Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories Review
GTA: Liberty City Stories takes place in - 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 aren't exactly as you remembered them. Bridges have yet to be built, so you'll actually take a ferry from one part of the city to the next. There's actually quite a bit of political turmoil over the ferry system being put out of business by the bridge. It's cool how things like this are woven into the story. You'll 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 - 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 he's 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 it's up to you to get the city under Leone control.
The story is entertaining, but there's nothing terribly original, and it's quite shallow compared to the last view GTA games. In fact, if you've played any of the previous games, it's quite predictable in parts. Anyone who has watched the Sopranos will immediately draw parallels between Tony Cipriani's relationship with his mother and Tony Soprano's love/hate dealings with his mom. The story isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but you'll 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 aren't as involved as previous games, though there still are plenty of jobs that have multiple steps - they just don't get as intricate as San Andreas. Along the way you'll 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. It's 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 you're a mobster, it goes without saying that the police aren't 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 you've 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, SUV's, pick-up trucks, station wagons, jeeps, motorcycles, and everyone's favorite - tanks.
In each part of town you'll 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. It's very frustrating to drive across town for a job, find out you can't do it wearing the clothes your in, drive back to your safe house, change, and then drive all the way back to the job. It's also incredibly inconvenient to not be able to save anywhere, even if you're likely to be playing longer on the PS2 than you would on the PSP - at least you could put the PSP in sleep mode if you wanted a break.
The game's 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 you've grown accustomed to over the years are here, and you'll instantly feel right at home. For some reason, most of the vehicles don't 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 boats...they're a mess.
The only area where the PS2 is lacking compared to the PSP version is that the PSP's 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 can't be too upset.
From an artistic standpoint, Liberty City Stories isn't a whole lot to look at. The characters aren't very detailed and the city is a bit bland, but that's 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 game's 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 wasn't 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 that's 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 doesn't 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, there's 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 - Rap, rock, pop, and even classical music. There are DJ's 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 - it's priceless.
Since Sony dropped the ball on the PS2 Hard Drive, you can't use your own tunes in the game. Don't worry, it was such a convoluted process on the PSP that the feature isn't really missed; plus the soundtrack is really good.
If you're a fan of any previous Grand Theft Auto games, and you didn't play Liberty City Stories on the PSP, there's no reason that you won't have a great time with this game - especially at $20. If you played the heck out of the game on the PSP, there's really no reason to play it again on the PSP, as it hasn't really been improved in any way. Don't 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