It’s hard to believe Grand Theft Auto III is well over 22 years old. It’s also hard to imagine how the games industry would look without this iconic brand that transcends video gaming. Even non-gamers are familiar with the title, although often for the wrong reasons. Controversy! Violence! Adult content! Yet GTA didn’t become an institution because of its controversial storylines. It invented the ‘sand box’ genre which has changed the face of gaming in subsequent years, with the growth and development of the franchise to the levels one would once question possible with the masterful GTA 5 and the devastating badness of the much anticipated and much savaged Grand Theft Auto Collection.
Despite the fantastic ports of Vice City and San Andreas, there was enormous trepidation and excitement about the promise of a fully functional, blur-free and playable version of the Sony PSP’s overlooked (and rightly so), GTA Liberty City Stories for iOS. After all, nostalgia can be a double-edged sword when revisiting such a revered classic, but possibly more so when said port could offer redemption! Will this reworked version of Liberty City Stories remain the weakest release in the monster franchise, or be elevated to new highs?
Up, up and away!
Thankfully, the answer is the former. In fact it’s a testament to how solid the mechanics of the original game were that the structure and progression still stands up. It looks even better than it did on the PSP and PlayStation 2. Textures are smoother and more detailed, pop-up is non-existent and the freedom to roam around this living world is a joy. Plus no motion blur! Things also play far better and more reactively than ever before. The original control scheme has been admirably tweaked to fit the touchscreen and the game is so much better for it. Driving, on foot or during combat, you’re in complete control.
The mission and story progression keep you hooked, and Rockstar’s talent for character creation and narrative are evident here. The story is set before the events of GTA III, but still within the criminal underground. The voice acting is fantastic, as is the script, mixing the right amount of clichés with belly laughs and a few neat plot twists. All of which is to be expected, of course. Alas, one shock is the rather disappointing soundtrack. Not only was the original lacking in quality, the iOS port has seen a large percentage deleted.
You talkin’ to me?
In terms of gameplay, there’s no real levelling system for the main character (á là San Andreas), but he acquires new and better weapons along the way to make him more formidable. While the cinematic nature of the series later expanded with the hardware’s processing power, heavy emphasis on backstory and dialogue still impress here. The many fantastic cut scenes are snappier and designed to move you swiftly into the next mission, which is ideal.
In fact, many would argue that later GTA games are too serious and dialogue-heavy. This is all about playability and having fun. Younger players brought up on the current generation of consoles may feel it lacks sophistication, but this does it a disservice. In terms of mobile gaming, this is above and beyond most of what’s currently available, outside of its franchise kin.
Anybody who experienced GTA Liberty City Stories first time around will relish the opportunity to revisit it. This is an epic game in concept, scale and execution. If you were too young to play it in 2001, now’s your chance. The game design isn’t as revolutionary as it was, or even close to what is has become, but it’s still a forgotten great with awesome pacing and storytelling.
Whether or not you played this game in its disappointing original form and want to see how it should’ve been done, it’s simply an unmissable GTA experience that no one with the remotest interest in the series should ignore. This isn’t the best GTA game, not even the best one on the iOS, but this is the best version of GTA Liberty City Stories you can play.