Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories
Games that mimic real life usually pussy-foot around the inevitable by encouraging gamers to love one another or achieve credibility; The Sims let’s us live a lovely life by building and furnishing houses, having kids, throwing parties and achieving career goals. Grand Theft Auto is like the Bill Hicks of videogames, ripping off the hair that blocks your eyes and cleaning the shit from your ears. Someone pissing you off? Club them round the head with a baseball bat, or shove a rocket up their arse and collect the cash they were carrying as they visit the moon. See a car you like? Fuck saving up for it, or waving to the driver to congratulate his purchase; put your fist through the window, grab his neck and pull him out of it before driving off. That’s the real world. And luckily, we can now do the stuff we want to do in the real world (well, some aspects of it I guess) whilst living in the thick of it, thanks to Rockstar and Sony’s PSP. Sit on the bus and wreck mayhem around a living and breathing city, setting cars alight and murdering cops and civilians by the dozen, whilst sitting there with that innocent face.
One man, one soul, one mission
You’ve probably already guessed that we love Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories; you already know that we’re typing this with out PSP sitting next to the keyboard with the radio blaring out, sitting in a car watching the sun go down with a hooker in Toni Cipriani’s lap. And I keep hitting Matt and Anthony with my ready-to-hand fly swatter as they try and ‘borrow’ the game for a while. You would be correct. In fact, every time we’re screaming round Liberty City, we here at Thunderbolt just can’t get the image of Rockstar hitting GTA 3 with a hammer, with other employee’s stamping up and down on it in an attempt to cram every inch of data into a UMD-sized disc. We swear we can see selotape and glue marks on the disk…
That’s because Liberty City Stories is almost exactly like the game that ultimately got the PS2 up on its feet and to the top of every kids Christmas wish list, and will do the same for the PSP this time round. Situated in the same city but a few years earlier, we follow mafia don Toni Cipriani on his return to Portland after taking down a made man; a quick visit to Don Leone reveals that you’ll be laying low for a while, and will report to left hand man Vincenzo Cilli after driving him back to his place. Visiting Vicenzo will earn you some quick cash, as well as ease you into the harsh realities of Liberty City. You’d better learn fast, because this ain’t some nostalgia trip for sure.
Born to be wiiiiiiiiiiiild…
The new storyline makes a city we once knew like the back of our hand fresh again; you get to meet new characters, all with their own twisted and dark background and find out more familiar faces. But that’s only half of it- Liberty City is only half the town it used to be, with buildings under construction, a ferry port in place before the tunnel we saw in GTA 3 as well as different gangs ruling different street and districts and the ever complicated wars between them. This isn’t a GTA 3 port; this is GTA Portable.
The transition between console and handheld has been made seamlessly, with the controls instantly recognisable and easy to learn. You control Toni with the analogue slider, which seems hard and over responsive at first, but after driving from one end of Portland to the other on a sight-seeing tour between missions you become accustomed to movement. Beeping a horn or setting off a siren is down on the d-pad, ideally placed as you quickly move your thumb about 3 millimetre’s above the slider to do it without compromising on driving; activate vehicle missions by stabbing up on the d-pad and use left and right to change radio station. To make up for the lack of L2 and R2 buttons, the left trigger has become a look button; holding this down allows you to keep on the gas with X whilst looking behind and either way with the slider. Tricky to handle at first, but after hours (and more besides!) of endless reckless driving looking becomes second nature.
And that’s a necessity, because the camera doesn’t do any favours. You can still change angles with the select button, but you often need to take things slow at first (you’ll get quicker as you progress, believe you and me) so you don’t plummet down hill sides, drown in water or step into a full-flowing gun fight. Yes that’s right- drowning. In oder to keep players from skipping ahead into the other cities without progressiong through the story first, Toni can’t swim to save his life. Luckily, entering water vehicles is as easy as in Vice City, whereby you stand near boats and press triangle to skip to take command of it rather than taking a leap of death by trying to enter them manually.
If I were you, I’d give him his money
Thankfully, the targeting system is really quite handy during gun fights. Holding down the right trigger selects enemies, skipping through them with right and left on the d-pad and unleashing fury with circle. You can still run with the slider, which makes things interesting as we found that by starting to shoot, then maneuvering Toni behind a wall or girder whilst still firing meant you could stay out of harms way whilst still laying the smackdown. One of these reasons is that Toni can’t duck behind objects and take pot shots, the reason being that there simply isn’t a button to do this. On the PS2, clicking L3 got Tommy and CJ to hit the dirt, but forcing the slider down would probably break the PSP in half. Shout “design flaw” all you want- hell it probably is- but when you bear in mind that the original GTA 3 didn’t allow players to be agile, there’s not much reason to miss it.
Driving is still a pleasure as always, with top heavy vehicles such as SUV’s and ambulances wanting to roll over and lay down when you corner and fast cars ripping up the tarmac. You use the usual buttons to get around, with X manning the accelerator, square breaking, triangle to enter and exit vehicles, circle letting you pull off drive by’s and the right trigger as your handbrake; those favouring the original controls can change to holding down both X and square for the E-brake to sue the triggers to look.
Perhaps the one problem you encounter that can have a detrimental factor is the frame rate occasionally dipping down; being an honest reviewer, I didn’t find this off-putting in the slightest; we’ve had slow down in GTA titles since the early days, and when you consider that it only really happens when there’s a hell of a lot going on, like police cars screaming at you from every angle, big pile ups or giant explosions, you won’t be encountering it often. But it’s there, it is a pain yet I didn’t find it to hamper with the bundles fun you’ll be having with this gem of a game.
The flip side to the occasional slowdown is the removing of pop-up items. Cruise down the main drag and the distance will blend from a blue into more detail as you get nearer to it, rather than popping up out of nowhere. A good example is when you turn a corner, and the blurry frontage of shops blends into the intricate detail we’re used to. Considering how much is crammed onto that tiny disc, this is sensational stuff.
These guys are here to make your inevitable rise up the crime ladder that little bit harder
The traditional Grand Theft Auto atmosphere and design are perhaps what will sell Liberty City Stories more than anything, because locations look so damn cool; cut scenes are clean and fresh, an example being in Vicenzo’s office you see individual bits of paper on his clogged-up notice board flapping about rather than a blurry, flat mess chucked in to save time. Characters perhaps have a lack of expression, but their movements are as stylish as we’ve come to love, with irate bosses slamming their fists on tables in utter disbelief at situations and hapless drug dealers throwing their arms out when pleading for their worthless little lives. Shop fronts are more detailed, with adverts pasted across abandoned buildings accompanied with gang graffiti, the many nooks and crannies clearly presented, windows set out of brick work and those ladders at the side of buildings actually looking reachable for use. Interactive stores like Ammunation are well lit, have those humorous advertisements and chirpy owners who come out with all sorts of weird and funky phrases. Tree’s bend with the wind, rubbish flies about, cranes move at the ship yards and birds flock together to further press the illusion that you are just a piece of the Liberty City jigsaw.
The weather effects are as awesome as ever, with torrential downpours in the evening leaving a reflection of street lights and shop fronts on the street, with the standing water making driving at high speeds far more dangerous than before. Thunderstorms set the sky black and worrying, thunder ripping throughout the streets; there was even talk of snow, with many videos cropping up on the net with ‘evidence’, but as of yet us Thunderbolters have still to see this. The transition effect between night, morning, afternoon and dusk is quite literally heaven on a PSP, with shadows moving with the suns position, the moon often gaping through the clouds and offering a far more gloomy lit streets with ample opportunities to hide and attack passers-by.
The music in GTA has become more important as the series has gone along, and this is no exception. Although no recognisable songs are included, those made up are in the humorous fashion yet instantly catchy, with 10 radio stations boasting different themes from Lips 106’s pop sensation to JAH Radio’s phat reggae beats, and even the phone-in station that was infamous before. The chitchat between DJ’s really is something; Head Radio’s Michael Hunt comes up with a classic-
“I like to give Head *pause* Radio’s listeners a little something”
Commercials are equally as hilarious, with the focus on over-protective parents and politicians and such topics as paedophilia and the internet-
“Timmy, who’s the naked guy in your room?”
”That’s Jack, my friend from the Internet. He likes to give me hugs.
It’s when you listen to the radio stations that you begin to get the political intent behind Grand Theft Auto. We really could ramble all day long at how this is the kick start the PSP needed, but you all have lives and we need to get back to playing it.
Make snow joke about it, this game is awesome
Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories, to give it its full name, is an absolute classic. It has its faults, such as a dodgy camera and instances of slowdown, but the pro’s vastly outnumber the con’s like Michael Moore vastly outweighs his dear friend Hillary Clinton, both of who we can expect to voice opinions against this classic title in the near future. The atmosphere will blow you away as you spend countless hours driving through the city, from the industrial district of Portland, onto the commercial behemoth of Staunton and onto residential Shoreside Vale, each with their own secrets, layouts and hidden missions just waiting to be found and explored.
Every inch as perfect as we could have imagined, Rockstar have done it again. GTA: LCS is the absolute pinnacle of PSP entertainment, with enough variety to appeal to a wide audience and comedy to outsell the legend Bill Hicks himself (well, maybe). Essential purchase? This should be tacked, taped and stapled to the forehead of every single PSP owner out there.