Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
“What’s the quickest way to earn several million dollars?”
-”Well, releasing a Grand Theft Auto game always does the trick.”
“How’s GTA 4 getting along?”
-”I’m afraid it won’t be out until 2007, sir.”
“Damn, it figures. How about that PSP game we released last year? Can we, I don’t know, port it to the PS2 or something? Maybe spruce things up a little, so no-one will mind.”
-”Great idea, boss, I’ll send the message to one of our teams!”
I can imagine that a conversation like the fictional one above somehow started development on the PS2 port of last year’s widely celebrated PSP game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. But hey: mission accomplished: for several weeks now, LCS is doing well in the sales charts of the US and Europe, in large part due to its low retail price of 25$/20€.
Of course, seeing how GTA:LCS was a great game on the PSP, the same thing holds true on the trusted PlayStation 2. Nevertheless, since we’ve already gotten used to the many improvements made in San Andreas (of which most aren’t even in this game), Liberty City Stories fails to take the PS2 audience by storm. Even though it features a myriad of different missions, they’re nowhere near as captivating as the ones in San Andreas, Vice City or even GTA III. The main reason is their limited length, which is clearly a result of its handheld origins. San Andreas often offered regular half-hour long thrills, while LCS longest missions shouldn’t last you more than 15 minutes. Another drawback is the fact that we’ve seen pretty much all of the assignments in the previous games one way or another. Blow up that guy, kill that traitor, collect this, deliver that; it’s getting old after all these years.
The storyline is also not nearly as compelling as Vice City’s or San Andreas’. You play as Tony Cipriani (he’s one of your contacts in GTA III), who just arrived in Liberty City. Luckily, you still have good connections with the Leone crime family, who could use a guy like you. As always, you have to make your way up the ladder, leaving a trail of bodies while doing so. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before and that’s a tad unfortunate. The game should last you a good 30 to 40 hours before you’ve reach a 100% completed score. Add to that its low price and you get a lot of value for money. Unfortunately, the great multiplayer mode from the PSP version has been dropped for the PlayStation 2. Why on earth Rockstar has done so is beyond me.
The biggest flaw in GTA: LCS are its limited possibilities. Several of the great additions from the previous games haven’t been included. You can’t swim (which can be awfully annoying if you hit the sink), you can’t fly planes or helicopters (save for that horrid Dodo), there are no RPG-like stats, you can’t buy real estate (so you’re basically stuck with one safe house), the list goes on. Motorcycles (a feature from Vice City) are included, though. The number of sidequests is also pretty limited. You can do the well-known ambulance and taxi driving missions, but there are no more Nascar races, turf wars and all of that other stuff that made San Andreas and Vice City so varied.
As was to be expected from a PSP port (though how lovely it may look on the slick handheld), bringing the game to a larger-sized screen makes the game looks awfully average. Admittedly, the game’s textures have been improved a bit for the PS2 version, but they still look very murky. The whole list of clipping errors and sometimes awkward animations is still present and the framerate ofttimes takes a nosedive. Hell, even San Andreas maintains a steadier framerate and that’s saying something. Though the camera has been improved a bit (we now have a second stick), the game is still subject to the regular desorienting camera changes that have plagued the series for several years now.
The game’s audio fares better, but it can’t live up to its predecessors. Probably due to the limited UMD space, Liberty City Stories doesn’t contain as much music tracks as (here we go again) Vice City and San Andreas. The average quality of the soundtrack is also a bit disappointing, since we don’t get to hear a lot of licenced music. Too bad. The good news is that the great Lazlow is back with his famous talkshow Chatterbox on LCFR (Liberty City Free Radio), which is always good for a laugh. The voice acting in general is sound (as always), but the guy doing Tony Cipriani sure as hell is no Samuel L. Jackson or Ray Liotta.
On its own merits, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is a good game that will offer most players quite some enjoyable moments. However, on the PlayStation 2 we already got to taste the wonderful sequels to GTA III, that offer a ton of new possibilities and also look and sound better. That premise makes LCS a harder pill to swallow, especially now the multiplayer component has been dropped. For 25$/20€, you can’t go wrong with this game, but you could easily find Vice City -and possibly San Andreas- for the same amount of money. Still, if you’re a GTA aficionado and have already played those games, this is a worthy purchase.