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Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Graphics: 6.8
Gameplay: 8.3
Sound: 8.8
Control: 8.4
Replay Value: 7
Rating: 7.7
Publisher: Rockstar
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Number Of Players: 1 Player
A year after the PSPís launch itís amazing how many games have been ported from the PS2 to the handheld. One thing that hasnít been done, however, is to bring a PSP game to the PS2, (though technically GTA3 was on the PS2 and Liberty City Stories was an extension of that game). Regardless of how you look at it, GTA: LCS was an impressive feat on the PSP, and now it is being released as a $20 game for the PS2. If you havenít played the game on the PSP itís certainly worth the cash, but donít expect as robust an experience as San Andreas.

GTA: Liberty City Stories takes place in Ė you guessed it, Liberty City which is loosely based on New York City. This is the same setting as Grand Theft Auto III, but it takes place a few years earlier, so things arenít exactly as you remembered them. Bridges have yet to be built, so youíll actually take a ferry from one part of the city to the next. Thereís actually quite a bit of political turmoil over the ferry system being put out of business by the bridge. Itís cool how things like this are woven into the story. Youíll even hear on the radio how there is a group of citizens that wants to ban motorcycles from the city because they are so dangerous Ė a nod to those people that are wondering why there are motorcycles here and not in the game that took place a few years later in the GTA timeline.

The story follows the exploits of Tony Cipriani a member of the Leone crime family, who has recently come back to Liberty City after being forced to lay low for a few years after whacking a made man. After coming back heís unhappy about being forced to be the errand boy for Vincenzo, who Tony has no respect for. Eventually Tony works himself back into the good graces of Salvatore Leone, becoming his most trusted ally. The embattled leader of the Leone family is not only fighting other gangs for turf, but also taking heat from politicians, including the mayor. Needless to say, neither Tony nor Salvatore is going to take things lying down, and itís up to you to get the city under Leone control.

The story is entertaining, but thereís nothing terribly original, and itís quite shallow compared to the last view GTA games. In fact, if youíve played any of the previous games, itís quite predictable in parts. Anyone who has watched the Sopranos will immediately draw parallels between Tony Ciprianiís relationship with his mother and Tony Sopranoís love/hate dealings with his mom. The story isnít bad by any stretch of the imagination, but youíll usually know who is going to cause you trouble and who is going to end up dead before it happens.

As you would expect from a Grand Theft Auto game, you can pick and choose what missions you want to tackle, and for the most part, how you are going to accomplish them. Since the game was developed with the fact that people would be playing the game in shorter sessions on the PSP, most of the missions arenít as involved as previous games, though there still are plenty of jobs that have multiple steps Ė they just donít get as intricate as San Andreas. Along the way youíll have to assassinate rivals, steal cars, pick-up drugs, blow up buildings, escort hookers, collect money, intimidate rivals, and a variety of other tasks. In addition to the main objectives you can race cars and bikes, become a car salesman, drive a taxi, ambulance, fire truck and police car. Itís easy to spend hours driving around looking for hidden packages, weapons, and hot cars, or just tooling around getting to know the city. In fact, just driving around causing mayhem for no particular reason is one of the best parts of the game.

Since youíre a mobster, it goes without saying that the police arenít big fans of your handiwork. They seem to be quite aggressive this time around and they love to put down spikes to pop your tires, making the cars even tougher to handle than usual. The fuzz are tough to shake, so it almost becomes habit to get your car re-painted after drawing the attention of the man. Of course if you want to fight back youíve got access to a variety of weapons such as: swords, explosives, pistols, rocket launchers, chainsaws, bats, and assorted other automatic weapons. There are tons of vehicles in the game including, sports cars, SUVís, pick-up trucks, station wagons, jeeps, motorcycles, and everyoneís favorite Ė tanks.

In each part of town youíll have a safe house, where you can store vehicles, recoup health, change clothes, and save your game. Changing your clothes is tedious and a waste of time. Itís very frustrating to drive across town for a job, find out you canít do it wearing the clothes your in, drive back to your safe house, change, and then drive all the way back to the job. Itís also incredibly inconvenient to not be able to save anywhere, even if youíre likely to be playing longer on the PS2 than you would on the PSP Ė at least you could put the PSP in sleep mode if you wanted a break.

The gameís biggest issue on the PSP was that the controls were difficult to manage; a problem which is non-existent in the PS2 version of the game. The same comfortable controls youíve grown accustomed to over the years are here, and youíll instantly feel right at home. For some reason, most of the vehicles donít handle very well. Even veterans of the series will find the cars unresponsive and easy to flip over. Motorcycles are far too easy to spin out, and boatsÖtheyíre a mess.

The only area where the PS2 is lacking compared to the PSP version is that the PSPís addictive multiplayer modes are nowhere to be found. If this was a full-priced game I would have expected to have found some new games in their place, but for $20, you canít be too upset.

From an artistic standpoint, Liberty City Stories isnít a whole lot to look at. The characters arenít very detailed and the city is a bit bland, but thatís not news to anyone who spent time playing GTA: III. This was easier to swallow on the PSP, but when playing on a giant TV, the gameís pretty rough on the eyes. The draw distance is a little bit better in the PS2 version, and the framerate seems to be a little more stable, though it wasnít really a big problem on the PSP. The cut-scenes are all real-time, and are well done. Character design is par for the course, but thatís a good thing, as the main characters each have their own unique look that fits the game perfectly; their names are often hilarious as well.

Previous GTA games have been voiced by a number of Hollywood stars, which started an industry-wide trend of getting competent voice actors instead of bored sounding programmers to record dialog. Liberty City Stories doesnít have any big-name talent, but the performances are very good, and on the same level as the previous games.

As is the case with every GTA game, thereís a full compliment of radio stations into the game. Rather than using licensed music, like the last two games, Liberty City Stories uses original music in a variety of genres Ė Rap, rock, pop, and even classical music. There are DJís for every station, and as usual, they have tons of insane and hilarious things to say. The commercials are top-notch; one of the best being the one that pokes fun at licensed kart racing videogames Ė itís priceless.

Since Sony dropped the ball on the PS2 Hard Drive, you canít use your own tunes in the game. Donít worry, it was such a convoluted process on the PSP that the feature isnít really missed; plus the soundtrack is really good.

If youíre a fan of any previous Grand Theft Auto games, and you didnít play Liberty City Stories on the PSP, thereís no reason that you wonít have a great time with this game Ė especially at $20. If you played the heck out of the game on the PSP, thereís really no reason to play it again on the PSP, as it hasnít really been improved in any way. Donít think of it as a sequel to San Andreas; think of it as an inexpensive way to pass the time while waiting for GTA to appear on the PlayStation 3.

6/22/2006   Aaron Thomas