The release of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories may come as a relief to those worried that Joseph Lieberman had secretly become the CEO of Rockstar Games. Collective jaws were dropped when the company that GTA built unveiled a straightfaced table tennis simulation as its first Xbox 360 release this spring. What was next, asked snarky critics, Rockstar Presents Lawn Darts or Friday Night Bingo at the American Legion Local 721?
There’s no hint of parlor games in Liberty City Stories, a game in which Rockstar returns to its crime-loving, street-hustling roots. But arguably, too much so. I say this because LCS isn’t the bold new GTA game many fans were hoping for. Oddly enough, it’s also a direct port from Sony’s PSP system, which marks one of the only times you’ll see a handheld-to-console port. There’s no doubt that to be able to play a GTA game like LCS on a three inch screen is impressive, but on the PlayStation 2 LCS suffers considerably.
LCS returns to the East Coast locale of Liberty City (A thinly veiled New York City clone) to tell the story of Toni Cipriani, a quasi low level lackey working for a stereotypical Italian mob family in the Leones. Toni has just returned to Liberty City after lying low for awhile because of some “services” he provided for Salvatore Leone, the don of the family.
As LCS opens, Salvatore hands Toni over to one of his main men in Vincenzo Cilli, who gives Toni several missions involving wiping out enemies of the family and furthering his own cause. The story is a new one, but feels almost indistinguishable from GTA III—lots of contract hits, double crossings, and your usual mob boss hubris.
Despite this, a few characters manage to separate themselves from the pack. Such as an entrepreneur/philanthropist named Donald Love, a well-liked member of the community who you find to be coldhearted and borderline insane. And one of your missions is to get this dirty politician elected as mayor of Liberty City, which you accomplish by driving around town in a “Don Love for Mayor” campaign van in marked neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, though, most of the missions are fairly uninspired. For every interesting mission like getting Love elected, there is your typical “Drive from A to B and kill gangster X” mission. Maybe it’s because the scope of LCS is so much smaller than what we’re used to, but the missions feel rather perfunctory.
Of course, part of the immense appeal of the series is that you don’t have to complete any of the various missions. One could spend hours and hours stealing exotic sports cars, driving over unsuspecting pedestrians, running your own taxi service, delivering pizzas, or participating in your own version of World’s Most Dangerous Police Chases. There is even a new minigame that lets you play the role of a car salesman, though it’s not much more than giving potential customers a test drive in a car of their choice.
The graphics don’t help matters. The GTA series was never known for its eye popping visuals, but LCS is just plain ugly. What looks striking on the PSP’s small screen doesn’t convert well when blown up on a TV.
LCS isn’t a bad game by any means (and the $19.99 price tag is a treat), but it suffers in comparison to its PS2 siblings. GTA fanatics and completists will want to pick up LCS, but casual fans of the series may want to hold on to that Andrew Jackson and wait for Grand Theft Auto 4. Ping pong, anyone?