald Love and Toni, have completely new voice actors. While they don't do a bad job, the difference is really noticeable and distracting at times. Perhaps they thought they could write it off with an excuse such as, "Oh well he was younger back then so his voice sounded different." Let me tell you, Danny Mastrogiorgio - the voice actor for Toni in LCS - sounds nothing like Michael Madsen. Overall, the audio is good, but could've been much, much better.
LCS's gameplay is best described as a hybrid of elements from each 3D chapter in the GTA franchise. LCS has the short, portable friendly missions from GTA3, but brings the vehicle physics, motorcycles, changeable outfits, aggressive police response and weapon selections from Vice City and the improved free aiming and auto-targeting from San Andreas. However, LCS is missing other improvements, such as swimming, climbing and air vehicles, which does take away some of the fun from this game.
LCS plays pretty much like any GTA game on the PlayStation 2. Save for the lack of extra shoulder buttons and a second thumbstick, LCS controls the same way. Camera functions have been relegated to the L shoulder button, but that's about it. You might find the targeting and camera functions in LCS to be tricky to handle at first, but after a while you get used to the quirkiness of the controls. The lack of a second thumbstick means you'll have to hold the L shoulder button to pan the camera, and then release it to pan your character. A few times the lock-on will mess you up, since the game has a nasty habit of targeting pedestrians instead of enemies. However, this only presents serious problems during rampages. Another major control hitch is having to deal with close quarters combat. Often, up close you will find yourself out gunned early on in the game. This isn't a huge issue but it does get on one's nerves. Controlling vehicles with the nub works well enough. Noticeably, the car physics have changed, and bikes and boats seem more sluggish to control.
If you've played any GTA game since GTA3, then LCS doesn't have much new to offer. You're given a set of story-driven missions to complete at your own leisure, as well as an entire city that's yours to explore. You can muck about and get in trouble with law enforcement, or try your hand at a large variety of side missions and odd jobs to make money on the side. Many of the story-driven missions are short, lasting no longer than 15 minutes, with most of them wrapping up at around 5. With shortened mission length also comes shortened mission complexity. Instead of the complex, multi-tiered missions you've come to expect from San Andreas, the game takes us back to GTA3 with a variety of "go to point A, kill these guys, take this thing to point B, rinse and repeat" missions. While these are fun, they don't really get too interesting or challenging until you're about 30 or so missions into the game. Sometimes the game throws you off with a rail-shooting mission, but these aren't exactly new either. However, this makes the game itself very portable friendly, but you'll also have to factor in the time it takes to go back and forth from your safehouse to save/load your game.
As for the odd jobs, many GTA favourites return. You can complete unique stunt jumps, collect hidden packages for monetary and weapon rewards, and complete rampages, which are timed killing sprees. Vigilante, Firefighter and Paramedic missions return, although Vigilante and Firefighter are much more difficult than before since time no longer accumulates. Food delivery missions also return, with noodle delivery and pizza delivery. You can embark on several rail-shooting missions where you ride shotgun on a bike while taking out other vehicles with a provided weapon. You can do a myriad of car and bike races, the latter of which are made difficult by the game's nub control. You can also participate in maddeningly difficult RC races, or try your hand at being a car or bike salesman, play vigilante with a gang of toughs known as the Avenging Angels, or play tour guide and escort cash-laden tourists around Liberty City. There are literally hundreds of odd jobs you can perform. Heck, if you only do the story missions, you still have about 60% of the game to complete. But, if you've played any GTA game, you'll know that there isn't exactly a lot new here either. A large portion of these odd jobs are fun for about five or ten minutes before devolving into mindless tedium. To complete them, you'll usually have to play these odd jobs in one sitting, which usually lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. While completing these sometimes gives you benefits such as increased health and armour points, usually the reward is not worth it - either a new outfit is unlocked or a small monetary reward.
One thing that really distracts from the game are the glitches. Aside from the wonky targeting and annoying camera control, you'll also find that LCS has other problems. Constantly, your brass knuckles or whatever melee weapon you had will disappear during the loading of a game save. Sometimes your weapon ammunition will mysteriously double. A few times gang members or police will attack you without provocation. The most annoying of all of the glitches are disappearing vehicles in your garage. You'd be angry too if you lost your bulletproof motorcycle; of which there is only one in the entire game.
As for the multiplayer aspect, I've yet to try it but from what I've gathered from videos and screenshots, it seems like an improved version of the Multi Theft Auto and SA Multiplayer mods available for the PC versions of the GTA games. There are a wide variety of modes, ranging from deathmatch, a capture the flag variant with cars and street racing. Unfortunately, it's ad-hoc only, so those of you waiting for true online GTA will have to satiate yourselves with Saints Row or keep waiting until GTA4 comes out for the Xbox360 and PlayStation 3.
So, LCS isn't exactly perfect. Far from it. It has it's own share of problems, and takes a real step backwards, especially after San Andreas. Is it a bad game? No. Is it a bad GTA game? Also no. Is it worth getting? Definitely. Any GTA fan, action game fan, or PSP owner looking for a deep, enriching experience that will last a long time will absolutely love this game. In spite of some of my earlier comments, I definitely think this game warrants a score of 9/10.
+ Portable version of GTA3
+ Most of the new features from the sequels
+ Compelling story
- The series' key glitches are still present
- Wonky controls and camera take getting used to
- Short missions and repetitive odd jobs
- Multiplayer is ad-hoc only
Overall Score: 9/10 (Not an average)
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/17/07
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