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SummaryBack to Liberty City - in more than one way
The GoodI guess I'm not the only one who started considering buying a PSP only after this game was announced. After all, who doesn't start drooling over the idea of having all the fun and excitement of the GTA series on a portable console so you can play it as you're on the go, or, for the perfect irony, while waiting in line at the DMV? It sounds too good to be true.
That's one thing I can tell you right away: It's not. Liberty City Stories really delivers. Rockstar has managed to capture what was good about the GTA series onto the small handheld.
We're back in Liberty City, this time in the later 90s. Today's protagonist is Tony Cipriani, and we're back at the familiar scenario: He's a small-timer, working his way up to control Liberty City. Nothing has changed: You go from mission to mission, performing tasks like secretly taking pictures, delivering goods, protecting people, or simply whacking someone.
The graphics are on par with earlier versions on the PS2 - and it looks better than the original GTA3. The graphics are nice and smooth, the environmental effects (such as day/night-time and the occasional rain with light reflections on the ground) are present.
The controls work perfectly on the PSP. It takes mere seconds to get acquainted with all the buttons and their functions, and the game design does a great job of gradually introducing you to all the features.
The soundtrack is once again made out of a bunch of radio stations, each one with a certain theme; however, Liberty City Stories' soundtrack is no match to the incredible San Andreas playlist. Many of the songs are somewhat generic and bland, but at least the wacky radio station talkshows are still prominently present.
The streaming data system seems to work nicely - you barely notice new data getting streamed in. I couldn't say that about San Andreas on the PS2.
Even the locking system (one of my pet peeves of San Andreas) isn't too bad. You do run in trouble locking onto people sometimes (especially when they're close), but generally speaking I had few problems with it.
The BadOne thing that gradually improved over the series was the story. Unfortunately, this part is a big step backwards. The characters in the game are cardboard cut-outs with very little backstory to them; the plot isn't very exciting and doesn't move along as nicely as it did in San Andreas.
The AI is okay. It is admittedly very hard to program good AI in a complex environment like this, but it can still be annoying sometimes. In rare occasions, you might fail a mission because the car you were supposed to tail crashes into a truck that happened to drive along, forcing you to replay the entire mission.
Liberty City Stories employs the same retarded save system I had complained about in the previous installments. This is an even bigger issue on the PSP, where you usually don't play for a long time. You can only save in-between missions, and even then, you have to be at a safe-house. This is particularly annoying towards the beginning of the game when there is only one safe-house. The game at least supports sleep mode, so you can freeze the game at any time and restart later on. This is fine if GTA is the only game you play, but if you plan to switch back and forth between several games, you're out of luck.
The stupid save system is also made worse by the loading times. They are not too long, but they just add up, especially since it usually makes more sense to reload a game after you fail a mission so you don't lose all your weapons. So here we go: Play a mission and die. Reload game. Load time. Exit safe house. Load time. Go to mission. Load time. Skip that stupid cut-scene. Load time. Okay, the mission starts now. Finally.
With the game using a streamed world and playing music off the disc, there is a lot of UMD action. This is unavoidable, but it might affect your battery power.
For simplicity purposes, the role-playing aspects that were introduced in San Andreas have been cut. It is probably a question of taste whether or not you enjoyed the little stats system in the first place, but the lack of a fully customizable character is a slight downer. Other than selecting one from a few pre-built outfits (which you usually only do for the purpose of a mission), you can't change your appearance.
The Bottom LineThe bottom line is: There is GTA for the portable PSP, and it plays just as its grown-up predecessors, so people who want to play GTA "on the go" can rejoice.
However, I wouldn't go so far as to consider this game the next iteration in the GTA family. Technically it is, but it is a step backwards in many ways: Some new elements of San Andreas were removed (like the RPG system and the dynamic and customizable player), the story is much more generic and seems hastily written, the soundtrack not very memorable. You can tell that the game was put out in a hurry to fill a void in the market.
But don't let that scare you: Just keep in mind that this is simply a move from the series to the world of the portables, not the next big step in the series. If you remember that, you won't be disappointed.