Game Review: Episodes from Liberty City
Release: 13th April (NA), 16th April (EU)
Genre: Free Roam, Action, Adventure
Developer: Rockstar North
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, 360, PC
Players: 1 (1-16 online)
ESRB Rating: Mature
This review may as well be co-written by a recent geographical disaster. The ash cloud. Thanks to it, all planes and flights and what nots were all grounded to a halt and preventing my PS3 copy of ‘Episodes’ to be delivered from America to the UK. So yes, this review is written by both The Icelandic Ash Cloud and Nathan Hardisty. Before I delve into this I want to clarify that I have already played both the Lost and the Damned AND The Ballad of Gay Tony. I love both episodes to pieces, maybe one more than the other, so I can already point out the differences. Before we even begin I’ll say that there’s barely anything different to them, graphical and technically wise. There’s a few frame rate hiccups but the 360 version had it’s share of the problems too. Very well done port, better than GTA IV PC (although I haven’t played the PC version of Episodes so who knows, but the 360 -> PS3 transfer is great).
Grand Theft Auto works. It’s about driving fast cars with edgy music blaring, running a hundred pedestrians down and swearing violently in a few cutscenes. What it wasn’t about was taking your cousin out to dinner while an Irish guy asks you to play bowling with him. Episodes from Liberty City drops all the burdens of the main GTA IV. Consider GTA IV being the awful foundation and both of the Episodes being giant beacons of awesomeness. It’s a return to the retro, better suited to the Grand Theft Auto name. Each Episode both offers a radical different view on Liberty, from the highs of Ballad to the lows of Lost. Let me already state that I think that these Episodes together are almost twice as good as the original GTA IV.
The Lost and the Damned has you placed in the reins of a skinhead biker who cruises with The Lost MC Biker gang. Johnny Klebitz, in my opinion, a very balanced character and maybe better than Niko himself. This side of Liberty has you working the grit as your old boss, Billy Grey, comes back from Prison. It’s a sweary and heavily underrated tale of lost brotherhood and redemption against the odds. The Ballad of Gay Tony puts you in the two-hundred dollar shoes of Luis Fernando Lopez, the bodyguard and general handyman to Tony Prince; the owner of the two hottest gay and straight nightclubs in Liberty. Whereas Johnny and Niko scan the gutters of Liberty for work, Luis rubs elbows with the finest and swagger like characters in Liberty.
Right from the get go, both episodes open up new roads and completely new palettes of gameplay you can’t find elsewhere. The Lost and the Damned throws new toys and useful friends in your face, Ballad does a complete 180 degree spin and drives off into the sunset of San Andreas. The Lost and the Damned, in retrospect, is a lot more confined than its successor, but it’s still one hell of a ride through hell. I thoroughly enjoyed being with the gritty bikers and meeting old faces from Liberty. Since you’re in the same gutter as the Serbian cousin-lover, you’ll come face to face with some of the same employers. In fact, you’ll come face to face with Niko time and time again. The way the tales weave into each other is incredibly detailed and you can see that Rockstar planned this years in advance.
Of course, each chapter has its low points. The Lost and the Damned has the best multiplayer modes of the saga, but you can’t access them from the main GTA IV or Ballad of the Gay Tony. Ballad’s multiplayer throws parachutes into the mix, which spices up the fun-o-meter beyond breaking point, but it would have been nice to mix in a few new modes. The Lost and the Damned feels like a more reserved GTA IV, and is less inclined to shower you with mundane things like taking your cousin out on a date. It doesn’t mean it suffers from bad characterisation, as some characters are completely forgettable. Likewise; Ballad’s characters are some of the best bunches in the series but the missions can be some of the worst at times.
I’ll say it right now though; Ballad of Gay Tony is one of the greatest GTAs ever made. It turns away from serious business and into the promised land of San Andreas and Vice City. It did a home run with my heart and I thank god Rockstar didn’t pull a hat trick of mundaneness. There’s never a dull moment in Ballad and the ending is the single best in any GTA since the beginning of time. Even if you don’t buy the disc, which should be done solely to experience the Lost and the Damned’s multiplayer plethora, do invest in Ballad of the Gay Tony. It’s better than the original GTA IV. Massively better.
Nath’s final say: This package is better than GTA IV in every aspect. You can finally replay missions in Ballad, an actual checkpoint system was added into ‘The Lost and the Damned’. Yusuf Amir in Ballad is probably my favourite character in the whole damn series, including The Truth from San Andreas. You get more bang for you buck with this set of AAA DLCs than the actual GTA IV it was based off of – it’s a freakin’ steal!