You all know about Grand Theft Auto by now, right? It’s the gaming franchise that’s singly responsible for all the dead hookers you step over on your way to work, the billion-fold increase in carjackings over the last 13 years, the erosion of moral values everywhere, and cancer.
You probably also know that 2008’s GTA IV was not only the pinnacle of the series, but one of the biggest game releases ever. And because your smug Xbox-owning friends have been pointing and laughing at you since February last year, chances are you’re also aware that there are expansion packs out for GTA IV, but as a PS3 owner, you haven’t been able to play them. Haven’t, that is, until now.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City contains two stand-alone expansions: The Lost And The Damned and The Ballad Of Gay Tony. We reviewed both when they came out on Xbox and, of course, you could check out those reviews for an overview of the new plots, characters and features.
Too lazy or proud to click on a link to an Xbox review? I’ve got your back:
In TLATD (a tongue-curling acronym if ever there was), you play Jewish biker Johnny Klebitz, a member of Liberty City motorcycle gang The Lost. Being a biker, you spend most of the game on a (spoiler alert) motorcycle, but the good news is that – unlike prior GTA games - it’s all but impossible to fall off it, and it handles very smoothly, too.
Indeed, nothing is sweeter than outrunning the cops by dodging between lanes of traffic at breakneck speed, or sliding around then accelerating out of a tight corner on your chopped hog. Nothing, that is, except shooting a (video game) cop in the face. But don’t worry, this being a Rockstar production, you get to do plenty of that too. Just make sure your Mum isn’t around. Or any cops. That could get awkward.
More good news: you begin the game in a posse rather than as a lone broke-ass sociopath, and it’s nice to have the company. Rollin’ with your boys is pretty badass, and there is a good amount of humorous banter within your gang.
As always, Rockstar has managed to create memorable characters that feel distinct and are well fleshed out. Rockstar also excel when it comes to storylines, and TLATD’s tale of splintering loyalties within the brotherhood of The Lost will hold your attention long after you’re sick of the “ride here, kill this guy” mission templates.
There are also new activities to partake in, and new weapons to use in a responsible fashion – including a sweet sawn-off shottie. But those aren’t the only differences from GTA IV.
Interestingly, despite using the same city as GTA IV, this game looks much different. As if to make a point that everyone sees the same world differently through a subjective lens coloured by upbringing, life-experience and genetic factors – or perhaps because it looks cool – Rockstar has laid filters over the GTA IV city, giving TLATD a ‘70s film-stock appearance. The result gives Liberty City a grittier edge than ever, a welcome addition that makes it easier to relate to the experiences of a hardened biker guy.
The Ballad Of Gay Tony is an entirely different beast. You play Luis Lopez, ex-con and now trusted goon of the titular character, who owns two popular clubs in the posh districts of Liberty City.
Gone are the grimy filters of TLATD – everything here looks buffed to a fine sheen, and Luis dresses and looks better than any playable GTA character. However, this glitz belies the fact that Tony has money problems stemming from drug problems and yes – as his right-hand man, it’s up to you to sort them out.
This sounds like a pretty standard narrative, but it’s easily the best story of any GTA game, and acts as a great send-off for GTA IV. Without giving much away, it really does up the ante in both the destruction and “awesomeness” stakes, and what GTA fan doesn’t enjoy those two things?
Indeed, looking at both episodes there is certainly a lot to like, but what’s most admirable is the attention paid to the little details. Examples are the somewhat topical satire (here manifested as jabs at Perez Hilton, the recession and the decline of the US auto industry, among others), the chatter of people you drive around with (which often expands on the overarching story), the top-notch voice acting, the wit of the radio and TV shows, and the items in each character’s home giving further insights into their personality. These small touches really sell Liberty City, as does the intertwined nature of all three GTA IV storylines.
Combat has never been GTA’s strong suit and the cover system of GTA IV, although a welcome addition is comically buggy. Holding R2 halfway down to free-aim is also awkward, and in the heat of battle can easily result in you accidently discharging bullets into the ether as you drag your crosshair between targets.
And don’t get me started on the melee in these games, my god is it frustrating. I just run away then shoot instead (like noted social commentator Chris Rock once said, “You got pecs? I got Tecs!”).
Another very slight niggle: if you are in a protracted gunfight, you might find your protagonist yelling the same insults over and over, like some kind of rapping goldfish. No Biggie though. [I see what you did there! – Ed.]
If you enjoyed GTA IV, you will love Episodes From Liberty City. There are a good 25 hours of gameplay here at least, and that’s not including the many side-missions.
It’s just a real shame that Rockstar chose to make PS3 (and PC) owners wait so long to get their mitts on this one.