Review: Episodes from Liberty City

As part of the mega sale of digital content this week, Rockstar has discounted both pieces of DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV.  In honor of that we are bumping our review schedule ahead to bring you a special edition review of GTA IV’s Episodes of Liberty City.

Grand Theft Auto has repeatedly been a groundbreaking series since GTA III first took the gaming world by storm years ago. Grand Theft Auto IV continued this tradition.  So to say that the two pieces of DLC for GTA IV, or any GTA series, has a lot to live up to is an understatement.  Is it worth two more trips to Liberty City?

First, what’s this DLC all about?  Episodes from Liberty City is an expansion of the original story from GTA IV, only from the viewpoint of two different characters that appear only as NPC’s in the base game.  Both of the stories interact with the original, fill in some gaps, and expand on the general happenings of Niko’s Liberty City.  Both also add some new cars, weapons, radio stations, mini-games and have their own online multi-players. Both even have their own set of “random stranger” missions. Without a doubt, Episodes is one of, if not the most expansive pairs of DLC out there.  Let’s break them down individually:

The Lost and Damned.

Remember Johnny?  The biker that Niko meets in the original story from the notorious biker gang known as The Lost is back; and this time you get to see most of the main stories events from his side as he effectively leads The Lost in a series of increasingly violent events.  It is always a bit risky when developers decide to expand a story with DLC while replacing the main character; but this is a textbook case of how it should be done.  The Lost and Damned plays, and feels like Rockstar knew this would be the first DLC from the very minute they started writing the story.  To be honest I wouldn’t even be surprised to hear that Johnny and his story were originally considered as the base game’s story.  The characters are well developed, as well as exceptionally voiced, and if you are a fan of the base game’s story at all you are bound to enjoy this new view of it.  It ties in with the original game incredibly well, and if Rockstar didn’t plan this while making the base game than I am truly amazed at how well they pulled it off.

Story aside, the game plays very similar to the base game, for better or worse.  The biggest change is obviously the focus on Motorcycles, the mechanics of which have been tweaked to make them a lot less cumbersome to drive than in the base game; in fact most of them handle amazingly well.  The other new feature that stood out is the “gang aspect” added to the game.  Niko pretty much goes it alone for most of his story, but that simply wouldn’t make sense in a game about a biker gang.  As a result, many missions include “back-up” characters from The Lost, and the minor characters play a more frequent role in the game itself, which was a nice touch.  Rather than, for example, only seeing Roman in Roman missions, “the gang” rides with Johnny in several missions by default, and after a certain point in the game, whenever you call them in for back up as well.

Ultimately though, The Lost and Damned feels incredibly similar to the base game.  The changes, while noticeable, fail to make it feel completely like a separate entity.  It’s more GTA IV, and depending on how you felt about IV’s gritty story driven nature this will obviously be good or bad.  I enjoyed it immensely, but I also heavily enjoyed the original game as well.  The Lost and Damned won’t change your opinion of GTA IV, either way, but it is a solid, well polished expansion of what came before it.

Final Rating: 9/10

The Ballad of Gay Tony

If The Lost and Damned is a tightly knit story that weaves in and out of the original game’s story so seamlessly it is hard to imagine it wasn’t part of the plan all along, The Ballad of Gay Tony feels more like a last minute add-in created in order to make two DLC expansions.  At the same time, TBoGT does a much better job of standing on its’ own and is a much more action packed ride.

Despite the name, you do not actually play as the over-the-top Gay Tony, the notorious Liberty City nightclub owner.  Rather, you play as his over-the-top heterosexual partner (not in that way) and hired muscle Luis Lopez, an ex-con trying to turn his life around who must constantly dig Tony out of his many bad dealings and plans.  In fact, most of the game is based on talking to Tony, finding out he did something dumb, and then fixing it.  Yeah, the story of TBoGT is not going to win any awards, and quite frankly if you didn’t find the “(not in that way)” joke funny most of the humor in this episode will fall flat with you.

TBoGT doesn’t make its’ way with a fantastic story, or even a good one.  It provides the reliably fun game play that both the base game and TLaD excel at, strung together by a descent enough story to carry it along until it periodically touches base with the original game’s story (although it, at times, connects better with TLaD story, telling me that this episode was conceived much later in the process).  Where this episode really shines is the more action intense, over the top missions.  From parachuting out of helicopters, stealing APC’s, and fighting your way along a moving train; TBoGT gave a lot of gamers the big thrill missions they felt was missing from the base game.  And it does it well.

The short version is that the 2nd episode shakes things up by providing bigger thrills than its’ counterparts, and in that Rockstar deserves some due credit.  They made the game different than the other two, clearly on purpose, so as to prevent it from getting stale.  In that vein it does the job perfectly, but as a stand-alone experience rather than one episode of a bigger game, it is often hallow and lacking.  In many ways it is the Michael Bay version of GTA IV, meaning it is at times fun and enjoyable but also lacking in structure and story.  TBoGT is fun, but clearly much less polished than its’ counterparts.

Final Rating: 7/10

While this review is technically a look at the disc-based version of the add-ons, note that the content is the same in both forms.  Because of how the DLC is available, especially in regards to the current sale, I have rated them individually; the CBR Break Down below however is comprised of the episodes in their single disc format.

Final Rating: 8/10

CBR Break Down:

Console Played On: Xbox 360

Approximate Time to Completion: ~12 hours

Gamer Score Earned: 355g/500g

Price Bought at: $15 (Combined on disc) or 1200 Microsoft points

Recommend Purchase Price: $15 or 1200 Microsoft points for the pair

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About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.