SONY PSP REVIEW: GRAND THEFT AUTO: LIBERTY CITY STORIES

It's amazing to me that a game like GTA 3 was technically impossible to pull off not even 5 years ago on the consoles and yet here we are a few short years later enjoying another chapter in Rockstar's infamous Liberty City on Sony's handheld; and without missing anything in the translation! The existence of LCS on the PSP is a testament to Rockstar North and the power of the PSP which hasn't seen a game this ambitious yet.

Much like the game development revolution which occured after Rockstar released GTA 3 on the PS2, it won't be long before you see other software teams attempting to raise the benchmark of PSP software thanks to LCS. If you own a PSP I don't have to tell you that the system is in dire need of some kick ass software - I'm certain you're well aware of that fact - and Liberty City Stories fills that aching void. The only negative aspect of LCS is that you'll need to upgrade to 2.0 firmware to run it - which could mean having to give up all of those juicy illicit extras you've been extorting out of your PSP over the last little while. You know what I'm talking about.....Check the net and you may locate some instructions which involve downgrading once you've finished with Rockstar's "must have" PSP title.

They say you always remember your first time and I guess that's why GTA lovers will never quite erase the sites, sounds and smells of Liberty City (GTA 3) from their emotional memory banks. Luckily the three islands that comprise Liberty City made for the smallest game environment when compared to Vice City or the sprawling state of San Andreas, so cramming all of it into the PSP made for a slightly easier, but no less impressive feat than attempting to base the game on recent GTA titles. Everything you remember about Liberty City has been faithfully recreated on your PSP although the game takes place before the events in GTA 3 so certain landmarks such as bridges will be under construction. But other than that, heading back to Liberty City will be like revisiting an old friend. One of those psycho crazy violent friends, mind you, but nevertheless.

Even I was surprised to see how vibrant Liberty City turned out to be. The draw distance is great, the framerate is decent and manages to really hold it together save for when there is a ton of action on screen and no shortcuts were taken in terms of maneuverability, vehicle selection or story. The control will undoubtedly take awhile to get the hang of simply due to the absence of an R analog stick for camera control. The camera can only be moved while your character is standing still which is difficult in situations where you have a screen full of enemies who outnumber and outpower you. The camera hindrance will definitely lead to any number of unfair deaths and your ability to forgive and forget will be directly proportionate to just how much you love playing GTA on the PSP. For some it may be inexcusable, for others a minor annoyance. For me, it was a little of both. What is totally unacceptable however is the games hamfisted lock on controls. Unless you're up against one guy in a back alley, your lock on will target the NPC closest to you and you'll have a helluva time trying to nail your intended target.

Since the heart of GTA has been exploration combined with missions, LCS is no different. The mission structure plays out indentical to previous titles - you'll be introduced to a variety of characters, some of whom you'll already be familiar with if you've played GTA 3 - and a letter will appear on your HUD when their missions become available. Consistent with the franchise, missions range in difficulty from cakewalk to requiring a horseshoe located in your posterior to complete, but you'll always have fun experimenting with a variety of ways to beat them.

All the trappings of the series are here - carjacking, side missions, hilarious radio shows featuring soundtrack tunes and commercials (you'll even hear reports on the carnage you're creating!), car collecting, buying weapons, tons of vehicles (boats and motorcycles included), great voice acting and a whopping array of missions that will most likely take anywhere from 30 - 40 hours + to complete. That's a lot of game to stick onto one disk.

The story hasn't been toned down either, despite the controversy surrounding M rated games these days. It features all of the hallmarks of an M rated title, such as drug use, sexual content, obcenities and of course blood, gore and violence. If you were thinking that Rockstar would cowtow to the critics and release something on the PSP that was a watered-down shrinking violet of a story, rest easy. Liberty City Stories is as brutal and harsh as you've come to expect from the series.

One entirely new area, never before seen in a GTA game which is worth the price of admission alone is the Wi-Fi multiplayer games. There are 7 overall to choose from and chances are since everyone you know with a PSP will be buying LCS, you'll have a posse of gamers to play with. Unlike other games which cram multiplayer modes into small arenas to boost productivity, Rockstar gives you free reign of Liberty City to do what you want in. Weapons are spawned in strategic spots as are some pretty intense upgrades that will tilt the game in your favor if you are lucky enough to find them. The games offered in multiplayer mode are well thought and offer a glimpse as to what we can expect during the next generation of GTA on the consoles in terms of multiplayer. They range from races (8 on each island = 24 in total), a tank mode where you've got the tank and your 5 enemies have rocket launchers, a Capture the Limo mode, standard Deathmatch and a vehicle collecting game to name a few. The lag is fairly non-existent which is darn near incredible for a game of this magnitude.

Certainly not everything is hunky dory in Liberty City, primarily due to the camera and lock on troubles, but while these will frustrate you at a few points during your time with the game, they aren't dealbreakers by any stretch. Everything you loved about Rockstar's flagship title is present and accounted for. Liberty City Stories is a full-fledged GTA adventure with all of the trimmings and more, thanks to the robust and entertaining multiplayer mode. Featuring hours upon hours of playability, the only reason you shouldn't be buying this game for your PSP is because you're under 17. All others should rush out immediately and get a ticket to Liberty City. It's a dirty, disgusting place but someone's got to make it worse.

PReview by Aaron

Grand Theft Auto has been storming the video game world with new, expansive ideas that pushed systems to the brink of overload. Every home console that has had one of these gems of a game have been established systems that get an incredible boost in sales. But how can a game series of such monumental proportions, stand on a handheld system that hasn't exactly sold like hotcakes already? Rockstar is about to find out with a new, portable world just oozing with places to explore.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories revisit our hometown from Grand Theft Auto 3. A dark, cold, unforgiving city called Liberty City. In this city, seedy gangsters and mobs reign supreme with only the corrupt cops and the political system to stop them. That would be a problem, but as Toni Cipriani you can wield many weapons as you make your way up the ladder of the underworld. In hiding after killing a made-man, Toni decides its time to come back and make his return to the world to set his "business affairs" in order.

Toni roams the streets of Liberty City now not only on foot, car and the occasional boat, but now also on motorcycles, a popular vehicle from Vice City and San Andreas. The town is the same as in GTA 3, but because the story takes place a few years earlier, the city is seemingly different. The buildings you may love are now possibly being built, or under different ownership. While you may know the town by heart, and be able to navigate it with your eyes closed, there are all new pathways to master, and now you can enter buildings, a very processor taxing idea.

With all of this going on, many have worried that the game would be a 2-D affair, but Rockstar wouldn't sit down and make another one of those, no, this is a full fledged 3-dimensional game. This also presents a little problem for the developers at Rockstar. Loading times. The little devil you always try and look past, but never can. One person at Rockstar said that they had a 20 second load time at the beginning, and that was accomplished by ordering their files on the disc in an order where the psp could locate the more necessary files sooner. We can only hope this is true, because the handheld gaming community cannot spend all their time in loading sequences.

Rockstar has also said that there would be many safe houses on each island so the player doesn't load, go to a mission, then turn right around and run back to the save point. Does this mean there will be purchase-able property in the game? If so, Rockstar must be pushing the PSP to its limits.

One thing every GTA fan has wished for was also announced…. Multi-player. LCS will have wireless multiplayer for 1-6 players. These games include Liberty city Survivor. This game is pretty much a free-for-all death match with Grand Theft Auto. Another game is Protection Racket. This game is similar to a first-person-shooters assault. The defending team has 4 limos they must protect for the round limit, then the next round destroy the other teams limos. This game is one mainly for the strategy gamers out there from a first impression. Finally, my personal favorite has to be Get Stretch, a capture the flag game. This game is played with the same rules as any other capture the flag game, only the flag is a car.

GTA: LCS will make or break the PSP system, and we shall know which on October 25, 2005.

PReview by Vaughn

Updated Preview: Rockstar finally unveiled some screens, info and a trailer for their upcoming LIberty City Stories GTA offshoot for the Sony PSP. Since the GTA series tends to sell, oh I don't know, let's say a zillion copies whenever a new title appears, we're pretty certain that this little item could be THE killer app the PSP has been waiting for, since it hasn't exactly been selling like hotcakes. Consequently we recently read in the Weekly World News, that "Hotcakes Are No Longer Selling Well" and that gives us pause for concern.

LCS stars Toni Cipriani, whom some might remember as a big deal in GTA3. As you might have guessed, LCS takes place in Liberty City, albeit a few years before the events of GTA3. We therefore surmise that the PSP installment will chronicle Cipriani's rise to the top from low-level thug to big cheese. Make that a big, dangerous, cheese. Like Limburger. The handheld title looks to incorporate all of the coolness of the console versions such as tons of cars, motorcycles, helicopters and the usual assortment of street-whackos. We can't wait. Unlike certain American lawyers who seemingly have nothing better to do with their time except try and futz with your first amendment rights AND whom shall remain nameless, we at CCC dig the GTA vibe. The game isn't intended for impressionable youths who have just left behind Bob the Builder for more "adult" pursuits; it's for gamers who enjoy a fantasty filled romp in Rockstar's askew virtual reality.

Aside from that brief injection of info, that's all we've got to go on. Make sure to check out the screens so that you can be assured that LCS looks as good as anything you've seen thus far on the PS2. If you don't have a PSP already, you might just want to take another serious look at it because when Liberty City Stories hits the shelves, you might be wishing you had invested in Sony's dynamite little handheld. Don't say we didn't warn you!

Story:

There are a million stories in Liberty City. This one changes everything. Once a trusted wise guy in the Leone crime family, Toni Cipriani was forced into hiding after killing a made man. Now he’s back and it’s time for things to be put right.

The streets of Liberty City are in turmoil. Warring mafioso vie for control as the town begins to self-destruct under waves of political corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking and union strikes. No one can be trusted as Toni tries to clean up the mess of the city's chaotic underworld. Deranged hitmen, morally depraved tycoons, cynical politicians and his own mother stand in his way as Toni tries to bring the city under Leone control.

Forced to fight for his life in an odyssey that will shake Liberty City to its foundations, Toni must use any means necessary to secure his place in the leadership of the Leone family in a town up for grabs.

Previous Preview: Rockstar Games, the world-renowned publishing label of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., is proud to announce Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. Developed by Rockstar Leeds in conjunction with series creators Rockstar North, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will be available exclusively on the PSPportable entertainment system in North America and Europe following the European launch of the PSP system on September 1, 2005. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will be shown by invitation only at E3.

"Returning to Liberty City and bringing it to life on a handheld system has been both nostalgic and extremely inspiring for us,” said Sam Houser, President of Rockstar Games. "The incredible PSP system technology allows for fans of the previous Grand Theft Auto titles to revisit Liberty City and see it from an amazing new perspective with an entirely original storyline. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will be a bold new experience that has never before been possible on a portable platform.”

“We’ve been very ambitious with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories," said Leslie Benzies, President of Rockstar North. ”By collaborating extensively with Rockstar Leeds, we’ve been able to create a massive, uncompromising experience on the PSP system that we believe both long-time Grand Theft Auto fans and newcomers will be excited to get their hands on.”

"We have worked very closely with Rockstar North to bring the same integrity and production value of the previous Grand Theft Auto titles to the PSP system,” said Gordon Hall, President of Rockstar Leeds. "People’s expectation for a Grand Theft Auto title will always be very high, and we’re confident that we can deliver a revolutionary experience. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will be the most intense and epic title created for the PSP system, undoubtedly setting the standard for this groundbreaking platform.”

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is an entirely new game in the Grand Theft Auto series and brings an unprecedented mobile dimension to this epic experience. The original storyline and all new missions take place in Liberty City, featuring the interactive, open environment, superb voice talent and diverse music that have become pioneering trademarks of the series.

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System: PSP
Dev: Rockstar
Pub: Rockstar
Release: Oct 2005
Players: 1 - 6
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.5
GRAPHICS
4.5
CONTROL
3.0
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
5.0