Return to the worst place in America

Each time Rockstar Games bestows a new "Grand Theft Auto" adventure upon us is cause for renewed celebration. After shaking the gaming world to its knees with "Grand Theft Auto III" in 2001, Rockstar upped the ante with "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" in 2002, and just when you thought they'd pushed the format past its limits, along came "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" to shatter all expectations again. When "Liberty City Stories" was released last year exclusively to the PSP portable system, everyone knew a PS2 version couldn't be far behind. It's here and, retailing at only $19.99, it's a literal steal.

The year: 1998. Liberty City is still the same crime-congested cesspool that gamers came to love in 2001 with "GTA III." You play as Tony Cipriani; a man who is living proof that nothing spices up one's life more than being an errand boy for the city's most influential and ambitious organized crime family. The map takes you from the slums of Portland, to the skyscrapers of Staunton Island, to the ritzy suburbs of Shoreside Vale, each area rife with missions ranging from the entertaining to the near-impossible. The same sick humor we've come to expect from the GTA series, bolstered by radio deejays Lazlow and Michael "axe wound" Hunt, is ever-present, and by the end of the game you'll be thirsty for Rockstar's next GTA installment, announced for October 16, 2007 on PS3 and Xbox 360.

The PS2 incarnation is mostly identical to the PSP version, albeit with slightly crisper graphics, a better controller configuration and lacking the negligible multiplayer option seen on the PSP. The soundtrack, featuring everyone from The Sneaker Pimps and Method Man to Cloud Nineteen and Danger Mouse, is as varied as in any of the previous GTA outings, and sounds a lot better out of your TV speakers than the PSP's audio output. The most notable improvement from the PSP release is the implementation of the PS2 controller's far freer range of movement and camera control, nearly equaling "GTA: San Andreas'" optimal controls.

Those who already own the game for PSP would still benefit from playing it on a bigger screen with dual analog controls, despite the lack of multiplayer. While not on a level with the sprawling buffet of gaming perfection served up in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," "Liberty City Stories" still satisfies fans of the series with endlessly twisted humor, a dense plot thread, an excellent soundtrack and second-to-none driving mechanics. With over 100 fun and frustrating missions, as well as a bevy of new characters to meet and do business with, Liberty City beckons once more.

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