Malik (11/28/05)

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PSP)

From Rockstar Leeds

I, like most other PSP owners, have waited many months for a good game. There have been promises of quality games, but these have led to nothing. Death Jr. was called the must have game, until it was released and showed camera problems that would make the first 3D games look good in comparison. Untold Legends was nothing more than a pointless hack-n-slash Gauntlet clone. Let's face it...this little system that does so much just didn't play good games, due to no good games being present. 

So, with GTA:LCS, we were promised a change. This little game would give us the console experience in a nice to-go package. That's what we were promised, at least. 

I couldn't find it fair to review this game until I had played through the entire main quest. So, after a month of playing through about 20 hours of game, I am finally ready to tell you how it is. 


In a nut-shell, the plot on this game is about as half assed as the first two GTA games (the 2D GTA games for the PC, that is). You are Tony Cipriani. If you don't remember him, he was one of the first few mission givers in GTA3. It is also a few years before GTA3, in game terms. It seems fitting since the game handles like something that would be older than GTA3...but that's for another section of this review. 

You have just returned to town after hiding out after killing a made man. You are finally welcomed back by Salvatore Leone (another mission giver from GTA3, and the leader of the Leone mafia family). He wants your help in taking control of Liberty City. It seems that a couple of other Mafia families are trying to take the Leone turf, and Sal thinks you are the man who can turn things around for him. 

The story never really goes deeper than that. You do make some enemies along the way, and some extra friends. You meet people who you have no idea how they would even know to contact you. You even become a made man. However, in the end, this game just doesn't deliver a plot. It gives some nice insight into some of the events of GTA3; where does the construction site on Staunton Island come from? What about the enigma that is Donald Love? Did the Triads always own the warehouse near the bridge from Portland to Staunton? You'll learn this type of stuff. However, if you want to learn things about the game you are actually playing...well, you're shit out of luck. The story will be vague up until the very which time you'll know what happens just by having played GTA3 before (since it's obvious Sal and Tony couldn't die or be locked away, etc). 

In fact, some of the plot even seems to contradict what GTA3 showed. For example, you learn that Donald Love is one sick f#@$er. However, these revelations don't fit into how he was shown in both GTA3 and Vice City. 

Game Play 

As for the controls, which are the biggest changes (since the PSP has one less analogue stick and two fewer buttons than the PS2 controller), they are pretty amazing. Rockstar took made effort into letting fewer buttons do the same amount of things. You will have some options to tweak the controls (such as using X and Square as your handbrake, or using the L button as the only button to change camera directions in a do a drive-by). You also now will use the d-pad to select weapons while on foot. While many of these changes feel weird at first, they are the best possible solutions for a system with too few of buttons. Overall, Rockstar Leeds knew what they were facing in making a portable version of GTA and they handled this problem with skill. 

However, and this doesn't count against the game since it's Sony's fault, the analogue nub will be a constant source of frustration. In a game which requires precise movements (like when sniping), this nub is not welcome. You will find the game easier to control with a replacement analogue nub ($5 item at EB/Gamestop for a pack of three) that makes it feel more like a PS2 analogue stick. However, through the entire game, you will find Tony walking in diagonal lines and cars steering just a little beyond where you want them to go. So, while this is not a problem for Rockstar, this is a problem for Sony and for all PSP owners. 

As for the game itself...well, it plays just like any other GTA game...well, any other GTA before GTA:SA. You can't swim or climb objects, but you have all of the other controls. You can freely walk and run around the city. You can jack almost any vehicle and drive wherever you want, and this includes jacking motorcycles. You also are able to find countless weapons (well, about 20-30 weapons) to fill a limited inventory of about 8 or so weapon slots. This means, like with Vice City and San Andreas, you will chose what pistol, SMG, assault rifle, heavy weapon, melee weapon, shot gun, and so forth that you are holding. However, unlike GTA:VC, you don't need to fear a rampage, since you will still be holding a weapon after the melee has ended. 

Also, like in the past GTA games, you progress through the plot and unlock new areas by passing missions. These come in two flavors; side and story. A side mission will just add to the percentage of the game you've finished and will give Tony a little more spending cash. The story mission, however, will do all of that and progress the game. The missions, like in past GTA games, will test all of your skills. However, unlike GTA3, VC, and SA, GTA:LCS will not test them with any more excitement than a school exam. 

Missions will, until the very end, play out in one of a few basic flavors. A driving mission will find you driving to point A and then to point B. A point C may show up...but that's only on the more exciting driving missions. A shootout mission will find you going to a location and shoot everyone that moves...that's it. Last of all are the combination missions. In these, you drive a bit, shoot some people, and then drive away as fast as possible (maybe while being chased). That's it for missions. They are bland, pointless, and way too short. For those who argue that a portable game should have short missions since it's a system meant to be played in short periods, I simply point out that if you pause the game and put the PSP in sleep mode, you are effectively saving your game...even mid-mission. Also, the longest missions you encounter, until the last hour of the game, are between 15 seconds and 5 minutes long. Also, if you doubt 15 seconds, I am not being mission lasted for under 15 seconds. 


It's sad that a game with such a lame plot and a half-assed game play system has the most wondrous visuals you will ever see on a PSP. The visuals are nothing short of what the PS2 put out in GTA3 and Vice City. In fact, some parts of this game look better than Vice City ever did. 

The cars look shiny and new, until you crash them (then they look like they've been put through hell). The explosions look like the explosions of GTA3, but a little more smoke filled. People look far more detailed than they did in GTA3. In short, everything about this game looks better than GTA3. Plus, when you see it on the sharp and crisp PSP widescreen...damn! If only the analogue nub was better and the rest of this game didn't suck, I could've played it, just for the visuals, for hours on end.


This is the other part of GTA3 that didn't piss me off. The music selection of GTA:LCS uses the same general radio stations as GTA3 (same city, so it's only natural), with the same unique blend of unknown bands that really fit the mood of the city. Plus, if you want to use a hell of an annoying process, you can download a custom music program from Rockstar. This will let you add music, from a real CD, via the PC and the USB connection of the PSP, to make custom soundtracks. Overall, this selection of custom and built-in soundtracks makes the game a little more enjoyable. However, it would've been better if the game just read MP3s already on the PSP memory stick instead of requiring two copies of a single song if you want to both listen in GTA and on the PSP menu.

Also, the voice acting is pretty good, considering the actors are all a bunch of no name people. They may not have the elegance of Samuel L. Jackson as officer Tennpenny, but they do pull off the roles they play with plenty of flair and skill. This is definitely the best voice acting in the PSP, and some of the best on any console game. However, you will need to use subtitles, headphones, or crank the volume to max if you want to understand what they say over the puny PSP speakers. Once again, a Sony flaw, and not something that will effect my GTA:LCS review.

Last of all, there are the sound effects. I could try and be descriptive, but I'll just say it with two short phrases; "as good as any other GTA on the PS2" and "DAMN!". They are that good. Even with the puny speakers of the PSP, the sound effects always pack a nice punch.


So, in the end, I can only say a few things. First of all, and this should've been said more in April, but the PSP sucks for games. Between the analogue nub that responds as well as a crack-addicted 2 year old and the weak speakers (and they could've been better...just look at the DS), games will always have an uphill battle on the PSP.

However, as for GTA:LCS, this is the most wonderful eye-candy and ear-candy you will find that can travel with you. The visuals redefine what one would think possible on a portable system. However, the plot and the game play both have too many flaws to ignore. Even with a weak plot, there is enough substance to forgive and forget. However, when the missions come down to pointless exercising on one or two skills (drive, shoot, run, buy a gun, pickup a person, drive faster...), it's harder to forgive. The missions just fail to fulfill a gamer in the way that the missions on even GTA3 (which was never too involved) did. It won't be until the final half dozen missions that this will change, and by then you may have already sold this game off. So, in the end, I am stuck with giving GTA:LCS a pathetic 6.5/10 (I give the PSP a 4.5/10 for being able to run console-style games). It will entertain you for the first two hours, but then you're on your own. It's always hard to give a game from your favorite franchise such a score...but I had to do it. Let the fanboy flames begin!