Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City
The Grand Theft Auto series has been a bestseller since day one and has sold millions and millions of copies. The franchise is also one of the few that made a successful transition between 2D and 3D. GTA IV hit the gaming-scene like a big nuke last year wiping out anything on its path. At the same time, the fourth installment was the first one I really had to struggle to finish. Now the two add-ons to GTA IV have been bundled to a standalone game and I finally got to take them around for a spin.
“Episodes from Liberty City” consists out of two separate stories previously sold as downloadable content. Out with Niko Bellic and in with two new protagonists in “The Lost and Damned” or “The Ballad of Gay Tony”. If you decided to fire up the first one from the splash-screen, you assume the role of Johnny Klebitz, a high-ranking member of the Lost biker gang. Not really a big fan of bikers, are you? Then go for some action with Gay Tony as his right hand man, Luis Lopez.
Players should really start with the first add-on for the same reason that you should have finished GTA IV before playing anything else: the time line and crossover references. For instance, somewhere along the first expansion, you do a mission together with Niko Bellic and it is the same one from the original game, you just switch sides. Next to that, it should not come as a surprise that Niko and Johhny, who both operate in the same circles in the city, have a lot of connections in common.
Overall, “The Lost and Damned” does not really add much to the game, except a major tweak to all bikes and the addition of some badass weapons. While the regular GTA IV has some frustrating bike controls, they are now a real treat to use and you seem a bit less vulnerable on them. After a few hours of play, you won’t even consider stealing a car anymore. What biker gang member drives a car anyway? But that’s about it for L&D. The story is a bit pale and the character isn’t really likable either. In fact, you are just a bunch of assholes doing asshole things. However, don’t let that keep you from playing it though as the new bikes and weapons alone can bring you around ten hours of great fun.
After you finish the campaign, there is still plenty to do in L&D to get that desired 100%. You have to win gang-wars, hunt down some hidden seagulls, complete some smaller job or just go for that full frontal male nudity bit. You’ll know when you get there.
Up next, “The Ballad of Gay Tony”. Now there’s a masterpiece right there. As Luis Lopez you assume the role of the right hand man of Tony Prince, lord of all the biggest nightclubs in Liberty City. He took you under his wing and made you a rich man. Basically, you cruise around the nightlife in LC, both straight and gay, and try to maintain Tony’s position in the entertainment scene. This is the first time in the GTA series that the premise of a rich man is used and it works wonderfully well. Maybe this has to do with the fact that you don’t get a story painted of a poor man with a troubled life trying to make it big. Instead, you are playing the ballad of another man. Luis doesn’t really have much back-story in the game. You get bits and pieces but it’s clear this episode is all about your boss.
The Ballad is actually all about the side characters. While handling all the small and big affairs of Tony, you encounter a whole bunch of over the top and outrageous characters. There’s of course Tony himself, the unstable Yusuf Amir and the borderline crazy Russian Mobster Bulgarin. All these characters have some weird personality corners that make them include you in some of the craziest missions. While most of them are quite hilarious, the king of complexes must be Yusuf. He’s the son of an Arab Sheik and desperately tries to impress his father. Every time he sends you out on a mission, you can bet it’s going to be a far fetched scheme to finally make daddy proud. He makes you steal the biggest movable things imaginable.
Playing with the big boys naturally requires bigger toys. Even after about thirty minutes into the game you are already boasting a shotgun with explosive shells and it just gets more fierce from that point on. A nice part of the bigger toys is the wider availability of helicopters. They are a handy tool to travel fast and are good for a million other reason like outrunning the cops, landing somewhere near an impossible sniping spot or just making a big-ass explosion but they do come with a small flaw. The mid-air or helicopter versus boat battles are really hard but fortunately, there are only few. Speaking of big weapons, there’s a tank in there too! Top this off with a P90 and sticky-bombs and we have ourselves a party.
Next to the “living it large” style of play, The Ballad has some tweaks to the original game too. After each mission, you get a score and a target score. If you finish the game, you can replay all the missions to get a perfect score. The game also includes 15 base jumping spots on the minimap and you can duke out 25 Drug Wars side quests. These missions actually reveal a bit of your old live as they usually start with your childhood friends asking for a hand. If you still aren’t entertained enough, there is also a fight club or you can go and roam around ‘your’ two bars in Algonquin, Liberty City’s version of Manhattan. Just going for a dance mini-game or a drink is quite entertaining but managing the club is just a chore. You walk around and toss out troublemakers, without getting to fight them.
“Episodes” also contains two multiplayer versions and in that part, “The Lost and Damned” is the winner, hands down. While The Ballad offers little extra compared to the original except for the weapons and base jumps, L&D has nearly all modes adjusted to fit the biker style of the episode. While the original multi gets a bit chaotic after a while and using vehicles gets harder and harder, the L&D modes really profit from driving the bikes and doing drive-by’s. You won’t be confronted with a camping sniper as fast because the bikes are just too much fun. There are some awesome new modes in there too and people particularly seem to like the “Chopper vs Chopper” one. In this two-player mode, one player is racing on a chopper along a difficult track with checkpoints while the second player is flying a helicopter trying to blow the first one to bits and pieces. Really fun, balanced and adrenaline pumping if you ask me.
What can one say about “Episodes from Liberty City”? Well, at first I thought this was just another way to cash in on the DLC-mania that these next-gen consoles suffer from but really, at the price-point of about half a 360 game, you get 20 hours of storyline and enough content to keep you busy for days. Add the fact that the multiplayer from the first add-on is actually better than the original and you can’t conclude anything else than this being a great title. If you didn’t already download the episodes or don’t even own the original GTA IV then this is a true must-have title in your collection. You can even score both GTA IV and this title for about 50 Euro so what are you still doing here reading?