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Killer App or Killer Crap?

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Have you ever eaten a perfect cheeseburger? A burger so fresh, so tender that it absolutely dwarfs everything ever eaten before it? with melted cheese softly dripping off the edges, lettuce freshly cut bringing a slight crisp to the overall texture, and a tomato so ripe you could eat it like an apple. This perfect burger might have cost a little bit more money than you are used to, but it was well worth its price. After eating such a fine piece of beef, how can one go back to eating the greasy, low-grade McDonald?s double cheeseburger? To untrained taste buds, this greasy/cheap burger can satisfy a hungry belly, but with a person with more defined tastes, there is no way to turn back. Once you have the best, it is hard to accept anything less. This is the case with Liberty City Stories. After playing San Andreas, Liberty City Stories is the greasy cheeseburger that untrained players will enjoy, but connoisseurs can only tolerate it instead of basking in the full favor of something greater.

The game?s title is Liberty City Stories. GTA players will recognize the name from GTA 3. This PSP version actually takes place before the PS2 game so some structural pieces of the environment such as bridges, roads, and streets are either being built or haven?t been made yet. While playing this game on a handheld system is truly a sight to behold, I still can?t help but wonder how many short cuts Rockstar took when they created this game. I think they purposely chose the landscape from GTA 3 because the source code could most easily be changed to fit the PSP?s protocol.

Liberty City Stories is the greasy cheeseburger instead of the tender beef sirloin. Why would I want to play a GTA game that has none of the features of San Andreas? Most PS2 gamers probably hopped on the GTA bandwagon at GTA 3. Then Vice City was released and surpassed gamer?s expectations. Thinking that the game couldn?t really get any better, San Andreas created a new frontier in the GTA market. After playing full-fledged and detailed San Andreas, could these gamers go back to playing GTA 3?

This PSP game is like doing just this. None of the gameplay elements that made San Andreas a hit have been placed in this game. There are no RPG stat upgrading, no tattooing, no better gun handling, no swimming, but most importantly, no character driven story. In fact, the only addition from GTA 3 is the ability to change your outfit and ride a motorcycle.

Not having a character driven story one of the biggest problems with this game. Instead developing multiple characters with a complex story, Liberty City Stories is simply composed of missions that never extend beyond the ?drive here, then kill this? motif. It is so hard to go back to a game that we played over four years ago when many better sequels have been made. Even the voice acting has taken a major blow to the head. Yes, there is voice acting in this game, but conversations are so simple, they might as well have been text based. Any kind of a feel for a story has been sucked right out of Liberty City Stories.

On the topic of the lack of story telling, each cut-scene is marred by inconvenient and troublesome load screens. In order to accept a mission, the player must steal a car, drive to a glowing circle, let the game load, watch a short cut-scene, wait for another loading, then finally start the mission. While loading structures like this are present in many games, it just seems so idiotic when playing on a handheld system. Handheld games should be fast and easier to work with than console games as most handheld players will only want to play for shorter periods of time. Extending this, if the player were to die, then all these load scenes must be watched again in their entirety. This takes a lot of the portability out of this game.

Each mission also has a small effect on the overall story as well. In Vice City, the player completed each mission to regain a lost wealth. In San Andreas, the player wanted to bring vengeance to his dead mother. In Liberty City Stories, you go on missions because?. well, just because. There really is no ultimate goal or purpose because of the lacking story.

The missions also contain some major problems. In the beginning of the game, the player is sent on simple missions like ?go here and kill him.? But within time, missions become so frustrating difficult, you will soon realize how many ways you can break your PSP. Instead of the usual throwing your PSP at wall to break it effect, I quickly found out that I could probably crack my PSP in two as if ripping a phone book in half. And it is never good when a game makes your realize how many ways you can break your system.

But why are these missions so difficult and frustrating? Because the game uses an old and extremely flawed auto-aim and camera system. Why is it, that when I am being chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac, the game will automatically auto-target the civilian behind me? These problems existed since the first GTA was introduced to the third dimension and have not improved in the slightest. Tell me why after four years we still have the same exact problem. Combine this with a flawed camera system, and you have a recipe for crappiness. Not only does the poor auto-aim function result in an almost unplayable game, it is also frustrating because you will have to watch all the load screens again.

The game offers a free aiming mode, but it takes way too long to execute. With an awkward combination of using a shoulder button, the d-pad, and the face buttons, it becomes too heavy on the button usage to pull off what should be a fast move. Driving can also be a bit touchy at times, especially with the type of car you are driving.

Considering this game has been made on a handheld system, credit must be given. I respect what Rockstar has done with this game and how they made it run on this handheld system. Creating a living, dynamic world is hard enough to do on a console or PC, let alone a handheld. The graphics and frame rate resemble that of GTA 3?s along with a similar music track. And if you grow tired of the music, you can create your own play list by putting Mp3?s on your Memory Stick Pro Duo. This is one of the first PSP game?s to support this feature. The game also features multiplayer support via Ad-Hoc mode. Up to six players can compete in driving and shooting games. A multiplayer aspect like this is also a first for a GTA game.

PSP has a growing reputation of creating games that are weaker versions of their console brethren. This only holds more true with Liberty City Stories. Yes, the game is respectable because of the free roaming aspect, but it is also very hard to go back to an old game when better ones have been created. If you never played a GTA game, they Liberty City Stories would be a great place to start. But if you played San Andreas, you will probably want to look elsewhere. Plus this is the type of game you will want to spend hours with. And if you are going to spending hours, you might as well play the console versions as the portability has been removed thanks to the many load screens. GTA Liberty City Stories is a decent game and deserves respect especially considering it is on a handheld system, but why eat Ramen noodles when you can have that juicy cheeseburger?

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