Grand Theft Auto:
G. Ford: Soon after I began playing the PSP’s first entry in the Grand Theft Auto series, I stopped on a street corner in Liberty City’s Hepburn Heights neighborhood and took in the scene: Some elderly pedestrians shuffle by. A biker knocks over a crossing pedestrian, who gets up, jacks the closest car, and takes off. Ah...it’s good to be home.
And Liberty City Stories should be a return to familiar territory for many gamers, since it takes them back to the twisted version of New York, known as Liberty City, of Grand Theft Auto III, the seminal “do what you want, when you want” 3D sandbox game. So we’re back, and I can say it’s not just the living-city random A.I. that impresses. In virtually every sense—including the angular graphics, full-fledged radio stations, and controls—Liberty City Stories is GTA. From the moment you jack your first car and hit the gas with satisfying results, you realize that the developers made many improvements and few compromises. Motorcycles, the ability to shoot car tires, San Andreas’ handy waypoint system—all stuff not seen in GTA3. A local Wi-Fi multiplayer mode also makes a surprising and relatively successful debut, as do some new side quests. (See sidebars for more on each.)
Your trip through the familiar and fresh centers on one Toni Cipriani, a mobster who went on the down low for a few years and is now looking to make a name for himself. Among the game’s creative missions, you’ll try to please your ma (only to have her put out a hit on you) and even go to confession, where you’re drafted to do “the Lord’s dirty work.” In typical GTA fashion, the storytelling is excellent, featuring exemplary voice acting and an appropriate helping of humor.
I have a few (mostly familiar) complaints, though. The PSP’s analog nub makes precise movements challenging. Camera controls also prove tricky—you must hold down L to change your view. And then you have the series’ Achilles’ heel: on-foot targeting. Be prepared to frequently lock on to the wrong dude.
But when you realize the scope of what developer Rockstar has pulled off, your expectations for portable games will change. The game’s real beauty lies on those random street corners, though, where you’ll discover your own mayhem-filled stories to tell.
Shoe: I have a job to do, you know. As a professional critic, I need to tell you about how Liberty City Stories’ controls suck ass—it’s difficult to drive around without a separate free-look stick (like you have on PS2 and Xbox), and like G. Ford says, shooting/targeting is still horribly awkward. I need to tell you about the dark and blurry graphics that’ll help keep an entire generation of Lasik surgeons in business. And I need to tell you about the disappointment of playing a new GTA in a city that most people are probably intimately familiar with. After all, isn’t driving around a brand-new town half the fun?
But a couple hours in, I was driving like a pro. My eyes adjusted to the display (without Lasik, no less!). And familiar locale or not, I was all in. I no longer cared that I’d already spent a 100-hour-long working vacation here as a PS2 mobster—I was loving life again in Liberty City. The new missions kept me glued to my PSP for way, way too long with a mix of weird (like trying to impress my ma or helping the campaign of a cannibalistic politician) and traditional tasks (maybe too traditional: Some are almost exact duplicates of ones seen in GTA3, like a sniping job from the same rooftop!). And multiplayer, despite feeling tacked on, works surprisingly well because the open environment is perfect for six people to cause havoc in together.
1UP.COM—John: I’ll start by reiterating the bad news: The combat control system is still far from perfect—despite some obvious adjustments to simplify it, it’s hopelessly flawed. Many of the more challenging combat missions require you to wander into crowded areas and pick off specific targets while everyone around you opens fire. The now familiar lock-on system is far from intelligent and often results in you unloading a clip into a tree or a building instead of at that Uzi-toting thug who is eroding your health with pinpoint precision.
The true haters will see this as a reason to finally declare GTA “broken,” but to do so is to ignore the otherwise brilliant design. The game is enormous, and probably the best value of anything on the system because there’s just so much gameplay here. The core story, divided into three acts, is remarkably complex, and although puerile in places, remains clever and witty throughout. Missions have been optimized for handheld play so that you’re never faced with the epic multi-area challenges that make San Andreas such a tough game.
I was skeptical about the multiplayer games at first, mainly because getting six PSP players together can sometimes be a challenge in itself. That said, a couple of the modes (notably the car collection game Wedding List) work particularly well with just two players.
Although flawed, Liberty City Stores is a remarkable achievement; it shames the efforts that many other developers have put into their PSP games.
GTA’s miscellaneous odd jobs turn its games from 30-some-hour experiences into billion-hour gameplay marathons. Naturally, LCS brings in several new distractions. Drive too-slow dump trucks to pick up dumpsters around the city under impossible time limits...or slip into the alligator shoes of a car or motorcycle salesman and offer the right driving experiences to the right customers to close the deal. They’re almost all fun, but we just don’t have the patience to get the best bonuses. Sell 40 bikes to get the store to generate a regular cash flow for you? Who has the time?
Good: Nails the GTA feel and presentation
Bad: Targeting system, sucks up batteries
Load Times: Minimal, in sharp contrast to Midnight Club 3’s
The verdicts (out of 10):
G. Ford: 9.5
Gangs of Liberty City: A Look at GTA’s Jump into the Multiplayer Waters
Liberty City Stories’ biggest surprise is the addition of seven multiplayer modes for up to six players over local Wi-Fi. And while none of these play-together games offers anything revolutionary, it’s a first for the series and good fun provided you’ve got enough coconspirators.
Liberty City Survivor: A free-for-all or team-based deathmatch. While it’s fun to hunt other players, the action boils down to matchups of the iffy lock-on system.
Street Rage: Think of this as the Midnight Club portion of the game—straight-up checkpoint races through the city. The best part is making your friends’ cars fishtail.
Protection Racket: A multipart affair in which teams take turns defending and then attacking four limos. Entertaining in its chaos.
Get Stretch: Liberty City Stories’ capture-the-flag variant, only with limos for flags. Your limo has to remain in place while you bring back your opponent’s, which can get tedious.
Hit List: Each player takes a turn as the proverbial chosen one that the rest try to hunt down. He who lasts longest wins.
Tanks for the Memories: Rocket launchers, shotguns, and grenades are in plentiful supply as players fight for the most behind-the-wheel time in the map’s single tank. Far-away respawn points keep the intensity in check.
The Wedding List: This entertaining mode designates cars that must be collected and then dropped off at certain locations. You’ll relish the city-crossing mayhem.
Developer: Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North
Players: 1 (2-6 via local Wi-Fi)
Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.