“Two heads are better than one! Its double the pleasure, Baby, and triple the fun!!”
Lyrics from poodle rock 80’s bands never seemed to strike me as having an almost Nostrodamus-esque prophetic quality to them, but in the case of Grand Theft Auto IV’s Episodes From Liberty City, where you get not one flimsy attempt at a small and frankly mediocre attempt at a DLC pack, but two powerhouse titles that are ‘Stand Alone’ games in their own rights. Then prophecy seems to be the correct wording.
One feature that we always like here at GamesMediaPro is that although most developers release expansion packs and DLC via Xbox Live or the Playstation network, Rockstar Games chose to take the decision to release GTA IV:EFLC on disc. A move that we welcome with open arms, and would like to convey the message to other developers that Disc based DLC is, in fact, the better choice for all concerned. And especially, we feel, for the gamer.
Once you have inserted the game disc into your console of choice, (for this review we chose to use the PS3), you will notice that the game offers you the option of playing either of the two expansion packs. Be it The Lost and The Damned or The Ballad of Gay Tony. The good news for gamers here is that it is not necessary for the player to have completed the GTA IV title as Niko Bellic. It may help for some in the way of controls, but as ever with Rockstar Games there is a basic tutorial for newcomers to familiarise themselves with the gameplay controls. From there it is a case of being placed right into the thick of the action from the start.
The Lost and Damned sees the player taking on the role of Johnny Klebitz, a senior member from the biker gang, ‘The Lost’ who had a small cameo part in the original GTA IV title. Johnny’s story centres around the growing instability, and unpredictability, of recently released from prison Billy, the leader of The Lost. And it’s up to Johnny to ensure that their gang and biker club is still functioning as a unit and making money, while putting up with his leader Billy’s increasingly dubious and erratic behaviour. Whilst in The Ballad of Gay Tony, the player is placed in the shoes of Luis Lopez, the right hand man to nightclub impresario, Tony “Gay Tony” Prince. Luis’ story is based around the debts owed to him from the clubs that he runs for the enigmatic Gay Tony and before you know it, they’ve jumped in with both feet with the wrong kind of people. In fact you could say that they jumped in with both feet only to find that said feet have landed in a bucket of quick drying cement, and if Luis doesn’t set things straight, then the only thing he’ll be sleeping with for the foreseeable future will be the assortment of marine life in the surrounding waterways around Liberty City.
While both of the games offer the player compelling tales of morality, neither of the episodes have the oppressive feeling of impending doom that seemed to follow Niko Bellic around like a bad smell in the first GTA IV. That being said however, the real genius behind the stories is the synchronicity involved in how they all come together and fit just nicely with Niko’s story like well placed pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. It is worth noticing in particular the way that some of the things that you did as Niko in GTA IV were either set up, or followed up on, by either Johnny or Luis. For example, the way in which the whole affair with the ‘diamonds’ and the missions around the museum will all come together, but unfortunately for the series newcomers, all of these references will be completely lost on those who haven’t played through GTA IV. Still, some references are difficult to remember 18 months after the release of the original game, even if you have played through all three stories. Twice, like we have,
As we mentioned in an earlier paragraph, both the Johnny and Luis tales skip through a great deal of the introductions to Niko and the way that the earlier sections of GTA IV helped to formulate the character of Niko Bellic. Johnny is already firmly set up as a personality within his organisation that requires him to be a ‘contender’ but not ‘TheChamp’, somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Whereas Luis spends time in decidedly more ‘colourful and flamboyant’ company. The way in which Rockstar Games have presented the contrast between all three characters and their resultant stories makes for an interesting experience that can be enjoyed over multiple playthroughs with each individual character, but in our opinion we had the most fun with The Lost and the Damned as it really does do the best job of bringing to the gamer a varied and contrasting journey from both a story and gameplay point of view. When you play as the underdog Johnny, you really feel like you’re part of a biker gang. The Ballad of Gay Tony however, is on much more familiar ground with those gamers who have experienced previous instalements of the GTA franchise, as you engage in more of what Niko didn’t do enough of, such as riding in helicopters for example. And even though Luis sometimes feels at times the same oily rag that Niko was, instead of being the engine driver, he still manages to pull it off as becoming one of the GTA series more likeable characters.
Seeing as how both of the Episode From Liberty City stories are constructed from the template of the original GTA IV game, the vast majority of the missions that you will endure are your typical Grand Theft Auto fare. With Johnny, you will find that you have all your contacts already and in place awaiting your command, and you’ve got missions that will permit you to take along some of your fellow gang members to lend a helping hand should the need arise? With Luis on the other hand, you do your typical GTA things like steal a military helicopter, or run amok in a pilfered tank, and maybe just for good measure take a subway cart for a joyride? A welcome addition to the format of both the expansion titles is the inclusion of a checkpoint system that does not require players to restart from the beginning of each mission should you find your character being taken out by a rival gang of bikers, or maybe just getting his base jump wrong and plummeting to his death from a great height like stone. The Ballad of Gay Tony now also adds a score to the end of each mission, which the player can take the decision to improve upon once the game has been completed. As we stated earlier, there is a great deal of replay value for money in GTA IV Episodes From Liberty City, but then again, there always has been with Rockstar Games blockbuster open world free-roamer. Each story has its highlights, and each of them will take the player aound the 10 hour mark to complete, depending on the gamers level of expertise and gaming prowess. As such, between the two titles you are going to be treated to around an impressive 20 hours of story-based gameplay from this entire package.
Of course, the story is only one aspect of the game, as both Johnny and Luis have both brought more than a few tricks of the trade to the GTA IV party. In The Lost and the Damned, you have numerous races, Competing against rival gang members and bashing them senseless or just knocking them clean of their motorcycles as you vie for the top position and ultimately, victory. There are also a whole variety of other activities ranging from gang wars to the theft of specially designed custom bikes. Furthermore, with the added bonus of the inclusion of the all- new multiplayer modes, namely ‘Witness Protection’ and ‘Chopper Vs Chopper’ there is many an hour of online motorcycle mayhem to be enjoyed. The latter sees one player racing on a motorbike whilst the other screams overhead in a helicopter. In The Ballad of Gay Tony, you have a golf shooting range, drug wars and cage fighting championship, as well as the welcome return of parachuting and base jumping, to both single and multiplayer. One particular font of much merriment in the office was the dancing competitions in which we were quite pleased that Episodes From Liberty City was released way ahead of the newly announced Kinect for the Xbox360. Other new additions to the game see the inclusion of another three new radio stations (such as Vice City FM), along with some newly recorded audio for existing stations for your listening pleasure.
As is the norm for most DLC it is released very close to the original game, releasing these episodes so late on in the day for GTA IV has not been at all a detremental move by Rockstar Games, in our opinion. Quite the opposite in fact, as we believe that with such a successful title as the original GTA IV, releasing the Stand Alone quality DLC Episodes From Liberty City so long after the games original, has only served to bring the title back to the fore, and increase its resale value. Those gamers who missed out on the opportunity to enjoy GTA IV first time round can now have their interest reawakened by the DLC, and we would not at all be surprised if once again the figures for GTA IV show an increase in sales?
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty with it’s streamlined stories and attractive price is a very good proposition. This is a GTA that most gamers will be able to complete. Johnny’s story has some genuine distinguishing features, while Luis is all about living it large. Even though newcomers to the title won’t be savvy to the intriguingly intertwined story, it is so well fleshed out that it is not in any way confusing to even the most inexperienced first time player to the Grand Theft Auto series of games. As far as we are concerned this expansion of an already hugely successful title, and indeed series of games, has everything that the gamer wants and nothing that the gamer does not need. It is well worth noticing that instead of being given the GTA IV prefix, these games are so well made and with such depth of character and content that they could well have been entitled Grand Theft Auto V.
It is with all of those details in mind that we have come to the conclusion that Grand Theft Auto IV Episodes From Liberty City scores a whopping 9. So if you have not yet enjoyed your time as either Johnny or Luis, or indeed Niko too, the we can wholeheartedly recommend a trip to your local game store to pick up your copy today.