For the past three years Microsoft has been using Grand Theft Auto IV as a marketing tool for their Xbox 360. Ever since the game was announced, everybody knew that the much-anticipated downloadable content would be exclusive to the Xbox 360. But not so fast, Microsoft. Because now that some time has passed and both expansion packs have been released, it appears as though PlayStation 3 owners will finally have a chance to complete the Grand Theft Auto IV adventure.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City is exactly the same game that was released six months ago on the Xbox 360. It's a disc-based version of the two downloadable episodes, The Lost & Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Both of these games are available for download via the PlayStation Network, but gamers looking for a more physical copy (or suffer from slow download speeds) can file this $40 package right next to their copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. And best of all, this disc doesn't require the original disc (or any saves) to work.
If you already own these two downloadable expansion packs or plan on buying them, 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 is absolutely nothing new for you to see here. This release is strictly for those gamers who don't have internet access or decided they want to have it on a physical disc.
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 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.
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