Monday, November 7, 2005
Good: A full portable GTA experience, Vice City elements implemented into Liberty City
Bad: Nothing really new, hindered control, some graphical ghosting
Might as well be: GTA III Episode I
It's been almost exactly four years since gamers were introduced to Liberty City in GTA III, and things haven't changed much. The mafia is still a heavy presence, crime runs rampant, and those bridges are still constantly under construction. Instead of the nameless, voiceless wonder we controlled back in 2001, we now have Toni Cipriani (who looks very familiar to the old character). Things take place in 1998, a few years before the events of III, and you can expect to see many familiar faces.
For those that have played the Grand Theft Auto series (I'd assume this includes the large majority of the gaming audience), there's not much new to see here. Liberty City is still divided into three portions, and gameplay is entirely the same. Your radar will indicate several different story missions, depending on who you're working for at the present time. Toni will drive to the designated point, receive his instructions, and be on his way to kill some gang members, destroy rival vehicles, or win a race. This should be business as usual for anyone who has played GTA. I only wish that missions had more purpose and direction, considering that a large amount of them are menial tasks such as giving people rides or "Assassinate 20 rival gang members!".
Fortunately, GTA: LCS utilizes almost all of the improvements that GTA: Vice City introduced. Toni can shoot out tires, snipe drivers, dive out of moving cars, etc. The entire property management system from Vice City and San Andreas has been omitted, however. There is one designated save point per island, and Toni can use these to save his game, regain health, and change clothes. While Liberty City has definitely changed since 2001, don't expect to see the insane micromanagement that San Andreas introduced. There's no interactive barbershop, weightlifting minigames, or girlfriend features on this version (and obviously no 'hot coffee' to be found). Simply imagine Vice City running on a PSP, albeit set in Liberty City, and you'll have a good idea of what to expect.
It's truly impressive that Rockstar managed to fit a full-fledged Grand Theft Auto game onto a portable system. If LCS was released on PS2 as a sequel to GTA III shortly after its release, no one would have complained. There are enough new missions to keep hardcore fans busy, and offers a bit of backstory to those that actually care about the narrative. Rockstar did a horrible job of bringing Midnight Club 3 to the PSP, as it featured nearly 2-minute load times. These load problems have been ironed out with LCS, which plays smoothly for the most part. Every once in a while, the graphics and framerate will hiccup when there's too much happening onscreen, but these moments are few and far between. Everything behaves almost identically to the console versions of the game, although with a smaller amount of pedestrian dialogue. Hidden packages and unique jumps are still scattered throughout the city, and boost potential replay value. As with the other GTAs, it will take a long, long time to reach 100% completion of Liberty City Stories.
Voice-over work is not nearly as impressive as the last couple of games in the series. You'll find no James Woods or Ray Liotta in Liberty City Stories. The biggest name is Frank Vincent, who reprises his role as Salvatore Leone, the crime boss from GTA III. Liberty City Stories unapologetically borrows storylines, stereotypes, and characters from such mob classics as The Sopranos, The Godfather, and Goodfellas. It's clear by now that the guys at Rockstar are huge fans of pop culture, and there's tons of blatant homages and subtle nods to these classics.
Visually, Liberty City Stories looks almost exactly like its console brothers. The aforementioned graphical hiccups are the only real glitch, although you'll run into a small amount of ghosting as well. Sound effects sound decent coming out of the PSP speakers, but they feel like recycled gunshots, engines, etc from every other GTA.
Controls are virtually identical to the console versions, but are hindered by the fact that the PSP features less buttons than a Dual Shock. Looking to the left, right, and behind while in-vehicle is much harder, and forces you to hold the L trigger while pressing different analog directions. Drive-by shootings are obviously much harder because of this change. The ability to look behind you by pressing R3 is gone, as is the ability to quickly choose between targets and weapons with the PS2's shoulder buttons. These functions are now the responsibility of the D-pad, which is far more unwieldy.
Considering the giant drought of any killer apps for PSP, it's nice to finally have one. Liberty City Stories can be picked up to play for 3 or 4 minutes, and it can just as easily be played for 3 or 4 hours. In no way is this title anything less than a full-fledged Grand Theft Auto game, which is impressive considering it's on a portable. A definite must-buy for PSP owners looking for something worth playing.
First Play: B+
Last Play: A-
Overall: 90% A-