WuCorp Million Dollar Man
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: Sparks Steakhouse
Rep Power: 16
It's been four years since gamers left Liberty City. Arguably, those players (and to a greater extent, the game industry) hasn't been the same since. Grand Theft Auto III, which shipped nearly four years ago, took the seedier side of "real" life and presented gamers with a means to explore at their leisure. While stuffing a videogame with a profanity, violence, and crime is nothing new, Rockstar Games crafted a true cinematic experience that, oftentimes, struck too close to home. And so, GTA III became one of the most controversial games in history.
Which of course, also made it one of the most popular games in history as well. Since the original GTA blasted its way into the marketplace, Rockstar has released multiple sequels and spin-offs. One of the more recent, GTA: Vice City, took a similar approach to GTA III and introduced a new setting, a new era and a selection of minor improvements. Even more could be said of GTA: San Andreas -- a lot more. San Andreas boasted a ridiculously large game world, not to mention a bevy of new vehicles, character customization, hidden extras (you know what I'm talking about), a new targeting system, and dozens of other improvements.
But discussing all of San Andreas' enhancements to the GTA series would take too long. Plus, it's not really the point here. What is the point is how these improvements (and others) have found their way into the latest entry in the series, Liberty City Stories for Sony's PSP. As most of you know, GTA: LCS is Rockstar's latest attempt at shrinking GTA into handheld form. Sure, GTA and GTA II appeared on the Game Boy Advance, but GTA: LCS is something different altogether. For the first time, the entire GTA III experience (and we do mean everything) has been re-imagined for a system meant to be stuffed in your trousers.
To ensure the game's quality, tRockstar Leeds and Rockstar North (GTA: Vice City, GTA: San Andreas) have worked together to make LCS as strong as possible. But instead of porting their previous efforts, they pair decided to build Liberty City from the ground up. Rockstar dropped Renderware in favor of a brand new in-house engine to best utilize the resolution, texture density and particle effects of the PSP. It's been in development for over two years now, as Sony chose Rockstar as one of the first developers to score a PSP development kit. Thankfully, LCS is a newly crafted "full GTA game" as one Rockstar representative put it... and they can't emphasize this enough.
Trust me, when we saw the game at their offices in San Francisco they made a point of telling us this, like, 400 times. They wanted to make sure we told the gaming public to expect a brand new product for the PSP and that Rockstar had developed GTA: LCS to be the system's undisputed "killer app." This translates to all-new characters, missions and narrative, as well as a host of changes to help the series transition from small screen to smaller screen. Just don't expect sweeping changes to the core GTA formula. The game still revolves around a single character and his violent ascent in the criminal underworld.
The story takes place three years before the events of GTA III and centers on Toni Ciprini, who has just returned to Liberty City after laying low for four years. He killed a rival mob boss, after all, and leaving town is simply the smartest thing to do. Anyway, he strolls into town and lands in the warm embrace of Don Salvatore Leone, who quickly places him under the command of "capo" Vincent Cilli. From here, Ciprini embarks on a journey filled with more blood, explosions, and executions than a stack of Schwarzenegger movies.
Like we said before, GTA: LCS plays like every other current-generation GTA in that players can venture off of on their own or follow a linear storyline. Regardless of the choice though, vehicles will (obviously) play a hefty role. With Liberty City, we saw a bunch of new rides that we can eventually dastardly deeds with, or simply cruise the town. Players can hop on motorcycles, choppers and scooters new to Liberty City (and a couple of boats too). Plus, Liberty City now includes a train and ferry system, since some of the bridges seen in GTA III haven't been built yet according to the timeline. We also noticed a substantial visual improvement in vehicle models such as reflections and damage modeling.
Gamers worried about the depth and complexity of a handheld GTA can put their worries aside... at least in this case. Just like GTA: San Andreas and both its current-generation predecessors, Liberty City Stories packs close to 100 hours of gameplay. Not that everyone will, of course, but it's nice to know that it's all there should anyone really be hungry enough to try and get everything.
Plus, some of us strapped for cash always appreciate a game that takes forever to complete, secrets and all. Part of the reason it packs as much as its console brethren is because all the side missions, hidden packages, rampages and stunt jumps. Only now, many of the missions (including storyline missions) have been tweaked with mobile gamers in mind. This means we can expect a lot more pick-up-and-go five minute missions. But don't worry about those extended jobs; they're here too.
In one mission, for example, Salvatore wanted Toni to retrieve a sack of cash from one of his warehouses at Callahan Point. He took a chopper (a new vehicle to Liberty City) and screeched on over. Upon his arrival, a gang of Triads torch Salvatore's warehouse with some explosives and all hell breaks lose. Cue the icing of a number of Triads with the warehouse burning out in the background. But they were just a distraction. Toni then had to bust through the opposition to rescue Salvatore's money before it got torched. Dough in hand, it was back to Salvatore's place he went, but not before being chased by a new group of Triads.
If that mission seems pretty straightforward, the next one we saw shook things up quite a bit. This time, Toni had to accompany Salvatore to the docks to interrogate one of the mayor's aids for information on a rival mob boss. The target isn't on the docks, however, but on a yacht in the middle of the river. He hopped on a boat, reached the aid, and set off with his prize. Too bad the Secret Service monitored the whole affair. A moment later, the boat was under attack by S.S agents on the dock. Salvatore takes control of the boat and he picked up an automatic rifle. During this on-rails segment, Toni had to pick off agents chasing him in boats, on land, and even in helicopters. Pretty cool.
And speaking of missions, GTA: Liberty City Stories will reintroduce phone booth missions and also include a series of safe houses to save progress. And as most gamers know, the ability to save at a moments notice (or as close to it as possible) is a wildly dandy feature to have. According to Rockstar, Mission objectives will be as varied as ever... so we can expect everything from the basic courier and action missions to those requiring a little more finesse, such as jobs requiring infiltration. During these missions, for example, players may need to change their clothes (by finding beacons) before gaining entrance into a building or lot. Players may also need to drive specific cars, etc.
Action in GTA: Liberty City Stories plays like a refined version of previous models. Players will need to lock on to enemies by pressing the left shoulder Button and cycle through targets using the d-pad. Fortunately, we didn't see any instances where the lock system tagged civilians and walkers-by instead of baddies packin' heat like in previous games. In addition to everyday gunfights, we saw a collection of missions that included on-rail arcade-style shooting sequences onboard speedboats and other vehicles. Those worried about missing shots due to the PSP needn't worry too much, either, since we can now slow down time just a smidge during these sequences to improve aim.
And damn, the game certainly gives us a lot of things to pump full of searing lead. Since GTA: Liberty City Stories offers the same complex city dynamic from previous GTAs, we can all expect to live amongst old rival gangs (and some new ones), along with brutal cops and chatty pedestrians. And now we get far more weapons and weapon sets than before. In between the action (or simply just cruising town) we also heard several new radio stations, including one that plays world music exclusively. As for the soundtrack, it's entirely licensed. Unfortunately, we don't know who the artists are but we do know Rockstar will make the announcement sometime soon. The same goes for celebrity voiceovers. We'll all know soon enough.
And yes, the game looks pretty hot on the PSP. The frame rate seemed pretty stable, too, and all the extra effects such as reflections and particle effects looked good on the PSP screen. And as for the load times, don't worry. The game will only load on start-up and when switching between the game's three main islands.
Of course, we'll know much more about the game in coming weeks.
Even if someone isn't the biggest GTA fan, they can still appreciate the scope of the experience. And now that's it headed for the PSP, we can truly carry a three-dimensional virtual-underworld in our pockets.
“Catch your dreams before they slip away. Dying all the time, lose your dreams, and you will lose your mind. Ain't life unkind?”