Four years ago, Grand Theft Auto III changed the way people think about video games, introducing gamers to free-form gameplay and a decidedly adult tone. And while Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories takes us back to the same old territory, it's just as revolutionary. Not because the things it does are new or innovative, but because it does them on a handheld.
Unlike the last couple of portable attempts at GTA, Liberty City Stories uncompromisingly brings over everything that made the console versions unique and essential. As haggard mobster Toni Cipriani, you'll steal cars, shoot people and run amok in the same living 3D metropolis that you did in GTAIII, with the same level of freedom. (And yes, that means you can still beat up prostitutes.)
At the same time, LCS updates its crime-riddled city with features from other GTAs, such as motorcycles, unlockable costumes and a main character who actually talks. As always, you'll need to run a series of story-rich missions to open up new areas and items, but you'll have free rein to rampage, run races and explore to your heart's content. Just watch out for the Liberty City police; they're as testy as ever.
Unfortunately, the game doesn't make the transition to portability completely unscathed. The controls in GTA games have always been a little sketchy during combat, but thanks to the PSP's imprecise analog stick, that sketchiness extends to the rest of the game. It doesn't ruin the experience, but it definitely takes getting used to. Other disappointments include not being able to fly planes, graphics that blur when Toni's running around on foot and the inability to buy property (although you'll get a new 'safe house' as you unlock each of the city's three islands).
The environment isn't quite seamless, either, as each section of the city is separated by a short loading screen. On the plus side, though, the game is remarkably consistent; you can ditch a smashed-up car somewhere, do a bunch of other stuff and then go back to the same place, and the car will still be there, smoldering away with its doors off and a pedestrian trapped underneath.