Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories
In 2001 Grand Theft Auto III revolutionized the gaming world with its unique blend of driving and shooting. You played as a character that was free to explore the city and complete missions at your own pace, unlike most conventional mission-based games that dictated exactly what to do next in a linear format. The next couple of GTA games built on the success of GTA III and worked on the same formula with more missions, larger cites and more expansive storylines.
This latest instalment has many things in common with the latest console GTA games, but for the first time ever GTA goes portable in 3D, with Liberty City Stories (LCS). To get such a PS2 showcase series onto a portable you would think many unfavourable compromises had to be made, but you'd be surprised...
Upon firing up GTA: Liberty City Stories, you'll realise that this feels just like a console game - you almost forget that you are playing on a handheld. The opening cut-scene shows your character, Toni Cipriani meeting up with his old boss Salvatore Leone, head of the Liberty City Mafia. From there, you are introduced to a new contact who gives you your next few jobs and the story develops from there.
As the name suggests the game takes place in Liberty City about two years before GTA III's storyline gets underway. Despite the city being much the same throughout there are some slight differences to the metropolitan transport system and a few other areas which make the city seem convincingly at a different point in time to GTA III. All the usual weapons you would expect to find in a GTA game such as pistols, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers and of course the good old body armour all make an appearance in LCS. As you progress through the missions collecting better weapons, the objectives tend to develop a little more than the basic missions you found yourself completing with ease early on. Although you might be disappointed to hear that even towards the end of the game the missions don't ever really get as complicated as they have been in Vice City and San Andreas.
As usual, in addition to the main story missions (which are likely to last the average player between 10 - 15 hours on their own), there is plenty to do 'on the side'. There are 100 secret packages scattered throughout the city, unique jumps to clear, rampages to fulfil and of course the alternate missions such as Taxi, Ambulance and Police Vigilante all making for a welcome return. If you go for 100% completion which really isn't easy, you are looking at an experience in excess of 35 hours altogether.
The graphics, rather surprisingly, look amazingly similar to what the PS2 offered with GTA III a few years back. The awesome lighting and reflections that gave Liberty City its atmospheric look in GTA III return with style in LCS. All the weather effects such as rain, lightning and mist look great on the PSP. The only real criticism that could be made of the graphics would be the occasional slowdown of the frame rate when you enter or exit a vehicle and the slight bugs in the drawn distance. Other than that, GTA looks superb on Sony's wee handheld.
The audio in GTA has always been outstanding and LCS is no exception. As usual, when you are in-car you have the choice of twelve radio stations. While this time around they aren't quite as inspired as the fantastic collection of 80s masterpieces in Vice City or the early 90s rap of San Andreas, each station represents its own type of music such as pop, techno, dance, classical, rap and so on. While there is an unforgivable lack of rock music, most of the radio stations do well to represent their respective genres. It has to be said the commercials on the radio stations are highly amusing and give the game part of its light-hearted humour you've come to expect these days from the GTA series.
There is a custom soundtrack option available, but to make any use of it you have to download a program from the internet which seems pointless considering the PSP already has MP3 compatibility built in. However, despite the hassle, the function is there should you wish to listen to your own music in the game. LCS features a multiplayer mode, which is really very good. It caters for up to six players with modes including Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill, all arranged nicely into team games and 'free for all's. If you're not feeling destructive, you and a friend can just explore the city in multiplayer. However your mood strikes you, there's tremendous scope in this multiplayer aspect to keep players amused for hours.
Nothing is perfect and even GTA LCS has its flaws. The controls feel a little awkward due to the shortage of buttons in comparison the console controller, and some of the missions feel a little basic. The cop response isn't quite as overwhelming as in the console GTA's, but overall GTA Liberty City Stories is not only an amazing technical achievement but an awesome portable game worth any PSP owner's £35.