Simple pleasures

Grand Theft Auto goes back to Liberty City
By MITCH KRPATA  |  June 30, 2006
3.0 3.0 Stars

HOT TIP: At the beginning of the game, the fastest vehicle available is the police car.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is a part of a game that came out last year for the PSP — this may be the first time a game has been scaled up from a handheld system to a console. What’s more, it costs just $20. So though it doesn’t quite stack up to its PS2 brethren and definitely shouldn’t be mistaken for Grand Theft Auto 4, it’s a solid budget title.

The game actually predates Grand Theft Auto 3. Although it’s set in the same locale, the change in era makes for significant changes to the layout. The old neighborhoods are all still there, however, so if you’ve been pining for the classy dames of Liberty City’s Red Light District, your prayers have been answered. Playing as Toni Cipriani, a grizzled mafioso, you embark upon the usual assassinations, thefts, and getaway missions. You won’t be surprised by what you’re asked to do. Just like the city itself, the missions are different, and yet you’ve seen it all before.

The sheen isn’t really there either, most likely because of the game’s origins on the PSP. The production values are a bit lower than we’re used to — the most famous voice actor I recognized in the credits was Joe Lo Truglio, probably best known as a member of MTV’s The State. (Was Ray Liotta really that busy? I mean, we all know how difficult it is to get him to appear in things.) And though GTA has never been the prettiest game, it seems particularly ugly this time around. Not only is Liberty City drab, but the seams are starting to show. Grand Theft Auto 4 is sorely needed.

All the same, this one hits the spot where so many GTA knockoffs fail. The gratuitous profanity and nihilistic violence are easy to mimic, but they’re not what keep people coming back. Neither is it the (false) idea that you can do anything you want within the game world. The crucial distinction is that almost everything you do in a GTA game provides a reward. Some people like to run around mugging pedestrians; they’re rewarded with easy money. Some stick to the missions, and that keeps the narrative moving. Me, I like to tool around looking for sweet jumps. My reward comes in the form of slow-motion camera angles, and free money just for spinning around in mid air. No matter how you choose to play, you never feel as if you were running into arbitrary barriers.

IT’S NOT GRAND THEFT AUTO 4, but it is a solid budget title
And the game’s stripped-down feel often works in its favor. San Andreas veered toward self-parody by going to the gym, eating fast food, and shopping for clothes. There’s a point at which quantity begins to dilute quality. Liberty City Stories is closer to the game that made millions of fans (and even more millions of dollars) in the first place.

In the end it feels like GTA fan fiction, hitting all the familiar signposts en route to forging a minor bit of mythology but lacking true vision or verve. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a return to the simple pleasures of pulling an old man out of his car, punching him a few times, and then reversing over him with his own vehicle.

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