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Jeremy Jastrzab
20 May, 2010

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City Review

PS3 Review | And now, the story is complete.
Better late than never? Two years after the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, the PC and PlayStation 3 have finally been granted access to the two pieces of downloadable episodes, Grand Theft Auto IV. The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. While both episodes are now available to download on their respective services, those without a decent connection have the option of getting both on single retail disc. And they won’t even need a copy of GTA IV to play.

Upon loading the game, players will have access to both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony from the outset. Both stories are self-contained within the Liberty City of GTA IV, so you don’t need to have played the original though experience will help. Both DLC episodes assume that you’ve already played as Niko, given they both skip through a lot of tutorials that were so carefully spelled out in GTA IV, both through gameplay and story. On the plus side, it means that you’re pretty much in the thick of things from the get go.

Here we go again...

Here we go again...
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The Lost and Damned has you playing as Johnny Klebitz, a senior member from the bikie gang, ‘The Lost’. Johnny’s story revolves around the growing instability of Billy, the enigmatic and almost psychotic leader of The Lost, while Johnny tries to make sure that the gang and club are still functioning. The Ballad of Gay Tony, puts you in the shoes of Luis Lopez, the right hand man and cleaner to nightlife tycoon, Tony “Gay Tony” Prince. Luis’ story revolves around the debts owed on the clubs that he runs for Gay Tony and how they’ve jumped in bed with the wrong people.

While both tell a good story about moving forward with past baggage and 'all in a day's work', neither of the episode stories contains the sombre karmic undertones from the original. However, the real beauty behind the stories is how they all come together with Niko’s story, and in particular, how some of the things you did as Niko were set up or followed up by either Johnny or Luis, particularly the ‘diamonds’ and the museum mission. Unfortunately though, a lot of these references will be completely lost on those who haven’t played through GTA IV. And unless you’ve got a superb memory, some references are difficult to pick up two years down the track, even if you have played through all three stories.

Both the Johnny and Luis arcs skip a lot of the formalities introduced in the Niko arc that revolved around ‘building’ the character. Johnny is already firmly entrenched as a bottom feeder, while Luis will spend time in slightly more illustrious company. The presented contrast between all three is quite interesting, but TLAD does the best job of really providing a contrasting experience from both a story and gameplay perspective. As Johnny, you really feel like you’re part of a bikie gang. TBOGT on the other hand is probably a bit too similar, as it only does more of what Niko didn’t do very often, such as riding in helicopters and Luis sometimes feels too much like the lackey that Niko often was, despite being one of the more likeable characters.

Luis has you in his sights.

Luis has you in his sights.
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Since both of these stories are building off the original game, most of your missions are pretty nuts from the get go. With Johnny, you have all your contacts already in place and you’ve got missions that allow you to take gang members to help you out. With Luis on the other hand, you do stupid things like steal a military helicopter, tank and a subway cart. The handiest addition to both of these is a checkpoint system that doesn’t require players to restart from the beginning of each mission. TBOGT also adds a score to the end of each mission, which can be improved upon once the game has been completed. Each story has its highlights and each of them will take about 10 hours to complete. As such, you’re pretty much getting around 20 hours of story-based gameplay from this entire package.

Of course, the story is only part of the game, as both Johnny and Luis have brought some extra tricks to the party. In TLAD, you have races (where you can belt other riders with bats), gang wars and stealing custom bikes. Furthermore, there have been a handful of new and thematic multiplayer modes, ‘Witness Protection’ and ‘Chopper Vs Chopper’. The latter has one player on a bike and another in a helicopter. In TBOGT, you have a golf driving range, nightclub dancing, drug wars and cage fighting championship, as well as the welcome return of parachuting and base jumping, to both single and multiplayer. Some of the other diversions are pretty worthless though, such as the night club dancing which is very easy to stumble through and get the ‘reward’.

Most DLC is released very close to the original game, but releasing these episodes so late hasn’t been the most favourable move, namely because most mere mortals are unlikely to remember much of the finer story details. Furthermore, while GTA IV had some impressive improvements over it’s predecessors, a lot of people got too excited about it at time of release and as such, the fundamental flaws of the original were not critiqued as they should have been and stick out much worse two years down the track. And since DLC is based off the same game, there is no room for improving these fundamentals. So while new players lose out on the story, veterans often have to put up with an exacerbation of gameplay faults.

Oi! Can we jump yet?

Oi! Can we jump yet?
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In the two years between now and the release of GTA IV, the faults are much more grating. Whether it’s a case of the original’s design being better or the mechanics were simply not up to scratch, the tradition of failing missions because of the poor controls and a lack of luck rather than skill still infuriates. All three protagonists are way too clunky in their movements, the cover system only works well in set pieces and gets confused more often than not, enemy AI is very erratic in their skills and the targeting system is borderline on busted in firefights of more than a few enemies. Why these faults weren’t highlighted upon the game’s original release, we’ll never know. The PlayStation 3 version thankfully doesn’t suffer from the visual deficiencies of the Xbox 360 retail disc, making it a technically proficient port, but the trophy design is similar to the Xbox 360 achievement design, woefully lazy.

Six months later, PlayStation 3 and PC owners now have the chance to finish off the story that was started in GTA IV. With two streamlined stories, the value of the package is undeniable. However, who is still able to remember the details and intricacies of the story two years later? While inclusions such as checkpoints are heaven sent, playing the game now that the wonder of the city’s scope has subsided, makes you question why distinctive faults such as the controls weren’t rightfully criticised at the time of release. Thankfully, the PS3 version has much less evidence of being a rush job, as it is much more technically proficient than the Xbox 360 version. As far as a package goes, it’s all here and all has the potential to provide a riot of a time but Rockstar would do well to get their mechanics up to scratch once the production of GTA V gets under way.
The Score
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City is a robust and highly enjoyable package that is held back by the limitations of the original game and whether or not you can remember what happened in GTA IV.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City Content

GTA Episodes delayed for PS3, PC
19 Mar, 2010 While content is edited.
GTA Episodes head to the PS3 and PC
29 Jan, 2010 You should've known it was coming.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City Review
05 Nov, 2009 Two stories for the price of less than a new one.
4 Comments
3 years ago
Ballad of Gay Tony is awesome, returns to the brilliance of GTA3 and Vice City. Lost & Damned is an interesting little Son's of Anarchy takeoff, felt very much like a basic expansion but still pretty good. Also removed the friends and hassle of getting guns and transport. The fact that they made the bikes finally worth using with the new handling makes it a much purchase, I can't describe how much better they are. In any case I thought Gay Tony was leagues better than the basic GTAIV and it's one of the most enjoyable games I've played this year, with great characters and writing.
If you liked any of the old GTA's I would recommend giving Gay Tony a whirl as it is pretty much a next gen version of Vice City, with even more bombastic missions like jumping onto a train while shooting down helicopters with an explosive shotgun to decouple the subway car to be airlifted away by a crazy manchild.
3 years ago
I just could not believe how much more polished TBAGT looked that TLAD. I didn't turn off the grainy filter, which may have made some difference but i just think it lacked a little. The stories were hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. Got me nice and pumped for red dead.
3 years ago
Man, it seems like ages since I played these.
Great fun to be had if you feel the need to return to Liberty City.
I'll be heading off to the Wild West now.
3 years ago
I'm playing through TLAD now in anticipation for RDR, and I'm not enjoying myself at all. GTA IV is a source of endless depression for me; I pick it up every couple of months to try and see where all those reviewers found their perfect 10s, but I never last more than half an hour. That control scheme - the worst, most overwrought control scheme I'm come across this generation - just makes everything moment of play so awkward.

I bought the 360 Episodes disc when it came out but I hadn't touched TLAD until today. Gay Tony was delightful, though. A return to the PS2 glory days when gameplay and mission design took precedence over gloomy realism. Still held back by those awful controls, of course, but the fantastic missions took care of that.

The first few hours of TLAD are terrible, though. All the characters sound the same, and I've spent about half an hour riding around the city amongst jerky AI bikers who crash into me every corner, fighting with that woeful cover-based shooting where you have to stand up and sit down between every shot you fire.

It sounds to me like RDR has changed enough of the gameplay to make things acceptable, but I'm really hoping that Rockstar will see the need for a massive overhaul for the next batch of GTA games. There's no reason these games need anything more complicated than standard cover-based-shooter controls. If you dropped, say, Uncharted's control scheme into nuGTA it'd automatically be about five times better.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  16/4/2010 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $69.95 AU
Publisher:
  Take 2 Interactive
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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