November 07, 2005

Portable Mayhem via Liberty City Stories

My first gaming system was an original Game Boy, a black-and-white portable. I upgraded it to a Game Boy Color in 1998, a Game Boy Advance in 2001, and then a Game Boy Advance SP in 2003. Despite clearly being the best of the bunch, I didn't keep either of the Game Boy Advance systems for more than a year each. Why not? By that time, I was old enough to drive, and therefore wasn't as likely to be stuck anywhere for long. More importantly, the quality difference between the console and portable systems had become far too obvious. Without necessity, I no longer felt the need to hold onto a current portable system.

Things change, luckily. This March saw the introduction of Sony's PlayStation Portable, affectionately referred to as the PSP. Sony's first foray into the portable gaming market came at a cost; $249 to be precise. But what it provided were visuals merely a small step behind what could be achieved on their current console system, the PlayStation 2. The new high-capacity UMD disc format allowed for high-definition visuals, as well as lengthy adventures that could make full use of the system's capabilities.

I had no immediate plans to purchase the PSP, but when my Microsoft Xbox broke in May, I traded in all my games and accessories for it and ended up with a large amount of credit. Rather than replace the system (I intended on buying an Xbox 360 this fall), I decided to pick up a used PSP, which I got for $170 with my employee discount. I was well aware of my own past with portable systems, but said "oh, this time will be different." And it was. I've barely traveled since, but I've been using the thing regularly in the comfort of my own home. While there hasn't been a ton of software available in the first few months, such gems as Lumines, Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee, and Metal Gear Acid have each sucked up tens of hours of my time.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories was announced earlier this year to much skepticism. Could they possibly replicate an entire Grand Theft Auto game on a handheld? A recent version on the Game Boy Advance had been decent, but certainly not up to the level of the console editions. Another concern had to do with the content, following this summer's "Hot Coffee" drama, in which hackers discovered hidden sexual content within Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Would Take Two self-censor their newest game?

Not a chance. Liberty City Stories is a full-blown Grand Theft Auto game, with as much violence, explicit language, and sexual innuendo as is expected from the series. A prequel to 2001's Grand Theft Auto III, Liberty City Stories recreates the world of the original game, plus many of the additions the series has seen in recent years (motorcycles, walk-in locations, better aiming). Because the control scheme of the PSP isn't quite as comfortable or expansive as that of the PlayStation 2's Dual Shock 2 controller, some sacrifices had to be made. Fortunately, the changes are not major, and can be adjusted to fairly quickly.

In the game, you take the role of Toni Cipriani, a mafia hitman who had been in hiding. Your old boss sets you up with a job and an apartment, and you're back in business. Many of the missions are a bit simpler than in previous GTA games, which benefits the portability of the game. Still, the missions are both varied and engaging, and like in other GTA games, there are a rediculous amount of side-missions available to make money. Steal a taxi cab? Pick up some fares. Want to sell cars? Take customers on test drives and show them what the car of their dreams can really do. The Grand Theft Auto series provides a go-anywhere, do-anything experience, and Liberty City Stories doesn't disappoint in that respect.

The game's visuals are nearly on par with those of Grand Theft Auto III, though the framerate will chug occasionally. The voice acting is solid, and the radio commercials and the talk-radio station are both hilarious. There are fewer licensed tracks on the radio stations than in San Andreas, but I suppose that it's to be expected from a portable game. I've played roughly ten hours thus far, and I'm having a blast. I'm still in the first of three cities, which guarantees that the game should keep me satisfied for several hours to come.

With every recent Grand Theft Auto game, I've spent much more time screwing around in the city instead of doing the missions. Which is fine, except when I got further into the game, I felt like I'd already done everything, and I lost interest. Luckily, I found a focus after the first couple hours of play, and I've been working on the missions fairly exclusively since. I fully expect this to be the first GTA game that I complete. And that won't be a bad thing, as Liberty City Stories is as much a Grand Theft Auto game as any of the other entries.

Hell, I'm still sitting on my ass when I play it, so why should it matter?


Bridgitte said...
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