12 Dec, 2005

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories Review

PSP Review | We return to Liberty City for another story.
It’s hard to believe that Grand Theft Auto III was released four years ago, banned and then re-released shortly after. The game has spawned many imitations and ultimately none have come close to matching the original. The title finally made an appearance on the Game Boy Advance last year, and it’s simply incredible how far gaming has come since then. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is the first time the series has made an appearance on a handheld in 3D - is the experience just as fresh, memorable and addictive as the console versions, or have we been seriously disappointed?

Liberty City Stories it is actually a prequel to the game and is set in 1998. Players assume the role of Tony Cipriani. Tony has returned to Liberty City and the Don, Salvatore Leone, quickly sets him back into work. The story continues from there with traditional Grand Theft Auto gameplay where you meet new characters and carry out jobs for them along the way. The storyline is a little shorter than the other games and isn’t quite as deep either.

Motorbikes, one of the new additions to Liberty City

Motorbikes, one of the new additions to Liberty City
For the first time in a Grand Theft Auto game, the city is not entirely new. All the action takes place in Liberty City - which is basically the city found in GTA III. While some people may find this to be an advantage, others may find the lack of a new city disappointing. This is because the experience feels familiar immediately, and a lot of the time a lot of the fun in GTA comes from exploring all the new areas. Having the same city is also an advantage, because anyone who played GTA III will be able to find their way around without any hassle at all.

LCS takes two steps forward and one step backward in the transition to the PSP. The game engine itself is almost identical to that seen on the PS2 GTA games, which itself was outdated years ago. The controls have been refined for the PSP, and picking them up is extremely simple. Anyone who has spent time with any of the other titles with have no problems picking up the controls because they are instantly familiar. For example, the triangle button still hops into cars and the circle button still shoots. It’s reassuring to be able to play a PSP game and not have to go through the instruction manual to look at how the controls are set out. There are some issues with the lack of buttons; scrolling through weapons is done with the left and right buttons on the directional pad and running and movement is done with the analog nub. If you want to scroll through your weapons and move your player at the same time, it's better to pause for a second to change your weapon.

Some of the new aspects that were in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are in LCS, whereas some aren’t. Tony is once again unable to swim and he will immediately die if he encounters water. The deep customisation options from the predecessor such as eating and exercising to build up your stats is noticeably absent, but we’re not surprised by these omissions. Motorbikes are in the game, the instruction book provides a basic explanation why the motorbikes are present in this game and weren't in GTA III. A protest group known as A.R.S.E (American Road Safety for Everybody) believes they kill people and therefore need to be banned. It's a fairly basic explanation but it's better than nothing

The police are also able to shoot out your tires and lay road blocks to stop you in your tracks. So, whilst the game isn’t essentially a port, it is very similar to GTA III and considering it is one of the most acclaimed titles ever, this isn’t a bad model to base the game on. In terms of weapons there is a larger selection available, with three sets available. All of the favourite weapons from the PS2 version have made the cut with no noticeable exceptions.

The biggest addition to the game is the AdHoc multiplayer support. Whilst there was a bare bones attempt at multiplayer in San Andreas, the multiplayer in Liberty City Stories puts it to shame. In total there are seven multiplayer modes, demonstrating that Rockstar have put a lot of thought into this aspect of the game. Multiplayer can be activated at any time through the main menu of the game and is very easy to execute. Both players must own a copy of the game, which is understandable considering the size of the city. The most addictive multiplayer mode is Liberty City Survivor, which is literally a battle to the death. Other game modes involve you trying to steal an opposing gangs car, destroy vehicles at other opponent’s bases and drive through the checkpoints to get through the finishing line. There is wireless support for up to six players, so we can imagine this game will quickly become a multiplayer favourite. The multiplayer mode is definitely a highlight and we’re hoping that it is incorporated into future incarnations of the series.

A familiar backdrop

A familiar backdrop
However, no game is perfect and Liberty City Stories is no exception. The game engine is becoming outdated now, and because of this there are problems with the gameplay at times. At times the frame-rate is inconsistent and can drop in quality. The camera work is fairly average and often gets in the way of you trying to pass a mission. Sometimes when you’re driving along it is possible to see the road rendering in front of you. Whilst the controls are sufficient enough, they still need some honing and it isn’t always possible to easily select your desired target. These complaints have been mentioned for all the previous GTA games and yet it seems we’re no closer to these issues being addressed. As is the case with most Grand Theft Auto games, there are also a few glitches in the game such as the ability to blend into walls and get stuck near objects or buildings occasionally.

However, when you’re having this much fun an occasional drop in frame rate or camera problem is unlikely to leave you too concerned, unless you’ve just failed a mission because of it. Grand Theft Auto fans know that only 50% of the game is in the storyline, with rest of the appeal lying in the completely free roaming environment. The most impressive part of Liberty City Stories is the fact that those extras like hidden packages and taxi missions are all there, with a few new secrets around the place too.

Prior to the game’s release there were a lot of people concerned about how useful the battery life would be with the game, and whether the handheld could cope with what were traditionally long loading periods even on the PS2. When navigating between the three islands there, will be about a five second pause, as well as the long initial loading period. When you exit your PSP from sleep mode the game will load or about two seconds as well. Overall, the loading is fairly impressive and no more than in the PlayStation 2 games. It would also be fair to assume that a lack of loading means a lot of data is being streamed off the disk. Despite this, the battery life is also fairly reasonable and the game will last about four hours off a single charge. Loading and battery life could have been a serious problem for the game, but Rockstar have done well to eradicate any complaints with either the loading or the battery.

Taxi missions are back in action

Taxi missions are back in action
Graphically the game is very similar to Grand Theft Auto III. None of the characters or environments in the game are particularly well modeled and the characters still move a little stiff, but the impressive part of the game is the city which looks absolutely amazing. There are also environmental effects in the game like rain, fog and lightning which all add a bit of variation to the city.

The audio is one of the best parts of the game and Rockstar have taken the opportunity to look “forward” to the millennium in some of their radio stations, and predict how the year 2000 will affect Liberty City. It is this type of humour that is unprecedented and still isn’t matched by any other title. There are twelve radio stations in total, as well as the option to download a program from Rockstar’s website which allows you to use custom soundtracks in the game. Liberty City Stories is only the second PSP game to do this (the first being V8 Supercar Race Driver 2) and it’s very cool being able to listen to your own music in the Grand Theft Auto universe. A lot of people may not want to listen to the custom soundtracks, but sometimes a lot of the humour in the game comes from the radio DJ’s. The radio stations all feature entirely new recordings, which will please those who listened to Lips 106 religiously. The voice acting is all high quality as well, helping to fuel the storyline, but takes a back step to the radio stations which are still just as incredible as they always have been.

The main story mode isn’t as long as we’d hoped, but will still take over ten hours to complete. The story isn’t even half of what the game has to offer, and to complete the game 100% you will need to find all the hidden packages, complete the taxi missions and more. This game has such an incredible amount of content in it that it could keep you going for months, and in between doing these missions you’re likely to get distracted by the free roaming environments and just muck around stirring up the police and causing complete carnage. The multiplayer mode helps to significantly add to the lifespan as well, and if you have a friend with a copy of the game you will be playing this in multiplayer a lot simply because it’s such incredible fun.

The beautiful sunset

The beautiful sunset
We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were playing a handheld game. Liberty City Stories is best described as Grand Theft Auto III with multiplayer, motorbikes and custom soundtracks. The Grand Theft Auto franchise has finally been justice on a handheld, and in doing so Rockstar have managed to prove just why the series is so incredibly popular and why it inspires so many imitations. Anybody who purchased a PSP just for this game (and we can imagine there will be a few) is sure to be pleased, as this is the next chapter in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. The game isn’t flawless and isn’t going to hold your attention as long as San Andreas or Vice City, but when you’re having this much fun in multiplayer or alone you’re unlikely to care. It’s just scary to imagine how far we’ve come in portable gaming since Grand Theft Auto III hit the Gameboy Advance just last year.
The Score
Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories is one of the most impressive handheld games ever and a true followup to Grand Theft Auto III. Whilst the game isn't as impressive as San Andreas, it's still incredible and some aspects that were missing from GTA III have been included in LCS like motorbikes and more aggresive police. This is one of the supreme reasons to own a PSP. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories Content

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10 Jan, 2006 We like our motor bike.
8 years ago
9.0 icon_surprised.gif

I appreciate the second opinion given, to put a broader scope on the game.I knew it would score well, just not......this well.

8 years ago
Surpising? Its gta in 3d on a hand held a living breathing city in your palm quite an achievement we can now see what the psp is capable of lets see some more great games.
8 years ago
It's gta in 3d(again....) on a handheld.I'll give due credit that's it's quite the technological breakthrough, staggering even to see a game of it's size and graphics with small load times on handheld.

Though, this does not strictly mean it's deserving of a 9 straight off the bat.Gta, to me anyway, is starting to stagnate and even with all it pro's, rockstar really should have put some elbow grease in and made a new game and taken some risks, rather than essentially porting an old game.

After all that's said and done, the wow factor of having gta in the 'palm of your hand' will wear off quickly, and beyond that there needs to be a bit more imo.

Edit-take two.....rockstar jibbs you clown.
8 years ago
The PSP lineup has been dissapointing as of late. I stopped playing my DS for a while when I got it, but have since learnt the error of my ways.
8 years ago
Yes good points but we would have been waiting a long time for them to develope an all new gta fingers crossed there is a new one on the way. It shows companys that huge games are more than capable on the psp and that is no small acievement i think the score of 9.0 is fitting.
8 years ago
I think it was a given that this title would be good, no secrets there. I just wanted to say two things, one being that I will definitely be getting this alongside my PSP purchase. Whenever that will be.

Two, I really hope that we don't see a San Andreas styled game for the next PSP GTA. A complete new one thanks Rockstar, just so you don't start getting boring. icon_smile.gif
8 years ago
I got it early thanks to GameTraders.

I agree with the 8.0 scoreline. It was a good game no doubt but it did feel like a stepback after GTA San Andreas.

Then again I only played about 2 hours before getting bored and moving onto Mario Kart DS so maybe I gave up right when it was getting good.
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