I must admit that I never thought a game with the kind of scale and freestyle gameplay that made the Grand Theft Auto franchise such a hit could be done justice on a portable game system. But surprisingly, although Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for the PSP has some flaws, all things considered it is just as good as, and in some ways even better, that its console and PC counterparts.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (or LCS for short) places you into the shoes of a former mobster, Tony Cipriani, who has just returned to Liberty City after being in hiding for the past few years. Now that you’re back in town, it’s time to go back to work for the head of the Leone crime family, Salvatore Leone. With this backdrop, LCS is like a cross between GTA III and Vice City, as it leaves out the role-playing elements and South Central gang-war mentality of GTA San Andreas, resulting in a more action-oriented game than one with an element of weight control. And thank goodness they also decided to keep the motorcycles from Vice City among the vast selection of vehicles.
The missions in LCS basically use the same formula as the previous GTA games: steal a car, kill someone, blow something up or complete a task before time runs out. As you may remember, some of the missions in previous GTA games could take forever to complete. Thankfully the missions in LCS are scaled down for the PSP, which means they only take an average of 10 minutes or so to complete. That’s a good thing for a gamer who wants to fit some gaming into his lunch break at work. And let’s face it, that’s half of the people who own a PSP.
The missions’ difficulty have also been toned down and streamlined for the gamer on the go, and amazingly, the classic carjacking-and-creating-chaos gameplay of the GTA series is perfectly suited to the pick-up-and-play-for-a-few-minutes mentality of handheld gamers. There are still tons of side missions such as taxi driving, police missions and races, which you can engage in by answering a pay phone. There is also a new minigame called “car salesman,” in which you take a prospective customer for a test drive and try to convince him to buy the car based on your driving skills. Basically, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories does a very good job of retaining the classic gameplay and style of the series, while adding just enough new material (and quick bite minigames) to change it up from time to time.
Speaking of new material, LCS includes wireless multiplayer support for up to six players. The available modes include game capture the flag, deathmatch and king of the hill, and their inclusion is quite a nice addition to the franchise. With any luck, Rockstar will include multiplayer support for all future renditions of the GTA series, be it for console or handheld system.
Unfortunately, the on-foot mission controls are as bad as they ever were on the PS2, and in this case they also take some time getting used to. There is still a target lock-on function, but it is not very responsive and sometimes targets the wrong person, making it frustrating at times. This is a true shame, because the loose and sloppy controls of the on-foot scenarios really bring down the tight and responsive controls associated with driving a car or motorcycle.
Many handheld game reviews bemoan the port-a-rific graphics of a console-cum-handheld game, but let’s be honest: none of the GTA games have been what you would call “graphically impressive.” They all have some issues with buildings and cars popping up in the distance, mostly due the overall size of the city in each game. Well, LCS is no different. While some of the detail has been toned down a bit, it’s still somehow on par with the PS2 versions due to the clarity and sharpness of the PSP screen. You do encounter slowdowns from time to time, but other than that, the game keeps a pretty steady framerate and looks solid throughout.
The in-vehicle radio stations are also just as good as ever, and they feature new hilarious talk shows, DJs and a rather wide variety of music. Much like the console versions of GTA, you may just find yourself driving around just to find out what crazy thing the talk show host will say next.
And that, perhaps more than anything, underscores what Rockstar has been able to do with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. Somehow they were able to create not only an enjoyable experience, hampered only by some sloppy controls, but a surprisingly faithful handheld translation of a console and PC hit. Any fan of the GTA series will want to pick this up, if not anyone who owns a PSP in general.
- Gameplay: 7.5
- The driving controls are tight, the on-foot controls are not.
- Graphics: 8.5
- Looks as good as the PS2 version.
- Sound: 9
- Top-notch sound effects and the radio stations are great as expected.
- Replay: 10
- Once you beat it, you can freestyle the city forever.
- Overall: 8.8
- On par with GTA III and Vice City, and it includes multiplayer. Fans of the series should just go get it now.
— Randie Kilgore