Considering the next full-tilt GTA is not due until late 2007 and the entire industry is shifting its focus toward the next-gen consoles, a short, side story visit through Liberty City proves to be just the thing to tide fans over. Trouble is that a good percentage of them have played the game already on the PSP, and the translation from handheld to console makes the game design appear inadequate. Much of what is wrong with the title can be forgiven since it costs about as much as a lunch in Manhattan, and what is right with the game is, as usual, as much fun as one can have pretending to be a mass murderer. In short, Liberty City Stories is exactly what the PS2 needs at this juncture. It’s a brand new offering of GTA at the end of the console’s lifecycle, and at a bargain price. Just remember… you get what you pay for.
For starters, if you have played this game on the PSP already, there is no reason for you to purchase this version. It is exactly the same title with the multiplayer features removed. The graphical presentation has been blown up to console spec, so the graphics tend to look washed out and at times the frame rate suffers. There seems to be just a little more life in Liberty City on the PS2 than on the PSP, but it still isn’t up to the “teaming with NPCs” quality players have grown accustomed to on the console versions. Liberty City itself seems to have survived with most of its locales intact, and fans of the series will recognize many familiar sights.
One blessing that occurred from portable to console is the control scheme. The awkward control layout on the PSP has been replaced with the tried and true dual shock scheme, including the camera-swing with the right analog stick. This is the one area where a considerable improvement was made, even though it seems like a no-brainer since the console controller has many more features than the controls on the PSP. The game’s missions aren’t nearly as complex as the ones found in Vice City or San Andreas and they seem to have been designed the way most handheld games are… for frequent-yet-short bursts of gameplay. Some will find the quick and dirty mission designs a blessing, and some will feel gypped from the main storyline’s paltry ten hours of gameplay.
Speaking of feeling gypped, the storyline within Liberty City Stories is as simplistic as the mission design. Players assume the role of Tony Cipriani, who has returned to Liberty City after “laying low” for a while. Tony has gone back to work for Salvatore Leone and will slowly ascend into becoming his right-hand man while shooting, slicing, pummeling and blowing up all who stand in his way. Basically, this is all the game is about. None of the memorable characters or events the GTA series is known for is present here, and everything is presented in a very matter-of-fact and, dare it be said, boring way.
The GTA series became as popular as it has due to its free-roaming gameplay style and its original wit and humor (as dark as it may be). None of this is present here in Liberty City Stories, which is the title’s most glaring flaw. The sardonic and self-deprecating humor found on all the various radio stations has been completely shoved aside, in favor of a few vague music genre and talk stations with very lame jokes and a dearth of licensed tracks.
GTAIII’s radio stations and licensed music set the bar, which was smashed and then reset with the release of Vice City (arguably the best soundtrack in gaming history). Somewhere between Vice City and San Andreas, the developers seem to have become uninspired with one of the game’s best features, and a great deal of the humor that made the game what it is seems to have disappeared. Even though Liberty City Stories was (and is, regardless of platform) designed for a hand held and therefore limited in content, they’ve really hit a new low with this title’s radio station offerings. Let’s hope the next gen consoles inspire Rockstar to remember what made the game’s audio presentation both funny and compelling at the same time.
Does LCS on the PS2 offer the usual GTA goodness? Yes, but its quality bar is way lower than you might be used to. It’s the best $20 worth of GTA you could ask for, and it will serve as a nice stop-gap title before GTAIV sees the light of day. If players understand the scaled-down nature of this budget title before they delve into it, they’re bound to enjoy most of it. The best way to explain Liberty City Stories (either on the PSP or PS2) is by calling it Diet GTA. What is there is very likeable, but it will leave a bad aftertaste in the mouth of some of its users.