Grand Theft Auto began life as an anarchic top-down arcade game, and the previous portable versions of the franchise – for Game Boy and Game Boy Advance – have kept with that original formula.
But it was Grand Theft Auto III on the PS2 that revolutionised the series – and the gaming world – with a 3D perspective and a previously undreamt of freedom that allowed gamers to ignore the plotlines and just cause wanton havoc instead.
The new version for the PSP is every bit the game that Grand Theft Auto III was. In fact, Liberty City Stories even uses the same maps as GTA III. But a decade has passed (it’s set in the mid-90s) and the soundtrack, fashions and – most importantly – missions have all changed.
It’s wonderful to return to Liberty City – its not as extensive as Vice City or San Andreas, but it feels like home… if you’re the sort of person who loves to see their home over-run by criminals and burning to the ground.
The graphics of the PSP version are as good as GTA III, and the controls are just as natural too – the analogue stick is responsive and the driving dynamics are perfect. But it’s the tight storytelling and variation in the despicable, blood-splattered, low-life missions that makes this a gold-star addition to the GTA world.
So what’s missing? Well, the soundtrack isn’t quite as expansive – or distinctive – as the hundred-odd 80s classics that scored the original, but given the size limitations of the UMD disc format, that’s inevitable. However, visit the Rockstar Games website and you can download an app that lets you add your own music to the in-game radio stations, using tracks from your memory card.
And to make the most of the PSP's wireless facility, Liberty City Stories features a variety of multi-player modes – a first for the series and something we can't wait to try out when we have more than one copy of the game.
In all, Liberty City Stories is close to flawless: the PSP copes admirably with its complexity, rarely dropping frames or slowing even when the screen is full of action, while the graphical detailing is as loving as we’ve come to expect. Oh yes, and it’s as offensive as ever too – if you don’t want to enter a world of whores, dealers and gangland killings, maybe you should stick to playing Tiger Woods on the way to work. But just beware of that guy opposite you with the PSP and the evil glint in his eye.
Stuff says The first truly essential game on the PSP. Expect to miss your stop on a regular basis. ***** (5/5)