Upon hearing that yes, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories had shipped to stores my friend let out a bleated cheer, "Finally, the PSP killer app has arrived!" But had it? Were PSP owners once again setting themselves up for disappointment? Rockstar had been unusually quiet about their latest Grand Theft Auto game. So much so that some had started to doubt that PSP owners were actually going to get the "GTA experience."
Handheld gamers looking for their on-the-go GTA-fix had been disappointed so many times in the past. The Game Boy versions had turned out to be a few carjackings short of a Grand Theft Auto. However, any worries that Liberty City Stories is anything less than a full fledged console GTA experience should be tossed aside right now.
In fact, I dare say that this is the start of all my problems: Liberty City Stories is ever so much a GTA game despite the fact that it appears on the PSP. It's like putting grownup clothes on a little kid, they may fit, but a little tailoring would go a long way. Still, from the moment I turned on my PSP and slid Liberty City Stories into the drive I was amazed. Instead of being tethered to my coin-sucking couch, I could roam just as freely Toni Cipriani walks around Liberty City.
Ah, Liberty City—fable city of the nameless anti-hero of Grand Theft Auto 3. The decision to set Liberty City Stories in the same world as GTA 3 was probably done to speed up development time. And while the designers have switched around some things and replaced others, in the end we're left running around with a depressing sense of déjà vu hanging over our heads.
What does Déjà vu mean anyway?
Maybe that's what irks me: four years later and we're still playing the same game. For every instance the game dumbfounds you with a "Wow, they even got [insert cool GTA feature]," it disappoints with archaic gameplay mechanics and unfriendly pick up-and-play mission design. It's like playing a four year-old game and noticing all the little things you take for granted in newer titles—oh wait, it's exactly like that.
It's as if someone made a GTA-clone and ignored all the enhancements that had been made to the series over the years. Liberty City Stories is pretty much GTA 3 mixed with the bikes and outfit changing aspects of Vice City. Nowhere to be found are any of the gameplay additions found in San Andreas. This means no RPG-like stat upgrading that leads to better car and gun handling, no character customization such as tattoos and haircuts—no swimming, and no character-driven story.
Yes, you read that last sentence right: no character-driven story. Compared to the family dynamics and honor-bound gang complications that CJ faced in San Andreas, the story in Liberty City Stories basically boils down to: go here, drive this, kill them. Maybe this has something to do with the fact Tony, the main character, is the flattest one-dimensional protagonist seen in a Grand Theft Auto game since GTA 3.
In Vice City, Tommy—complimented by an amazing voice over from Ray Lolita—would mutter out these great one-liners after each mission briefing that took you into his private thoughts, which helped flesh out the details of the character's motive. In Liberty City Stories, it's more like this: "Toni go kill this guy I don't like!" […] "Ok." Any sense of energy is sucked out every cut scene by the lug-head.