Tom Jones, what a fine specimen of a man. Voice of the people, scourge of Las Vegas and at the top of the charts for over four decades. But you'd never see Mr. Jones battering an underworld druglord with the bonnet of a police car, would you? Which is funny because Grand Theft Auto is just as popular and doesn't even feature a Welshman, let alone the unbeatable combo of a hairy chest and Speedos. Perhaps its only ommission.
Alongside the voodoo priests of Haiti and Roswell, as Fox Mulder might say, GTA is one of those unfathomable mysteries mankind can never hope to solve. A quality game that sells well with the mainstream was almost unheard of before this series screeched up the tarmac. We think the game's success has something to do with mafia conspiracies. Or good gameplay, or perhaps both, whatever.
The Welsh dynamo may be missing, but feel free to throw your knickers at the stage anyway whilst the charismatic Grand Theft Auto: Libery City Stories performs. As the title suggests, the first PSP outing for the series sees a welcome return to the green, green grass of home, the crime-infested Liberty City, where you take the role of Toni Cipriani, a member of the Leone crime family.
All of your Grand Theft Auto favourites are here; the weapons, the cars, the mission setup, even the city itself is lifted straight from GTA3. Rockstar have pulled no punches with this edition, everything you'd expect from a home console GTA is alive and well on the PSP, so expect plenty of drive-bys, car heists, Italian stereotypes and oh yes, hookers.
As tempting as it may be, you can't just slap a Grand Theft Auto game onto a handheld though; people play games differently on these things. In consequence, the game has been carefully modified to add more pick-up-and-play appeal. Mission length has been cut, travel time shortened and a convenient "mission taxi" added to pick you up from the nick. This is a true GTA for those on the go, a real solution for those who work the stock market by day and wish to run down pedestrians in their lunch break.
Underneath the layers of hard, portable makeup however lays the sandbox-style gameplay that makes GTA such a joy to play for everyone. Whilst mafia missions and cross-country treks may not be suited to handheld gaming, a quick police chase or trip around town certainly is, and this is where Liberty City Stories really shines.
In what other game can you indulge yourself in repeated attempts to outrun the law, usually resulting in a bitter fiery end, when most of the time it isn't even the objective of the game? Even with the ridiculous amount of content available, a treasure trove of fun is uncovered from the player's own scenarios. It's not unusual to find us playing "who can knock someone off a speeding motorcycle the furthest?"
In comparison to other games in the series, the single player experience is more of a revisit than a brand new endeavour. Liberty City is just how we left it four years ago but the missions on offer are entertaining enough to bring new life to the old dog. The story puts you in the middle of a raging gang war between the Leone, Sindacco and Forelli families. Through a series of excellently voiced cut scenes Liberty City Stories will throw around as many twists and turns as has been expected from GTA.
A quick trip around Liberty City and you can quickly see why the series has attracted so much controversy. The city is so well constructed and bursting with life that the player is essentially left to their conscience to do whatever the hell they want, usually what they can't get away with in real life. Although we're sure most won't, you can drive around carefully obeying the highway code if you so desire. Alternatively, you can go on a killing spree and pop by the red light district for a spot of dogging.
Whilst we hate the PSP's thumb-nub with a passion, navigating Toni Cipriani around the game world in this case raises no major problems. Control schemes can be loosely customised and player movement allocated to either the thumb-nub or d-pad. We have encountered situations where a loss of any means to control the camera has been missed, but the game's camera system is mostly without flaws and certainly not worth raising arms over.