Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: October 25, 2005
Buy 'GTA: Liberty City Stories': PSP
"The news is always going on about how video games are too violent. Sure, there are some video games that young children shouldn't play, but I'm a grownup lady, and occasionally I need to shoot sh*t. And it's best if that happens fictionally." -Jackie Kashian
I am a happy little critic today! I finally own a game that I can take on the road and piss off the Conservative Right when I'm out and about. Foul language, drug running, hookers and all the good old-fashioned fun that comes with a Grand Theft Auto title are jam-packed into GTA: Liberty City Stories for your PSP.
If you have been living in a cave for the last decade, allow me to give a "Grand Theft Auto for Dummies" refresher. Some years ago, a fledgling company called Rockstar Games put out a little title called Grand Theft Auto, a very primitive top-down-view driving game where you were instructed to make drug deals and run other errands for the local mobs. I really didn't like the control scheme, the graphics were blasé, and the sound was excruciatingly tinny. If it hadn't been for all of the outrage that followed in its wake, I think the GTA series would have died then and there. Leave it to the Conservative Right to make their targets more visible to non-combatants.
Anyway, let's skip ahead a little. There was an expansion to the original GTA, there was the inevitable sequel (also in isometric view), and then the bomb dropped. Grand Theft Auto III created a new genre in gaming: the open-ended sprawler. No longer were you restrained in your movement; you didn't have to follow a linear storyline but were free to roam about doing what you darn well pleased. Fans plunked down their hard-earned simoleons by the millions to enter a fully realized world of pimps, corrupt cops and organized crime.
Again, there have been the inevitable sequels, GTA: Vice City, which was set in an ersatz Miami Beach, and GTA: San Andreas which let you into the Boyz 'N' The Hood side of gang-banging.
Returning to Liberty City, the scene of GTA3, Rockstar has taken their first step forward on the PSP by going a step backward in time with this groovy game. You play as Toni Cipriani, just released from prison, where he spent 20 years for killing a "made man." Toni returns to the Leone crime family where he was once a caporegime, now to be treated as everybody's lapdog. How long do you think that will last? (evil chuckle)
I don't know about you, but I was really worried about a PSP port of the GTA experience. Put your fears to rest because it's all here. The wanked-out characters, the cars, bikes, cycles, trucks, taxis, fire trucks, ambulances, limos, tanks, cop cars, and all of the mini-missions that come with them are here in a neat little package. All of the weapons that you have come to know and love are here as well, from the lowly baseball bat, up to the heavy hitters like the rocket launcher. And yes, if you are so inclined, you can still hire a hooker, sex her up to regain health, then kill her and take your money back. I know, it's a nasty thing to do, but hey, you're a gangster! What're you supposed to do? Sell Mama Corleone's Chocolate Chip Biscotti door-to-door? As far as the impact this title may have on children, I think most kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. As an example, I don't know a single kid with a mortgage and a full-time job. That's smart.
Graphically, you can't get much better than this on a portable system. Frankly, GTA: LCS looks every bit as good as the other 3D games in the series. Once you get into that "zone" we gamers speak of with such reverence, you will forget you are playing on a portable gaming system. Intact are the lens flares when driving into the sun, the passing of time from day into night, and all the other bells and whistles that one would think would be missing from a portable port. ("Portable Port"…hmmm…sounds like a good band name, better copyright that one.)
The voice acting has always been a trademark of GTA games, and, while LCS doesn't have the star power of previous incarnations (Burt Reynolds, Ray Liotta, etc.), it gets an A+ in that department. The dialogue is just cheesy enough to give a sense of distance, but it is acted with real aplomb by a talented cast of people whose names I have never heard before.
Another of the franchise's signature thingamabobs is the in-vehicle radio. LCS contains no less than 10 different radio stations, all containing their own on-air personalities, callers, and hit songs. But wait, there's more!
Possibly the neatest feature of GTA: LCS is the "Rockstar Custom Tracks." Via a short download from Rockstar's website, you can use any commercial CD to rip tracks directly to your PSP for in-game use during your quest to be the next Tony Soprano. You may not rip mp3s from your hard drive; they must be "retail" CDs that you purchased in a store. You may also not listen to them outside of the game via the music player, and you must have a GTA: LCS saved game file present on your PSP to do this. Be warned that these tracks take up space, so make sure your memory stick can handle the load. A 1GB card is becoming mandatory for PSP owners who wish to do more than just play the games and watch the movies. In my case, Radio Alanix is peopled mostly by Green Day, The Ramones and cuts from The Godfather soundtrack.
Speaking of The Godfather, if I have to wait any longer for THAT game, I'll make SOMEONE an offer they can't refuse. I haven't waited this long for a game since Blizzard snowballed me with Starcraft, but I digress .…
Being able to make your own "mix disc" is a wonderful way for each player to customize the game to his or her own tastes. Just a side note: It's also hysterical to watch Toni mow down rival gangsters while Barry Manilow is singing, "I Can't Smile Without You." Let your twisted sense of music be your guide.
The game packaging is also up to snuff with the rest of the series. Included in your box is a clever manual that is disguised as a copy of the "Liberty Tree" newspaper, espousing in the headline that "Liberty City Ranked Worst Place in America. Again." You are also given a map of the area, which is helpful when trying to find that route that will shave a few seconds off of your arrival time.
The cut scenes all look great and have some of the funniest moments in the game, especially when Toni is arguing with his stereotypical Italian mother.
This all sounds great, yes? Now how much would you pay? But wait, there's more!
One word: Multiplayer!
For the first time in GTA/console history, you can take to the streets of Liberty City and go up against living, breathing human beings. I can only assume they are living. Let's face it, if you are spending your time in a WiFi-ready coffeehouse playing GTA: LCS, you need to take a long, hard look at your priorities.
As part of the review process, I went to three different cybercafés in Baltimore, and could not find a single man, woman, or child who had both a PSP and a GTA: LCS UMD. I'm sure that someday soon, Sony and its partners will work out real internet connectivity via the USB port, but until then, you are burdened with finding your own opponents. As a 42-year old family man, I don't know a lot of people who play video games as much as I, so I cannot really talk about how well the multiplayer mode actually works, but here is an overview of the new modes.
Liberty City Survivor is your standard "if it isn't you, kill it" classic deathmatch. Protection Racket has your guys divide into two teams, with one team defending four limousines, and the other team setting out to destroy them. Once all four are toast, the teams switch, and the second team has to beat the first team's time. Get Stretch is a capture-the-flag game with a car playing the role of the flag. Steal it, bring it back to your base, and you score a point.
Tanks for the Memories is billed as "turn-based tank survival," and an additional "turn-based" mode is The Hit List, which also seems to have something to do with survival time. Street Rage is a checkpoint race, where there are no holds barred, and the first player across the finish line wins. Finally, The Wedding List is a race between teams to steal cars that are scattered about the city and return them to your base. That, in a nutshell, is the rundown of LCS's multiplayer options. I'd really like to get some feedback from you, faithful readers, as to how these modes play in the real world because I only have a limited amount of time to crank out these opuses, and only so much gas money to go to WiFi hot spots.
In the final analysis, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories meets and exceeds all expectations that I'd imposed on it. Everything you loved about the original games is in here, in glorious, put-in-your-pocket color. This is a must-have title for any portable punk.