Wednesday, December 5

Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories Review

Version played for review: PS2 and PSP
Available on: PS2, PSP
Price I paid: £1.50
Other Notes: N/A

Grand Theft Auto had become one of the most popular game series of the 6th console generation. Despite a few attempts to break into the portable gaming scene, the series had never been able to make a game of the same quality for a portable console. This is what Liberty City Stories aims to change. Using the impressive hardware of Sony’s PSP Rockstar promised to bring a full 3D Grand Theft Auto game to the portable market.

You find yourself playing as Toni Cipriani. Any fans of Grand Theft Auto 3 (GTA3) will know him as one of the Mafia’s top goons. Liberty City Stories acts as a prequel that tells the story of Toni’s rise. I like this idea but in reality, the game lacks any central plot or driving force. Instead, it just feels like a bunch of randomly connected events that just so happen to leave Toni where he needs to be for GTA3. While not actively terrible, silly or cheesy the plot becomes something much worse, boring. I don’t care for the Mafia, I don’t care for the Don, I don’t care for Toni and I just don’t care for this plot. I will say it lacked any upsetting offensive material like a lot GTA games do. This is good but saying it’s positive is like saying a jog was enjoyable because no one beat you up during it. It’s less of a positive and more the lack of a negative.

The best thing I can say about Liberty City Stories is that I love this incarnation of Liberty City. I am aware that a large reason why is simply nostalgia. Between both GTA3 and Liberty City Stories, I’ve spent hours upon hours in this virtual city. When I was a teenager this was always my favourite of the 3D era GTA cities to escape to. Something about how grounded, bleak and urban it is, just appeals to me. Another reason I love this version of Liberty City over the larger more graphically impressive version in GTA IV is its size. This city is tiny, in fact, it’s the smallest city in any GTA game. While normally games boast about how large their maps are I find this smaller city means that every single street serves a purpose. Because of this nowhere in the entire city feels pointless. Even after not visiting it for years I can navigate just from memory because every part of it is iconic. From the docks and red light district of Portland to Middle Park and the stadium of Staunton Island and even the airport and mansions of Shoreside Vale every part of this map feels perfected. Games like Just Cause are impressive with their miles of virtual land to traverse. What they lack however is memorability. I’ve played Just Cause 3 for a decent amount of time but I couldn’t tell you the name of even a single town, village or city in it. This is because you simply liberate them and move on. You never get to stay in one place long enough to form any sort of attachment. This is the advantage of a smaller map, it’s allowed to be more intimate. Visiting this Liberty City feels like visiting a hometown for me. Every street has a story from my past, every alleyway draws out a faded memory and old homes call out to me. While as an adult I have found myself growing less and less infatuated with the Grand Theft Auto series it still helped me out a lot during my troubled teenage years. Whenever I would feel scared of the future, of myself, my gender and my sexuality this is where I would go to feel better. So yea, I love this place. Even if I don’t love the game around it any more.

The combat is very basic often becoming irritating. For a start, the lock-on system is absolute garbage picking targets at seemingly random. It doesn’t matter if Toni is facing who you want to aim at or if the camera is looking at them or even both as who you lock-on to could be behind you or half a block away. This means that very often during combat you’re trying to lock on to someone standing in front of you rattling down your health bar and instead you end up aiming at some random civilian. That is if the game even registers that you pressed the L1/L button at all. When you combine this with the lack of any real cover system fighting even the weakest of foes becomes a chore. Then you realise that around half of the gameplay is combat. The other half is driving and although it’s better it’s not good enough to hold up the game on its own. After coming from San Andreas to this the driving feels much worse here. Cars seem to slide far too much meaning when you try to turn a corner at any speed you either end up crashing or pulling off an unintentional doughnut. During missions with a time limit or target to chase, this gets very annoying. Honestly, I can’t say this game is fun to play because it’s really not. Movement feels limited next to older games in the series with Toni unable to swim, climb walls and more. Then you have the rather sparse selection of vehicles. Toni can only use cars, motorbikes and nothing else. Gone are the days of being able to drive trains, ride bicycles, fly helicopters and/or planes. Sure seeing as Grand Theft Auto 3 lacked even motorbikes it is nice to see them introduced to Liberty City. But this just isn’t enough to allow the game to hold up today when you could just play San Andreas on PS2 or Vice City Stories on PSP.

It’s not just the gameplay that feels outdated as the graphics are also rather lacking. Now I’m not saying San Andreas or Vice City Stories are graphical powerhouses because they’re not. When put next to Liberty City stories through both games outshine it. San Andreas has a vast variety of 3 very different cities along with a country and desert area. Vice City Stories has the beautiful vibrate colours of the Miami-inspired Vice City. On the other hand, Liberty City Stories just feels empty and basic with no real style to call it’s own. Toni himself looks and sounds nothing like he does in Grand Theft Auto 3 which makes the connection all the more worthless. The best thing that can be said about the presentation of Liberty City stories is that it’s not ugly. I would say it’s impressive that it can run on the PSP but to be honest it does so poorly. Pop-in is a major issue with you very often hitting invisible objects that are yet to load in. This is even more of a problem with the motorbikes as once you hit something you couldn’t even see you are sent flying into the air.

While it was impressive that GTA was on the PSP in 2005 it was only a year later that Vice City Stories would come out. Since then Liberty City Stories has been pointless. The story adds nothing to the history of the world. The gameplay is annoying most of the time. Then, worst of all, Vice City Stories has everything Liberty City Stories has but better with more stuff on top. If you own a PS2 and want to visit Liberty City then pick up GTA3 instead. If you want a decent PS2 GTA game then pick up San Andreas. If you want to play GTA on the go then pick up Vice City Stories. Just leave this one alone because you have no reason to play it. It’s pointless for all but the most loyal fans.

Recommendation Rating: 2 out of 10.

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