February 21st, 2010
Unloved, uninspired, and unsophisticated are three adjectives starting with the “un” prefix which describe my experiences with both GTA: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories. The “Stories” games appear to be driven by the intention of “let’s try to get GTA III and GTA: Vice City on the PSP” rather than “let’s try to make a fun GTA game on a handheld”. The latter is akin to the sublime GTA: Chinatown Wars.
The worlds, replicated almost identically to their former games, come pre-established. Sure, open world games have evolved since the original debut of Liberty and Vice City, but the cities themselves are more than adequate to meet the occasion. Plus, they provide nostalgia for continuing fans.
The problems lie in the collision of uninspired, one dimensional mission design and the creaky, aged and underdeveloped subsystems (ie. hand combat, weapons combat, targeting, flying). Missions are simply go-here-do-this affairs which fail to take advantage of the world’s assets, besides the tedious drive to and from missions. Often you’ll fail these missions because of the imprecise combat system or wonky mission guidance which has seen little refinements over its progenitors (possibly downgraded from San Andreas too?).
The issues stem from every corner, and really, if Rockstar were going to re-use the same gameplay circa 2002, then they should have at least designed missions which would work around these issues as much as possible.
I hate to speak so harshly, because ultimately these games appear to have just lacked the essential time or consideration in development, or the developers possibly succumbed to the technological imperative of squeezing the experience on a portable platform and left the rest until later. Surprisingly, the open-ended emergence of GTA’s gameplay works to the game’s benefit. Having trouble shooting an unreasonable number of ethnic bad guys? Find a main road and hitch and car to run them down, buy a rocket launcher prior to the mission or snipe them from afar. The “GTA factor” redeems so much of what’s wrong with these portable iterations. The world is familiar, the gameplay open-ended and the city is still an enjoyable place to chill out. However, even by these standards, both games are filler, there’s simply little reason to go back and explore unless you’re a megafan.
Comparing the two games either side, Liberty City benefits from the iconic and overall better game world, and less exuberant characters, while Vice City has a whole empire building sub-game underlining the main story and longer missions. I personally prefer Liberty City because the city feels less empty and the characters don’t demean you so much.