Revisiting Liberty City on a console that’s small enough to fit in your pocket is nothing short of amazing, even when some technical issues mar the experience.
Long before Vice City and long before San Andreas there was Liberty City, the large town featured in the highly-influential Grand Theft Auto III. Not only does GTA Liberty City Stories allow you to go back to the same place, but more importantly, it let’s you do so in portable form. Revisiting Liberty City on a console that’s small enough to fit in your pocket is nothing short of amazing, even when some technical issues mar the experience.
The game takes place in 1998 and serves as a prequel to GTA III. In Liberty City Stories, you take on the role of Tony Cipriani who decides to return to Liberty City after being forced to live abroad for killing a member of the Mafia. As in previous titles in the series, you accept jobs from members of powerful families, in order to make a name for yourself.
As soon as you start playing GTA: Liberty City Stories, you realize that most of the elements from the series have been translated quite well to portable form. The city itself is just as you remember it from GTA III, though some small changes were made to reflect the fact that Liberty City Stories is a prequel. Needless to say, the painstaking attention to detail so characteristic of Rockstar titles permeates every aspect of the game, including its visuals, writing, voice acting and my personal favorite, its soundtrack. Interestingly enough, the most significant changes are reflected in the mission design.
Missions are really short (most of them shouldn’t take you more than 5-10 minutes to complete) which adapts quite well to the portable format. This is more than understandable, since it wouldn’t be fun to play for 20 minutes only to be killed and forced to replay the same mission all over again from the beginning. The fact that both main and secondary missions are short represents one of the most welcome additions. Luckily, most undertakings have been designed in a frustration-free manner. For instance, an inventive mission has you playing a more twisted version of Smash TV, another one encourages you to get rid of a butcher who refuses to pay the protection money by making him a meat-based product and so on and so forth.
In terms of secondary missions, we have the usual endeavors as well as some new ones. The vigilante, ambulance, fireman and taxi missions are all here. One of the new missions allows you to be a car salesman. In these, you need to sell cars to different types of clients and your task is to take them on a test drive, showing them what the vehicle can do. Some customers are looking for speed, others for resistance and so on and so forth. Other secondary missions allow you to drive garbage trucks, motorcycles or to participate in races. In addition, we have the usual hidden collectibles, massacre missions and unique jumps. If one of your favorite features from the GTA games is doing all the additional endeavors, you’ll be glad to know that this portable version has plenty of that.
Naturally, the controls have been adapted to the PSP hardware. You’d think that the lack of a right analog stick is detrimental to the experience and to a certain extent, you’d be right in making that assumption. To rotate the camera, you have to press the L button and the analog stick. Aiming while in a car is as cumbersome due to the lack of the L2 and R2 buttons, but fortunately, it’s still possible. It’s worth pointing out that the camera is flexible enough, since it follows you around and constantly adjusts its position to provide you with a better look of the action, but there are some problems when you’re moving in small environments.
The rest of Liberty City Stories has everything you’d expect out of a GTA title. The irreverent, tongue-in-cheek and satirical sense of humor has always been reflected through the various radio stations and this portable title is no exception. Although the soundtracks don’t feel as well put together as the ones in its console counterparts, they serve their purpose well enough. The radio stations are filled with hilarious moments and veterans of the series will be happy to know that both Laslow and his show Chatterbox are in the game. Additionally, the shows have a slew of cultural references, including parodies of Dr. Phil and Sting, references to popular films such as Goodfellas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Kill Bill and so on and so forth.
But as soon as the nostalgia of revisiting Liberty City wears off, flaws start to emerge. The most serious issue is the game’s erratic framerate which becomes pretty noticeable when you drive a vehicle at full speed or when there are many objects or people at the same time. In a way, it seems like the game’s detailed graphics are too much for the PSP to handle, totally breaking the illusion of being in a living, breathing world. Similarly, when you try to wreak havoc by shooting anything that moves, it seems as if there’s a limited number of policeman and cars the game is able to show at the same time.
While some of the features included in the more recent GTA titles are part of Liberty City Stories some of the best additions are nowhere to be found in this portable title. You can go inside specific buildings (such as your house or Ammu-Nation,) you can change your outfit and you can ride motorcycles, but the omissions are as meaningful. You can’t swim and coming in contact with deep bodies of water is lethal. There are no RPG elements like in San Andreas and you can’t control neighborhoods. Finally, there are planes, but you can’t fly them which is definitely a shame.
Liberty City Stories features a handful of multiplayer modes that can be played by up to 6 players. Modes include: Liberty City Survivor, Protection Racket, Get Stretch, Tanks for the Memories, The Hit List, Street Rage and The Wedding list. Although most of them are quite inventive, it’s a shame that they can only be played locally and not via infrastructure mode. Nevertheless, if you have a couple of friends to play with, the multiplayer modes will keep you engaged for a long time.
Despite some technical limitations, GTA: Liberty City Stories is an impressive portable title nonetheless. Some changes were made so that this portable experience is an engaging as the console one, but the rest is exactly as you remember: the sense of humor is spot on, missions are entertaining, the radio stations are hilarious and there’s enough content to be engaged for weeks, if not months. Sadly, some technical issues mar the experience, but if you are willing to overlook those, you’re looking at a true GTA game that plays on a smaller screen. And that’s an impressive achievement indeed.