The Grand Theft Auto series and the PlayStation 2 have gone hand in hand, which each game debuting on the PS2 before it travels to other consoles. That all changed with the release of last year's side story, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. This game, designed to take advantage of the PSP's hardware, was an impressive technical feat, managing to pack in a lot of what made the "big" GTA games so memorable. But it fell short in a few key spots, most notably the story, the characters, and the series' biting sense of style and satire. That stuff was easy to overlook when you could carry Liberty City around in your back pocket. But on the PS2, where you can compare it directly to the three Grand Theft Auto games that have appeared there, the whole package is significantly less interesting, even considering the PS2 port's budget price.
Not much has changed, so if you've already played this on the PSP, there's not much reason to take on the PS2 version. The game's got a slightly longer draw distance on the PlayStation 2, and the streets look like they might have a few more people on them. But neither of these things dramatically changes the game, and they can't save the game's otherwise murky visuals and often poor frame rate. But it also controls a little better; with the right analog stick back in effect, you've got all the camera control and other buttons you're used to hitting on the PS2. It's neither elegant nor particularly noteworthy, but if you didn't play it on the PSP, Liberty City Stories' $20 price tag is just right. Just don't go in expecting anything approaching the grandiose nature of GTAIII, let alone the bigger, crazier Vice City or San Andreas. And if you've already played it on the PSP, well, there's little reason to play it again, because this is the same game, with the multiplayer modes stripped out.
As a return to Liberty City, the New York-themed locale first made famous back in Grand Theft Auto III, Liberty City Stories is all about retreading through well-worn territory. If you still remember the streets of Liberty City, you'll see plenty of the same spots here. But as a game that was designed for the less powerful PSP, you'll probably notice that Liberty City Stories is much smaller in scope than what we've seen in the series more recently. Missions, which grew to epic proportions in San Andreas, are much shorter and feel pretty meaningless in LCS. There are plenty of moments where you'll complete a mission and immediately think, "Well, at least I'll never have to do that again." The story, however, is the biggest casualty.
Liberty City Stories tells the tale of one Toni Cipriani, a regular-type mob guy who did a good deed for the head of the Leone crime family, Salvatore Leone. Toni had to go away for awhile, but the heat's died down, and he's back on the job in Liberty City, maintaining his loyalty to Sal while wiping out the family's enemies in droves along the way. As you ascend to become Salvatore's right-hand man, you'll start and finish gang wars with other mafia types, a few triads, the yakuza...pretty much all of the usual suspects are present.
If you're familiar with the various mafia presences over the course of the past three GTA games, you'll recognize a few of the names and faces here. But the story stands alone and doesn't require you to remember the various cast members. That's a good thing, because the mafia characters in the other GTA games have been largely forgettable. The game's storyline really isn't up to par with the console installments in the series, because very little actually happens. Even potential plot points are squandered, like when Toni finally becomes a made man but a bad cutscene doesn't actually show the ceremony. The game's mission path doesn't deviate into crazy territory, and most of the characters are fairly lifeless. There are no enigmatic weirdos like Truth, the crazy hippie from San Andreas, or Steve Scott, the porno director from Vice City, to break up the heavier-handed mafia tasks. This dulls the game's personality, preventing its characters and events from becoming as memorable as we've come to expect from GTA games and their excellent storylines.