Before I say anything else, go out and buy Liberty City Stories. If you enjoy the series, and you own a PSP, you will no doubt find hours upon hours of fun here. This may well be the game that convinces you to get a PSP if you are still on the fence.
Liberty City Stories (LCS) is no side story to GTA III, it does not borrow any missions from its brother. LCS is set in 1998, before the events of GTA III. As in San Andreas, you run into new and old friends from the GTA world.
Comparing LCS to GTA III is inevitable. So lets not try to hide it. I dusted off a friends copy of GTA III for a nostalgic ride through the 2001 version of Liberty City.
LCS has everything that GTA III has. Some buildings are missing or not completed as this story is set a few years prior to GTA III. LCS even has a couple graphical effects that GTA III did not. LCS doesn't look as gray and muddy. Textures look great. The models look a lot nicer. The headlight and taillight effects look more in line with Vice City. The voice work and story direction is on par with the console version too.
It still seems odd, but a PS2 game from a few years ago is looking better on the PSP today.
Load times for LCS were obviously one of - if not the - top priorities of Rockstar Leeds. It takes on average less then 30 seconds to load from a save file. Loading interiors and exteriors takes around five seconds. Loading missions takes about five seconds as well. I am truely impressed with the load times. This may be because I have seen some rather horrible load times in the life span of the PSP, but still, Rockstar is to be commended on such a good job.
The same rules apply to LCS as in any other GTA game. The important thing is that the core game play is the same, you get the full 3D 'sandbox' experience in your pocket that you get on the PS2, Xbox, and PC.
You save your game in safe houses, just like GTA III. Only this time there is an interior to your safe house a la Vice City. You can go on taxi cab missions, vigilante missions, ambulance and firefighter missions. It does not look like anything has been cut out of the GTA world we all have grown to love. It is amazing it fits all on one UMD, especially when you consider the amount of audio a game like this has.
I have even found some new game play elements. You can now take people on test drives at the car dealership, and you can collect trash from dumpsters. Two more ways to earn money. You can deliver pizza, and noodles. The only thing I have not run across are rampage missions, though I would imagine they are in here too.
There are ten radio stations in the game. Yes. Ten. And the talk radio and crazy commercials are all here. They are funnier then ever.
The missions themselves are mainly kept short. This is obviously due to being on a portable and works well. The game could have benefited by being able to save anywhere, or allow for a 'quick save' option for saving when you are in the middle of a mission. Sure you can set your PSP on Hold, but a quick save would have been a welcome addition to the portable game play.
What does LCS have over the console GTA? Multiplayer. LCS has what looks like a rather robust multiplayer mode with seven different games. It supports up to six people over Ad Hoc. I can't comment on this yet, but the videos I have seen make me eager to find someone else with LCS to try out the multiplayer games.
I don't want to hate on a game that has so much to offer. but it too is inevitable.
On first glance, it looks like you can listen to your own custom soundtracks. There is even a 'Custom Tracks' option in the Audio menu. Rumor has it you'll be able to play your own custom soundtracks from the memory stick, although this hasn't been confirmed. This is not to say the music selection is not good, it's great as usual. Having custom soundtracks would just be that much better. This may be possible in a future download.
Since there is only one analog stick on the PSP, camera adjustment is very limited. You can pull the L trigger to center the camera. To spin the camera you have to use the L trigger in conjunction with the analog stick which is a little awkward.
There are five camera angles when in a vehicle and three more views when you are on foot. I have not run into any terrible camera problems yet but I know it will happen. I have already seen some odd behavior when my car was in tight spaces. Why Sony did not give us a second analog stick is a mystery we will never have the answer to.
The targeting system is another point of irritation. It is far better then GTA III and is closer to what you see in San Andreas, but not as intelligent. The PS2 controller allows you to cycle through targets very easily. Of course that controller has four shoulder buttons. Sometimes in LCS it targets a pedestrian and not the bad guy you need to shoot. And when I say it, I mean the mysterious A. I. that decides where your arm points to next. At least it is not as frustrating as targeting in GTA III. Again, more buttons would help here.
One major complaint is that you cannot move around if you have locked onto a target. Taking this out of the game play we have come to expect seems odd, but I assume this did not work well with the PSP's controls.
Since there is no L3 or R3 buttons on the PSP, up and down on the D-pad are used for sirens, horns, and starting ambulance, taxi, etc., missions. Changing radio stations and weapons have been mapped to left and right on the D-pad.
LCS button configuration feels good after a couple hours of play. It is a little odd at first. This is mainly due to using the same controls on the PS2 since 2001.
Liberty City Stories is the killer application the PSP needed at launch. It is no less a killer app now. I just wanted to see this game at the PSP launch. It has been rumored that LCS has been in development for over two years after all.
This is defiantly the game to pick up for Christmas if you have a PSP owner on your list. It is not often that a portable game packs more game play then its console brother.
One of the best titles on the PSP to date. Production values this high are special, handheld game or not.
One final note: LCS requires that you install version 2.00 of the PSP firmware.
So it's either upgrade the firmware or you will have to find the software that spoofs the version number. But a little warning as far as that goes. It exploits a buffer overflow hole in the PSP firmware so use it at your own peril. You might just "brick" your PSP. And that would not be very fun at all.