Review by klov2004

"The smallest, biggest thing you've ever played."

Many gamers, especially long standing GTA fans, were undoubtedly skeptical that a Grand Theft Auto game could make the transition to the portable market and remain intact. Notwithstanding earlier attempts to port versions of game to Nintendo's handhelds, no real "console-quality" GTA had been attempted on a handheld

That was until now as the recent release of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, marks what is - for perhaps the first time - the fullest and most expansive portable game ever designed.

The STORY of Liberty City Stories isn't too different from it's older template (Grand Theft Auto III). You play a mafia underling working his way up the ladder of urban criminal activity through a variety of vehicle and on-foot based missions. The cut-scenes (rendered with the in-game engine as always) are not as elaborate or as well voiced as earlier GTA games but the story does pick up and soon enough a more complex tale emerges.

The GAMEPLAY is pure GTA. I am impressed with the fact that nothing appears to have been watered down or eliminated from the original GTA engine. The classic side-missions (the old "R3" missions or, on the PSP, the "tap direction button up" missions) are back with some new missions as well (selling cars through test-drive missions, picking up trash, etc.). You forward the main story through the typical branching storyline exercise and optional side missions pop up regularly.

The missions are shorter and, generally speaking, easier than earlier incarnations. This was an effort to make the game more portable-friendly and it works, to some extent. Mission variety is subdued early in the game but progressively gets better and better (the author admits he has not yet completed the game - very close - but can accurately say the missions do improve as you progress). 8/10

The GRAPHICS are above-average PSP fare. You will immediately notice three things when you start playing; the framerate, the reflections and lighting and, sadly, "ghosting". The framerate is excellent and it takes an abundance of action on the screen to create any sense that it is slowing down. The car and motorcycle (a new Liberty City addition) reflections are nearing Xbox quality and the lighting is superior to any version that currently runs on the PSPs older brother. "Ghosting" (the tendency for the PSP's LCD screen to refresh slowly and, as a result, create unwanted trails) is apparent early (in fact, it's the most noticeable in the opening cut-scene). Cranking up the brightness (both in-game and on the hardware itself) does reduce this to some extent but the ghosting remains. This minor complaint aside, Internet screen-shots and grainy, blurry videos do not do this game justice - see it in person. 9/10

CONTROLS are a mixture of passable and troublesome. It needn't be said that PSP lacks the controls of modern consoles and Rockstar has done an admirable job of setting up a decent control scheme. In the end it comes down to the analog "nub", how well you can use it, and how sore your fingers can get before you realize the D-Pad option isn't really an "option". Yes, you can remap player and vehicle movement to the D-Pad but resist this temptation. You immediately lose some vehicle control (acceptable) but your on-foot movement suffers greatly (the inability to make diagonal directional changes is the issue here). 7/10

The auto-aim function is still a lock-on lottery (sometimes you target the evil-doers, other times, and elderly passerby). You also have the option of switching to a manual aim that is decent but you won't fall in love with this option.

Ultimately these control issues belong to Sony not Rockstar and you get the feeling that this is about as good as 3D camera control will ever be on the PSP.

The MUSIC and SOUND EFFECTS are both great and, well, acceptable. Great sound effects, ambient noise, pedestrian comments/threats and vehicle rumbles. Acceptable music. Most stations revert back to the original GTA's concept of licensed, but rather obscure, music selections. A couple stations pump out pure, acclaimed music while others are a product of Rockstar themselves. And, the biggest mystery so far pertains to the Custom Soundtrack option which, while appearing as an "unavailable" option in the start menu, has yet to be activated. For more on this issue, simply consult any messageboard talking about this game and look at every third topic. 8/10

Finally, the REPLAYABILITY of the game is unheard of in portable gaming. Hidden packages, races, firetruck missions, vigilante missions, ambulance missions, combined with a great deal of main story missions means this UMD is not being ejected anytime soon.

MULTIPLAYER. The very notion that the GTA franchise's first multiplayer option would occur on a portable is amazing, speaks to the power of the PSP, and works amazingly. I have only had the opportunity to play a 2-player "deathmatch" game for about two hours but in that time I can safely say the the engine runs as if it would during the single-player game and that these two hours were too short. With up to six players, the multiplayer options and variety is simply stunning for a portable game.

Renting this game is simply wasting a rental fee that is best put towards a purchase. If you enjoy the GTA series and can make some small compromises in the controls department, you will not be disappointed; you will be stunned.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/28/05

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