Nearly two years after the release of one of the most significant gaming titles of the century so far, Rockstar have rounded out the saga of Grand Theft Auto IV with this final cross-platform pollination.
Episodes from Liberty City presents the dark tale of The Lost and Damned together with the flamboyant world of Gay Tony in one stand-alone package, along with PC optimisation and multiplayer enhancements. We covered the Xbox 360 release back in November last year, so if you're interested in the actual story content and features introduced to Rockstar's sandbox world with both expansions, you'd be best to read our previous review first.
It was always a crying shame that Rockstar delayed the release of Grand Theft Auto IV for the PC. There was plenty of speculation as to the reasons behind the decision, from licensing agreements with Sony and Microsoft (sadly, PC games have no such corporate advocate) to issues surrounding piracy and platform optimisation. Whatever the cause, when GTA IV for PC finally arrived it was criticised as a general system hog, with most gamers requiring fairly top-end machines to really get the most out of the RAGE engine.
Roll forward eighteen months however, and Rockstar appear to have made inroads on optimisation - the 22.214.171.124 patch released last Wednesday has addressed a number of issues previously raised by PC gamers, such as the eradication of the annoying Rockstar Games Social Club application, and a "RESC 10" error fix. It's not all fun and games however, I still think requiring Games for Windows Live access to save a game locally is a silly idea, even if you can create an offline profile.
Regardless, it's obvious from the outset that you'll need a decent machine to have an acceptable playing experience, even when sacrificing detail in the settings. Those of you with less than 4GB of system RAM may spend a considerable time in swap-file land, as we experienced, and although our Nvidia GTS 250 managed to keep up once the textures had cached, you're going to wish you had something substantially better to get the best effect. Whether this is down to optimisation or a desire by Rockstar to introduce more visual content than the console versions is open for debate, but what is certain is that despite the technical challenges, it looks and plays a lot better on the PC.
Key to this is the method of control. What you would otherwise lose by substituting a keyboard for a controller (such as the fine vehicle control possible with thumbsticks) you gain with the ease of mouse targeting in the combat sequences. Admittedly, I'd already nearly clocked GTA IV on the PS3 before playing the PC version, but the combat-heavy missions were certainly a lot easier with the mouse. It's not without a cost - auto-aim is gone - but the game is more fun without it anyway.
As both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony appear as separate stand-alone games in the initial menu, the multiplayer follows suit. You'll need to all but shut down the particular episode you're playing and open up its counterpart to switch between multiplayer lobbies, and you'll have to find your GTA IV disk if you wish to participate in the vanilla title. I was never a huge fan of the multiplayer lobby system anyway, it always seemed like it needed someone to come along and design a standalone desktop launcher, and with the inclusion of this additional episodic content it has become an even more convoluted way to manage your multiplayer experience.
Not to mention that despite the PC multiplayer cap of 32 players (as opposed to 16 on console) there often doesn't appear to be many people online anyway.
If you invested significant time in the original PC release of GTA IV back in late 2008 and secretly harbour a desire to go back to Liberty City and do it all from another perspective, then here's your game. The two episodes will provide you with another twenty or so hours of clever, well structured missions and a ton of Rockstar humour. Perhaps best of all, Episodes is only fifty bucks.