Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City

Review

posted 11/9/2009 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: 360
I didn't know what to expect when Rockstar Games announced their intent to support Grand Theft Auto IV with two robust expansion packs.  Perhaps I'm just cynical, but I didn't know if I should expect a huge adventure, a couple new missions or, worst of all, shiny horse armor.  Thankfully all of my fears vanished the moment I started playing through these two lengthy expansions.  Each of these downloadable games featured dozens of levels, tons of new characters and enough new content to make me feel like I wasn't getting ripped off.  These two bonus packs have quickly become my favorite downloadable content of the year, making an already amazing game even better.

Now comes Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, the inevitable retail products that combines both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony into one $40 Xbox 360 disc.  For the most part the disc features all of the same additions, modes and extras found in this year's downloadable expansion packs; only this time around you can pay a little extra to own the physical copy.  


If you already own these two downloadable expansion packs, then do yourself a favor and stop reading right now.  I'm serious.  Go read one of my other reviews or get outside and play in the yard.  Outside of a brand new radio station (the 1980's themed Vice City FM) there's absolutely nothing new for you to see here.  This release is strictly for those gamers who don't have internet access or decided not to buy Microsoft Points.

If you've somehow missed either of the two episodes online, then you're in for a real treat.  Episodes from Liberty City offers two games that coincide with the events of Grand Theft Auto IV.  What's even more amazing is that they somehow manage to feel completely different, even though you're essentially doing the same sorts of missions in the same city.  We're introduced to two new protagonists that have their own stories to bring to the city.  Johnny Klebitz is part of a biker gang looking for more from life, while Luis Lopez is content simply being the bodyguard to one of Liberty City's most successful club owners.  Together these two characters help add a new dimension to the city, all while filling in the story in surprising and satisfying ways.

Even more impressive is how both of these games manage to be feel like they are set in completely different worlds.  There's no question that all of the action takes place in Liberty City, but you would never know it from playing these two titles.  The Lost and Damned adds a gritty film grain layer over the graphics that give it a harsh look, while The Ballad of Gay Tony is full of bright colors, upbeat music and over-the-top personalities.  Despite being so different, the end result is largely the same - thousands of people die, cars are stolen and at some point somebody is going to drop some profanity.  That's just how it goes down in Liberty City.


What I wasn't expecting going into these expansion packs was how just much they would connect with Niko Bellic's story from Grand Theft Auto IV.  It turns out that both Johnny and Luis play important roles in Nico's adventure, you just didn't know it at the time.  In The Lost and Damned you'll end up playing at least one familiar mission from another point of view, while in The Ballad of Gay Tony you finally see the diamond story play out in full.  These expansion packs managed to answer some of the burning questions I had after playing through Grand Theft Auto IV for the first time.  Heck, it even managed to answer some questions I hadn't even thought of.

On top of bringing their own unique story and characters to the table, each of these expansion packs adds a new layer of depth to the gameplay.  The Lost and Damned features a brand new line of motorcycles, each with improved handling.  You'll also be able to meet up with fellow gang members and even right in formation to regain health.  The Ballad of Gay Tony, on the other hand, takes to the sky and allows you to skydive for the first time.  In one you'll comb the streets, while in the other you'll take to the sky.  This goes a long way to setting these games apart.
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