Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 10/29/09
The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series of games has been the South Park of the video game world. They always push the levels on violence and vulgarity in video games. That is what I love about them. They are mature games made for adults like myself. I have been playing the series since the original top down view GTA 1 & 2 on the PC. When GTA 3 came out I was shocked with what they had done with the franchise. The 3D sandbox gave Liberty City a whole new look and feel. GTA Vice City and San Andreas brought two new adventures outside of Liberty City. Vice City had the whole Scarface/Miami Vice thing going for it which made it one my favorite stories of the series. San Andreas brought you to the west coast for some gangland adventures and even provided a little hot coffee. The only GTA games I have not played are the ones for portables like the recently released GTA: Chinatown Wars. GTA IV was the next generation sequel for the franchise. It gave us a character named Niko Bellic who just stepped off the boat and starts trying to make a name for himself in Liberty City. GTA IV ended up being the 4th best selling game on both the Xbox 360 and PS3. Microsoft and Rockstar collaborated to bring exclusive DLCs for the Xbox 360 The Lost and Damned (TLAD) & The Ballad of Gay Tony (TBoGT), now known as GTA: Episodes from Liberty City. TLAD was released back in February as DLC and was reviewed by us here. TBoGT was released as DLC and on the retail version of Episodes from Liberty City along with TLAD. I think I have established that this review will be full of acronyms and I hope you’re keeping up. I should mention when sending this game, Rockstar was nice enough to send me a shiny gold print T-shirt. Too bad it was a size large and I am little larger than large. Anyways, enough talk about my shirt size.
TLAD: If you have ever been a fan of the FOX television show Sons of Anarchy then you will be fan of The Lost and Damned. It follows Johnny Klebitz, a member and second in charge of a biker gang, The Lost. Some may remember him from his role in GTA IV. His motorcycle clubs president, Billy, has just been released from jail and it begins a struggle for power between the two of them. Johnny has cleaned up the gang while Billy was in jail. Now that Billy is free he wants to go back to his old ways of rampant violence and excessive drug use. Sounds like a fun GTA game to me! Why does Johnny have to be such a Debbie downer? This story is pretty cool and had a pretty epic ending. During one point of the game you will actually get to see digitally rendered male genitals, and we haven’t even started to talk about TBoGT yet.
Besides the story there are a couple of mini missions. One of those includes gang wars. In gang wars you drive you bike to the location on the map and all of sudden you are surround by a group of your fellow Lost members. You then get some new markers that will be a rival gang for you to go stomp the life out of. Chase them down, shoot them, and kill them…. mission complete. The other mission is bike races which can be initiated by a phone call to a fellow gang member. One cool thing is that in the races you can use a baseball bat to knock your competitors off their bikes. You can actually get achievement doing this 69 times. Rockstar even tries to be dirty even with their achievements. Besides these missions there are some mini-games back at the motorcycle club like high card and arm wrestling. Unless you are hard up for some cash, these are pretty boring after one or two tries. Do we really buy our next gen systems to play a riveting game of high low? I think not, but then again I play UNO on XBLA so I should probably just move on to the next episode.
TBoGT: In The Ballad of Gay Tony the main character is played by a Hispanic man named Luis Lopez. Luis went to jail at a young age and when he got out he started working for Tony Prince a.k.a. Gay Tony who owns the two hottest night clubs in Liberty City: Maisonette 9, which is a glitzy club for the Liberty City elite and Hercules, a gay nightclub. He still manages to keep a close relationship with his mother and his two drug peddling friends. The main missions rely on Luis helping Tony pay off his debts and basically causing terror within Liberty City as you blow up a construction crane, subway train, and a plane twice. One of the funniest characters you will meet is Yusuf who will have you stealing a military helicopter and a N.O.O.S.E. APC. He also likes to plate everything he owns in gold including his weapons. Obviously from the title there are a lot of stereotypes being made fun of in this game, but it wasn’t as excessive as I thought it would be and was a great story overall.
There are numerous side activities in this episode. One of my favorites was the BASE (which stands for Building, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumping. For those unfamiliar with this term it involves jumping from something high and using a parachute to land safely. It is like sky diving only not so high. During one of the story missions you acquire the ability to BASE jump. Once this mission is complete you can BASE jump from a number of different structures throughout Liberty City. Sometimes you will have to land on stationary targets and other times it will be moving. Another side adventure you can partake in is Drug Wars with your old school friends. Basically, you go to a location, shoot everyone, and steal their drugs. Simple yet awesome! There are quite a few mini games in this one that range from dancing to fighting. Cage fights allow for a little more focused melee combat and dancing tests your ability to practice rhythmic button pushing. Club management allows you to kick drunks out of your clubs but if you would rather be a drunk there is a champagne drinking game. Almost forgot to mention he can play golf at a driving range too.
Both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony had intersecting plotlines with main GTA IV. They really showed you how small of a player Niko was in Liberty City. TBoGT concludes the plotline the story that intersects through all 3 so I recommend playing that one after TLAD and the GTA IV plotline if you have it. In both stories the characters are rather enjoyable and all of them fit pretty well in the story. There are quite a few characters reprising their roles from the main story. It was cool to see how they interacted with the new characters.
Story/Modes Rating: Classic
This game is full of so much detail I don’t even know where to begin. It obviously has the same graphics engine as GTA IV. Liberty City lives and breathes detail. There are hundreds of character models roaming the streets. The city has a beautiful day and night cycle. There is nothing like stealing a helicopter, blowing up a yacht, and then flying away into a beautiful sunset. It also has rain and overcast skies. When your character walks the streets at night you can see his breath. When driving by what looks like Times Square you can see the reflections of the bright lights on the cars that pass by. There are even some cars that have duo tone paint jobs that look amazing. And, what would GTA be without beautiful explosions? This is one area where this game is not lacking and some are very cinematic looking without even being in a cut scene. Speaking of cut scenes, this game has numerous and the character models look believable.
TLAD adds a grain effect to the graphics that give it an edgier look. While I found this fit the game most of the time, there were times when I thought it looked a little off. With TBoGT there is no filter or fog effect from the original GTA IV. What this means for the game is that the draw distances are much greater. This is clearly evident on flying missions where you can see almost every building in Liberty City. For the menus within TLAD they chose a grey color scheme. This also goes for your GPS while in game. TBoGT went for pink. Actually TBoGT really favors pink a lot. I don’t think all gay men love pink as much as this game does. TBoGT also removes some of the blurring effect that is noticed when driving at high speeds in both GTA IV and TLAD. When talking about terms of graphics with a game like this you have to look at all the aspects of detail this game covers. This game does not have the best looking cars of any game, nor are the character models as good as other games. It does however have a good balance of all these details.
Graphics Rating: Great
I have always found the soundtrack in the GTA franchise to be top notch. The numerous radio stations will keep you thoroughly entertained. It has a little something for everyone minus Garth Brooks. If you are a Garth Brooks fan, I’m sorry there is nothing here for you. All kidding aside GTA lines up some of the best music in a game with the exception of rhythm based guitar games. The advertisements and DJ ramblings are amusing as well and it encourages you to switch stations to here all of the other ramblings. One thing I should mention is that the retail disc version of this game has some additional songs on a few of the old stations and it also has a whole new station called Vice City FM. I hope that this is a sign of things to come. I would love to revisit Vice City. Unfortunately this station is not available to DLC purchasers.
The city also has vibrant amount detail thrown into it when it comes to audio. All of the street characters have their random conversations. The city always has the sound of a bustling metropolis. You will eventually hear the call of seagulls that will need to be shot to earn you some gamerscore. The cut scene voice work is of course amazing. Every now and then it will seem a little off but overall the good voice work adds to the story. Even in TBoGT the girls that Luis has relations with have very realistic moans. Heck he even has a booty call that he continuously goes back to which allows you to repeat this amazing voice talent. I love that when he leaves the booty calls house he will have some humorous line like, “What was her name again?”Â That is what I call fantastic!
Sound Rating: Classic
TLAD and TBoGT both have the same gameplay from the original with some mild tweaking. The overall feel is similar to both GTA III & IV. It is a giant sand box for bad guys and good guys – pick up prostitutes, drink and drive, blow things up, and of course steal cars. You can follow the missions one after another as I did for the review or you can just drive around and create mayhem. The driving is similar to most racers except you can do drive by shootings. The combat is in the 3rd person perspective and has numerous weapon choices for you to create your mayhem with.
In TLAD, Johnny is a biker and it only makes sense that he can handle a bike well. In fact when driving a bike it is nearly impossible to fall off. I was driving like crap 90% of the game and my bike would just bounce of walls and other cars. Johnny never wanted to leave his bike. You can fall off your bike if you are going at max speed and hit a car head on. Sometimes even then you bounce off. Riding in formation with other bikers has been added to this episode in order to add to biker gang feel. You will receive benefits to your health by staying in formation. This will greatly cut down on your hot dog budget as fast food and prostitutes are the other boosters of health. Once you are the leader of the pack your gang will get the benefits of increased toughness from riding and doing missions with you. TLAD wants to ride your bike most of the games. Johnny calls cars “cages”Â. This is obvious as the game makes them awkward to drive for him. Everything goes much easier on a bike for Johnny. With GTA IV I always dreaded motorcycle missions as Niko could never stay on them. Actually, now that I mention it I never really liked them in any previous GTA game. With TLAD they made biking quite enjoyable. The only other difference with TLAD is additional weapons like the auto shotgun and the baseball bat I mentioned before which is great for those bike races.
All I can say about TBoGT is how much I hate helicopter missions. GTA has never been able to make flying handle well in any form. TBoGT has several helicopter missions. One mission had me flying over water shooting fleeing boats with missiles and machine guns. Let me tell I must have crashed into the water 20 times just because I could never figure out my altitude or maintain it for that matter. I don’t mind the one flying over the city and going through pink hoops. The city is quite a sight to behold from up high. On the other hand the BASE jumping missions were not that hard to learn the controls for and were actually pretty fun. I can’t say I was great at it but I could handle it.
The dancing in TBoGT is quite silly and involves some rhythmic use of your toggles and triggers. Succeeding will result in one of two ways. It may involve you taking your dance partner to the restroom for a quickie. I did that one within the first 15 minutes of playing TBoGT. What would a GTA title be without a little sex to go with that violence? I was hoping for a quick time event with this bathroom adventure but alas, there just more amazing voice work. As for the other result of successful dancing, well that involves a dance off. This first time I encountered this I could not stop laughing. So I start dancing with this girl at the gay bar, Hercules. Then this guy in the background crosses his arms menacingly and starts to give me the stare down. Before you know we were competitive dancing with more rhythmic dancing and even some quick time button pushing. You need to try this yourself to understand it completely.
TBoGT also expands on melee combat in the Liberty City cage matches. It turns out Luis is a retired cage match fighter. He retired at the young age of 17, when he went to jail. He gets back into to it to help out his mother. In order to win the championship you will need to survive 6 rounds with 3 fighters each. This is tough considering some of your opponents are armed with bats and knives. I didn’t find the golfing mini game that exciting and only tried once outside of a mission.
I mentioned earlier how great Johnny, from TLAD, could handle a bike. Well Luis in TBoGT really didn’t handle anything very well. The controls responsiveness just seemed a little off for me while driving with his character. I don’t know if this was intentional to represent that he was a bad driver but it took a little adjusting. The developers could have at least made him a better helicopter pilot. This did not take away from the amazing amount of fun and mischief that can be had in this game.
Episodes from Liberty City has plenty to keep you coming back for more. Let’s say you beat all of the game in 20 hours. Doing all the side missions in both episodes would take you at least another 10 hours. Not mention all the variety you get on multiplayer. Of course you have your standard death match and team death match. You also have races and free play. Free play is always fun just grab a friend and go on a rampage all throughout the city.
A feature included with TBoGT episode is a rainbow colored mission score at the end of every mission. When you are done with the entire campaign you can go back and try to improve your score on any of the missions. You do this by getting more head shots, taking less damage, and taking less time. Some missions have different variables like the amount of cop cars destroyed. Two of the highest gamerscore giving achievements in TBoGT are related to you mission score. After completing TBoGT you can also get an A.P.C.
Episodes from Liberty City was originally marketed as 2 DLC’s, but now being released retail on disc I would go as far as to say it is a full retail game. Each episode can take anywhere from 8-10 hours to complete. This totals to nearly 20 hours of gameplay time. It will take even more time if you are going for 100% completion. This game can also be played as a standalone game which means if you don’t own GTA IV you can still pick this one up.
Both episodes definitely increase in difficulty at a pretty balanced rate. Some of the missions are definitely hard than other. Those damn helicopter missions drove me nuts. Both finale missions were actually relatively easy compared to other missions earlier but they were a lot more involving. By that I mean to say they had more tasks to perform.
Balance Rating: Great
GTA really in my eyes developed and refined the open world combat game. Other games like Saints Row 2 have followed in their footsteps and have created some great competition that will only make for more superior games in this genre. Both stories in Episodes from Liberty City are original and entertaining. TLAD seems to follow a very similar story as the previously mentioned FOX series, Sons of Anarchy but it has its differences and similarities because biker gangs can only do so much in terms of story.
These two episodes are definitely a different take on the adventures that Niko had in the original GTA IV. I only wish they were doing more. Rockstar has set a high bar for future DLC’s within games. This game will always be in my mind when playing DLC in other games, as they will need a lot of content to justify my purchase.
Originality Rating: Great
You gotta love a game that actually tracks how addicted you are to it in its menu screen. These episodes are easy to pick up and get into. I would say my only problem is I get distracted from the story and go cop killing for an hour here and there. The multiplayer is always thriving as well. GTA IV which came out a while back still has lots of people online playing it. I am sure now that these two DLCs are out in disc form their multiplayer will thrive as well. I might be biased because of my love for GTA, but these games will always ranks as some of my favorites.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
Episodes from Liberty City is a great purchase for anyone who owns GTA IV and has yet to purchase TLAD. If you own TLAD just download TBoGT as the only thing you will miss out on is an extra radio station and a few extra songs. I wish I would have known back when I purchased the first one that this was the plan all along and I could of saved myself some hard drive space. Keep in mind that both episodes are about 1.8 gigs a piece.
This game is for a mature audience only. I know a few people that let their kids play theses game. I always ask them if they have any idea what happens in a GTA game. Your kid is banging prostitutes, selling drugs, and killing cops for fun. So parents, don’t buy this game for a 12 year old. I often encounter 12 year olds on Live and I am shocked that they are even allowed to play. When I was that age games were pretty much harmless; a plumber jumping on mushrooms was never that offensive. Now that I am done with my public service announcement let me just say that this two episodes will appeal to anyone who is a fan of GTA.
Appeal Factor Rating: Great
What bothers me about DLC these day is that sometimes you get burned for supporting it too early. An example is like when Halo 3 ODST came out with all of the maps for Halo 3 multiplayer. With Episodes from Liberty City the extra radio station is added because they didn’t bring over all the stations from GTA IV, but at the same time it is not available if you downloaded both episodes. So, in other words if you bought TLAD back in February you will need to buy this retail version in order to get the extra station. They should allow you to download it if you have purchased both. It is not that big of a deal but it is worth mentioning.
I do think it was a great idea to bring this to disc because you know that this will depreciate in value much quicker than the DLC will. Six months from now I bet you could pick up this for $20 while the DLC will still be $40 for both unless they end up becoming a deal of the week.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Appeal Factor: Classic
Final Score: Classic Game!
Short Attention Span Summary:
Episodes from Liberty City is a must purchase for anyone who is a fan of the Grand Theft Auto franchise and has not yet picked up The Lost and Damned DLC. If you have purchased TLAD then just download The Ballad of Gay Tony. The open world dynamic and the amount of detail put into this game make Liberty City a real living and breathing city. Recurring characters and plotlines that cross between both episodes and the original GTA IV make for really great story telling. The multiplayer has a lot of variety with everything from death matches to bike racing and BASE jumping. This game is offensive as hell and that is what I like about it. So if stealing cars, nailing prostitutes, drug trafficking, and killing gangsters in your video games is what you enjoy, than Episodes from Liberty City is for you.