[Mini-Review] Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
From the second I heard the first sliding strings of the Grand Theft Auto III theme, I knew I was home. Sure, I've been to Liberty City before -- twice, really, if you want to count the endless hours I spent with the PSP version of LCS, but there's just something about the layout and the scale of Liberty City that endears it to me so much more than Vice City or San Andreas, and to be able to cruise around it again with different missions and a different story is all a guy could ask for.
In fact, if you want the short-short version of this review (it is a mini-review, remember), here it is: Liberty City Stories is GTA III with Vice City's updates -- and maybe just a dash of some San Andreas visual treats on the car. This also means some of the same wonky targeting systems are in place, and the game is going to feel like a (good) case of dÃ©jÃ vu the whole way through. Rockstar Leeds made sure to include missions that highlight how Liberty City has changed from LCS' 1998 to GTA III's circa 2000 climate, but by and large this is the same city.
The longer version is that the PS2 port of the PSP game is left lacking a little, but then it's also priced at $20, which makes up for the shortcomings -- so long as you understand that this isn't GTA IV. It's a budget-priced new (if you haven't played the PSP version) take on Liberty City, and it's fantastic from a gameplay standpoint.
Visually, though, the game is a stinker, not just in terms of the 3D GTA games being fairly basic in look, but in how a PSP game was ported -- textures and all -- to a much bigger, slightly higher-res screen without making efforts to clean things up. The draw distance, just as it was on the PSP, is much better (you can actually see a fair ways into neighboring islands from the shore of another), but the framerate is the worst the series has ever seen on the PS2.
There's also the issue of some of the PSP-centric things getting stripped out, most notably the multiplayer. Granted, this would have meant writing a bunch of netcode for a game that didn't have it previously (LCS multiplayer was Ad-Hoc only on the PSP), but the multiplayer is such a blast that we miss it a little. Of lesser import is the custom soundtracks, which would obviously be a little tough to pull off considering how few HDDs were sold (and that the newer slimline PS2 can't even accommodate one).
So the game looks a mess; it runs with the clunkiness of hastily-assembled quick-and-dirty port. It's still Liberty City Stories at heart, which means you get to rip around on a crotch rocket, you get to see some buildings before they were built in GTA III (or, blow some others up as the case may be), explore more of Shoreside Vale, and experience the formation of what would later be the world of Grand Theft Auto III from an entirely new perspective.
Since the core game is the same, I invite you to check out our full review of the PSP version, where I gushed over the thing in plenty of detail. The adage of "you get what you pay for" holds true here, and despite some technical shortcomings, this is a GTA worth checking out. And really, for $20 and a good 50 hours of stuff to do, there's probably no better bang for your buck.