Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series has been around for nearly a decade, yet it is only within the last few years that the series has truly revolutionized action gaming. The release of Grand Theft Auto III on PlayStation 2 redefined the possibilities of game design and subsequent releases have built on this success. Innovations in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have essentially spoiled us into expecting each new title to be bigger and better. Answering this demand, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories delivered big gameplay and flashy visuals to PlayStation Portable. In moving to PlayStation 2, the game retains its solid gameplay; however, it doesn’t necessarily push the series forward. While those who have played the PSP version will find little reason to pick up this port, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is an engaging extension of the series that is totally worthwhile.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories returns to the setting of Grand Theft Auto III, Liberty City, to explicate the events leading up to that game. You take the role of Toni Cipriani, a member of the Leone crime family who comes back to Liberty City after being forced into hiding. Having killed a made man, Toni hopes to reclaim the Leone family’s trust by securing their leadership in the city’s criminal underworld. Like previous installments in the series, Toni will have to break a myriad of laws in order to make it with the Leone family.
By developing several characters that later star in Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories elaborates on that game; however, the story is somewhat mediocre. While the characters are well developed, their interactions seem largely generic. Much of the story gets bogged down by the minutia of Toni’s rise through the Leone family, instead of focusing on major events and players. Important narrative junctures are glossed over rather than explored and made integral to playing the game. When Toni becomes a made man, for example, the game fades to a black screen and returns you to a hideout, trumpeting the completion of the mission. Moments like these prevent the story from living up to its potential; simply put, it’s neither good nor bad, just somewhere in between with it’s colorful cast played out in an uninspired story.
Gameplay involves a combination of missions and general exploration of Liberty City. The cityscape feels familiar, but since the game takes place a few years before the events of Grand Theft Auto III there are noticeable differences: new indoor locales have been added, several structures functional in Grand Theft Auto III are under construction, and a few areas have simply been rearranged. New hideouts have been created in each part of the city (Portland, Staunton Island, and Shoreside Vale); in fact, their locations are superior to those in Grand Theft Auto III . Hidden packages have been relocated, as have weapons, rampages, and police bribes for reducing your wanted rating. Enough has been changed to make it worthwhile to rediscover Liberty City, while at the same time keeping a sense of familiarity.
Missions retain the same structure as previous installments, albeit shortened to accommodate to the game’s original release on PlayStation Portable. Most task you with knocking off members of a competing gang or an important city official; others require winning street races or escorting a Leone family member to safety. Compared with previous iterations of the series, the missions are much simpler and shorter; however, you’ll still find a few interesting additions. For example, one early side mission puts you in the guise of a used car salesmen that must convince four individuals to purchase four different vehicles. Each individual is looking for specific qualities in a car and how you test drive the car impacts whether they purchase the car or not. Missions such as these breathe a bit of fresh air into what is otherwise an extension of what Rockstar Games has already dished out.
On PlayStation Portable, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories suffered minor issues due to a limited control scheme. The lack of a second analog stick and two additional shoulder buttons prevented complete control over the camera and access to advanced actions. With the Dual Shock 2 controller, the added analog stick and shoulder buttons enable better control of the game. The right analog stick can be used to rotate the camera; additionally, L2 and R2 can be used to look left and right, as well as behind when pressed simultaneously. Since the analog sticks can be pressed in on the Dual Shock 2, L3 and R3 are utilized for honking a vehicle’s horn and activating special missions. While these additions may seem trivial, the controls in the PlayStation 2 version of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories are preferable to its PSP counterpart.
Visually, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories isn’t exactly impressive on PlayStation 2. When the game launched on PSP last October, it showcased the power of the handheld; unfortunately, the impact of its graphical presentation is awash on PlayStation 2. The screen is consistently dark and occasionally hazy. At random points in the game, fog will set in making visibility drop down to nearly nothing. Depending on where you are in Liberty City, the screen can become so dark that you can’t make out buildings, vehicles, peopleâ€”even during the day. Textures are limited in detail, although the draw distance is considerably better than on PlayStation 2.
An integral part of every Grand Theft Auto title is the audio design of which Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories largely succeeds. While the game doesn’t boast a large licensed soundtrack, it does host a number of original tracks and a few licensed tunes that are enjoyable. Of course, new commercials and talk radio are the gems of the audio design adding a touch of humor to the game. The voice acting is solid, although you won’t be treated to a star-studded cast.
*The Final Word*
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is a worthwhile extension to modern classic that deserves play. While the PlayStation 2 version isn’t nearly as impressive as the original release on PlayStation Portable, it manages to improve with better controls and a budget price. Murky visuals and rather short missions prevent it from being in the same league as other Grand Theft Auto titles, but it is nevertheless enjoyable. For those who have played through the PSP version, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories doesn’t hold much else for you on PlayStation 2; yet, those who haven’t jumped onto this latest crime spree are recommended to pick it up.
- Overall: 7.7
- A worthwhile extension to modern classic that deserves play
— Tracy Erickson