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December 11, 2005
GTA: Liberty City Stories - Review
Release Date Distributor Publisher Developer
2/12/2005Take TwoRockstarRockstar Leeds
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Yes, this is definately a GTA game.
So this is it. The game which Sony is hoping will push millions upon millions of PSP's into homes around the world this Christmas. There's little argument that GTA: Liberty City Stories is an ambitious project, for several reasons. Firstly the PSP has a slower CPU then the PS2 meaning developers had to be careful not to be seen to be taking shortcuts or filling the game with slowdown. Secondly the PSP's UMD storage medium only allows 1.8GB as opposed to 9GB on the PS2's DVD's. On the flip side the lower resolution of the PSP reduces the texturing and grunt required to push the game. So how have Rockstar Leeds coped in bringing the series to PSP? Simple answer. Extremely well. This is every bit as accomplished as the PS2 games and the two years development has been well spent.

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Targeting on the streets.
GTA: Liberty City Stories takes place three years before Grand Theft Auto III. The game centers on a character by the name of Toni Ciprini who has returned to Liberty City after laying low for four years after killing a rival mob boss. Upon returning to the city he meets Don Salvatore Leone where he soon enters a deadly lifestyle battling against the Sindacco Family, the police force and the Mayors office. As anyone who has played a GTA game over the last couple of years can tell you these are massive games with plenty of cut scenes (usually providing details on the next mission) and will certainly take you days to complete. Rockstar estimated that this game could take gamers up to 100 hours to complete - and we can't disagree especially if you take a bit of time to look around.

As soon as you start this game there's little doubt that you're playing a Grand Theft Auto title. Not only can you go and play through the missions, but if you desire you can simply cruise around the levels in one of the many vehicles on offer. Vehicle handling is one area which we were concerned about with the shift to the PSP, and in particular the analogue sliding stick. These fears are largely unfounded with the development team doing an admirable job with the variety of cars, truck, boats and motorcycles available to drive in the game.

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No that is not James Bond!
Being set several years prior to Grand Theft Auto III the city looks slightly different with some buildings or bridges not yet built and many other small changes to keep GTA fans happy. The city is split up into three main locations: Portland, Staunton Island and Shoreside Vale. Through each of these areas you'll find the usual array of stores including clothing, food, weapons, and of course the paint shop to re-spray the car when you're trying to elude people - most often the cops!

Action in GTA: Liberty City Stories is a mixture of the previous GTA games, but mostly takes its ideas from the most recent game on PS2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The main character can lock-on to the enemies attacking him in order to target them quickly and efficiently and switch targets with the press of the directional button. As expected the range of weapons is large with everything from axes to machine guns, baseball bats to sniper rifles.

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Riding the motorbikes.
There's one big aspect of this game which surprised us, and indeed most people when it was announced only weeks before this games release and that is multiplayer for up to 6-players via ad-hoc connections. The seven game modes include the likes of Liberty City Survivor which plays like a Deathmatch, Street Rage which is like a race to more elaborate modes like Hit List which sees all the players hunting down one player trying to escape - tremendous fun. The multiplayer modes really add another layer to this game and while there no option to play the main story in multiplayer, nor any online options, it's a great, and somewhat unexpected, inclusion.

It's fair to say that problems with this game are similar to that seen in previous games. While the majority of missions are great fun some become infuriatingly difficult or feels somewhat out of place in the game. Perhaps Rockstar could trim a few hours from the game, and eliminate some of these more annoying missions. GTA: Liberty City Stories also lacks the storyline depth of the PS2 games. Perhaps the developers ran out of room for the frills but it makes this game seem a little too mission based and a bit light on storyline. The final gripe is that the game does include some small load times. They are most notable before cut scenes or missions but they are only a few seconds, and compared to many other PSP games it comes as a bit of a relief.

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Getting some massive air!
It's fair to say that the Grand Theft Auto games have never been the best at pushing around millions of polygons or offering the most detail in their environments or the greatest in-game cameras, and the same is true of GTA: Liberty City Stories. Where the game wins graphically is in terms of the scale of everything. The three sections of Liberty City are each much bigger then what you get in 90% of other games on the market. One concern we had prior to release was the news that Rockstar were ditching Renderware to use their own custom engine in the game. Those fears are unfounded. Thanks to better compression techniques, and slightly lower texture resolutions this game fits on the 1.8GB UMD and looks virtually identical to the PS2 games. In fact the game now includes real-time reflections and improved particle effects. Cut scenes are all rendered in-game and are generally very well handled. If there were a couple of gripes it would have to be that the clipping still needs some work - you will see plenty of instances of objects partially sticking through bits of scenery - and that Liberty City Stories also contains some pop-up in the distance which, while it never detracts from the actual gameplay, is evident.

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Just cruising around the streets.
Fans of previous titles in the series will be pleased to hear that this game includes many radio stations yet again including Head Radio, Double Clef FM, K-Jah, Rise FM, Lips 106, Radio Del Mundo, MSX 98, Flashback FM, The Liberty Jam and LCFR. While the speech in these stations is tremendous and often very amusing we didn't find the music selection anywhere near as exciting as that in the PS2 games. The most notable tracks are from bands or singers including DMX, Redman, Sneaker Pimps, Kenny Knots, Vanilla Smoothie and Randy La Fontaine to name a few. Perhaps it's due to the fact that this game is set a bit before our time, or perhaps some compromises were made on the budget and the licensing of the tracks. It's not bad, it's just that there isn't as many 'classic' tunes as we were expecting. The game's speech, while a little muffled at times (perhaps due to compression), is generally very well put together with plenty of tough guy speak and humour.

Something else to mention in the audio is that Rockstar allow you to import your own music into the game. To do so isn't as simple as dumping some MP3's onto your memory stick but rather you have to download a small program which then converts music from a CD (not MP3 etc) into a custom format for the game. It's a little bit of a task to do all this but it offers a viable alternative to the in-game music.

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By god, is that a sex truck!
This game is the first real indication that the PSP can handle large sprawling game worlds with abundant detail, a lengthy game and plenty of areas to explore. Just as Grand Theft Auto III redefined console games this game redefines handheld games. They don't have to be short, they don't have to be niche, and they don't have to be ports. Despite some small problems Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will be seen as a defining moment in the PSP's life. Essential purchase. Enough said.

Review By: Dave Warner

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GRAPHICSWhile the textures are a little murky, the game looks very good.
SOUNDThe radio stations are there, the speech a little muffled but still good.
GAMEPLAYGTA all the way. Some annoying missions, but overall it's great.
VALUEA handheld game with 100+ hours game time. There's no better value.
OVERALLGTA: Liberty City Stories is the essential PSP purchase this year. Unless you really hate the previous games there's little reason not to own this title. This is a great moment for PSP owners.

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