GTA: Liberty City Stories Review

Ten years represents one-seventh of your life. Think about it: You actually only get seven, maybe eight such stretches and then you’re dead. What’s worse over the course of those lengths the people and the world around you change at a maddening pace. It’s bad. But I digress. We’re here, after all, for far less morbid reasons then our mutual and ever-approaching end. Rockstar’s recent release of GTA: Liberty City Stories for iOS and Android is, if not a cause for celebration, then at least a sure fire way to stave off the ever-present notion of impending doom. Released originally—you guessed it—10 years ago for the Play Station Portable, GTA: Liberty City Stories represents some of the finest game design you’ll find in a mobile title, even if the experience is slightly compromised by production values that are slightly dated even for an Android game.

Like all of Rockstar’s mobile offerings, Liberty is overall a revelation. The game’s touch controls and graphics provide only minor drawbacks but drawbacks they are. Blockish and slightly cumbersome, a lot of the character models seem almost abstract on a tablet or, God forbid, a TV screen. Liberty’s overall blocky props and character models (protagonist Toni Cipriani’s apparent fetal alcohol syndrome, for example—herbivore style, Toni’s eyes are planted nearly on the sides of his head) don’t seem quite so bad on a smaller phone screen. But then the wonky touch controls are just a little harder to control on the tiny screen. The solution, of course, is to plug in a controller. More on that in a minute.

The sound production, on the other hand, is, as always, nothing short of brilliant. From the crisp sounds of gunshots to the quips of passersby to the lunatic and multi-faceted Radio Liberty, GTA: Liberty City Stories’ sounds are invariably pitch perfect. Radio Liberty in particular, with its bawdy commercials, crazy talk shows and variously sharp and fun set lists, provides a collection of fitting themes for the heinous act du jour, and overall does the GTA pedigree justice.

Also, true to form, GTA: Liberty City Stories’ gameplay is hands-down brilliant. Granted, the game, like many action-oriented titles does not translate well to the touch screen. One can get used to it, but the razor tightness of the game’s control schemes, whether when riding around in a hot rod or on a dirt bike or just punching out a stranger in front of a hospital, are best enjoyed with a controller. Sticklers for a tight control system will undoubtedly find themselves frustrated early on, but plug a Bluetooth controller into your device and the most finicky FPS players will find themselves in gaming heaven.

Liberty’s missions are another gem in the title’s crown, and what’s more could serve as a crash course in exemplary mobile game design. The one thing, in fact, that sets GTA: Liberty City Stories apart from almost all of the other GTA games is that it was built from the ground up for a mobile device. So, not only does it come with all of the wonderful things that are part and parcel of the GTA franchise, but the missions are finely balanced and fun and also bite-sized and concise. The story that unfolds over the course of these missions is not as engaging or as amusing as some of Rockstar’s more recent offerings. It’s full of tired Mafioso clichés, for example. But it’s still a far cry better than 90 percent of what’s generally on offer on the Play Store at present. And  when you get right down to it, it is in its own right a pretty funny and enjoyable yarn.

If you can get past comparing it to more recent Rockstar offerings, and you don’t mind graphics that are a decade old, you will have an absolute blast with GTA: Liberty City Stories. Plug in a controller, however, and every dated facet of GTA: Liberty City Stories will vanish and you find yourself enrapt in one of the most engaging titles mobile gaming has to offer.

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