Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Release Date: 10/24/2005 (PSP), 06/06/2006 (PS2), 12/17/2015 (iOS), 02/11/2016 (AND)
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Grand Theft Auto was an unstoppable juggernaut in the early to mid-2000s. With the rise of the PSP and its new near PS2 quality visuals, it was a perfect match for the series. Liberty City Stories wasn’t simply a GTA3 port, but a whole new story and set of missions set within the same world. The exact copy of GTA3’s Liberty City is ripped out of the PS2 and copied on the PSP with grace and detail. I felt like I was playing GTA3 the entire time through my 10-hour campaign, but it came with caveats.
When you jump into a car for the first time LCS has that classic GTA feel. Arcadey physics, campy humor, and unrealistic everything else. You can run people over, get 5-star police wanted ratings, jump off cliffs, and do everything else you could do in GTA3. It’s a sight to behold on such a small system. Driving is probably the most enjoyable aspect of LCS including the missions that have you driving the most. When you jump out of the car is when things go awry.
Combat is abysmal in this game and really brings it down. Since there is no right analog stick you must rely on a lock-on system that just doesn’t work. Half of the time if you aren’t facing an enemy shooting at you there will be no lock-on causing cheap deaths. There is no cover system, so missions are tailored toward the console with slightly better controls. It’s impossible to gun down two dozen enemies while also only being able to take 4-5 shots before dying. This is the most infuriating thing about LCS and really brings the score down. I had to use cheats to finish the game. I died maybe 10-15 times on several missions even with cheats! Having only a few enemies is manageable and some missions felt tailored towards the PSP controls and some didn’t. There were missions I really thought were fun, but then I’d be thrown into a multi-part mission and die a dozen times on the last part just to have to restart all over again. It also doesn’t help that you don’t make much money in this game quickly so every time you die or get arrested your weapons are gone. For some missions I was stuck with no money and had to have a weapon so I had to use a weapon cheat. The game’s flow was not thought out very well.
At least the story and characters are entertaining. While not as fleshed out as later games in the series Toni Cipriani and his fellow employers are all classic GTA-style characters and I enjoyed seeing them on screen. The radio stations are back and are one of my favorite parts of the game. Driving around listening to the hilarious commentary is gold. Due to the small volume space on the PSP disc, there isn’t much of it. I would start to hear repeated stuff about a quarter of the way through the game which is a shame, but the game supports custom soundtracks which are nice. There is a multiplayer mode, but it’s nothing really special. You and a buddy can basically wreak havoc over ad-hoc. You can participate in races, taxi, and first responder missions, but there’s nothing special here that wasn’t in GTA3 or is PSP exclusive.
The visuals of the game are pretty impressive, but there is a lot of slowdown and pop-ups. LCS pushes the system to its limits, and the amount of detail is crazy. There are reflections when it rains, tons of traffic and pedestrians, and large buildings loom over the horizon. The sound is great as well as it feels like a living breathing city despite how little interaction there is. But, on the surface, after the story is over there’s no real reason to come back unless you just want to ride around causing mayhem.
Overall, LCS is an incredible technical feat but is brought down by a mission structure not tailored for the handheld’s control system. It’s way too easy to die with missions that require sometimes dozens of enemies firing at you all at once, which leads to dozens of restarts and endless frustration. There’s a lot of slowdown and pop-in, and the radio stations start repeating after only a couple of hours, but that’s just the roughness of the original GTA open-world games. They weren’t perfect but were enjoyable thanks to their sense of freedom and great writing and character design. I recommend playing LCS, but keep the cheat sheet handy as you will need it since there are no difficulty options.