Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
25 November 2005
Playing: Liberty City Stories
As predicted, my winter vacation is taking place in Liberty City, with GTA: Liberty City Stories for the PlayStation Portable. It is engrossing. If you own a PSP and liked the 21st century GTA games then put GTA:LCS on your shopping list.

My complaints are that the primary story missions are very uneven, the violence tends toward grotesque, and the characterizations are gritty in a way that I don't recall from GTA3 or Vice City.

Some of these missions stink. Apparently some designers still think "go to A then B then C" is fun and original. Some missions simply cannot be completed the first time you play them. These are the same missions that are trivial once you've seen the pattern, so they fail to be fun twice. The missions are strongest that integrate the storyline and supporting cast. Otherwise, I'm just playing an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.

To address the level of violence, I'm going to spoil the ending to a sequence of missions. Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to read the spoiler. Ok, here's the spoiler: one sequence of missions ends when you chainsaw to death a butcher who's not paying his protection money and then sell him back to his own shop as sausage meat. Why do this? Not for the money, really, but to please your spiteful mother.

That's bordering on Manhunt-level deviance, and I think it was a poor design choice. I have been relieved that most of the game is not that bad, but there are times when it gets close. At some risk of seeming fickle, I prefer my gangsters a little less vile.

Liberty City Stories is filled with hard drugs, some domestic violence, dirty sex, and many, many four-letter words. I'm sure I sound like a horrible prude, but I'd probably not let my son play this game, even under my supervision, as long as he's in my care. It's a difficult subject, and I'm fortunately several years from actually having to make decisions like that, but I am uncomfortable being party to showing one more innocent what the corruption of the world looks like, especially through the eyes of a videogame like this one.

On a technical level, I have no complaints. Like other GTA games, Liberty City Stories makes you forget the technology and focus on the story, missions, and exploration. And exploration is just as fun here as it was with GTA3. The game's environment is rich enough to evoke the "Can I do that?" question often (i.e. "Can I make that jump?" or "Can I get on top of that building, and what might be up there?"). The result is captivating

Liberty City Stories is, as its predecessors, a rich soup of cultural references, mostly from movies. The main character's relationship with his mother shares more than a passing resemblance to that between Psycho's Norman Bates and his mother. (I found it obvious, but I haven't been able to find anyone online who's made that connection. Perhaps you can find one?) The incident in the spoiler above I'd guess was influenced by another famous horror movie. A non-Leone character thinks he's going to become a made man, with results that are a mix of Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. There is even a Star Trek reference: one mission is called The Trouble with Triads. Like watching a good episode of The Simpsons, these references make for good material and are entertaining to spot.

According to the game's statistics, I'm 20% done with the game. That said, I'll probably still be playing when winter is officially over and spring has begun. Maybe that's all I really need to say about it.
--Matt Matthews at 00:42
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