Inside Pulse 12

Review: GTA IV: Episodes From Liberty City (Sony PS3)

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Genre: Action
Release Date: 04/13/10

All good things must end, even Rockstar’s string of great Grand Theft Auto games. From GTA III through GTA IV, a string of four titles, Rockstar managed to consistently top themselves and craft some classic titles. How many PlayStation 2 games hold up as well as GTA: San Andreas? Not too many that I can think of. Even Vice City is still playable, which is more than I can say for a lot of games from that era.

GTA IV was the number one reason I bought a PlayStation 3. Above all else, I had to play through the trials and tribulations of Niko Bellic and once again experience the pleasures of Liberty City. I loved that title and played it to death. When The Lost and Damned launched on the XBOX 360, back in February of last year, I was saddened by the prospect of never getting to play it on my shiny PS3. My heart broke at the prospect of having to live without taking The Ballad of Gay Tony around the block. I had simply given up on playing theses side quests through the big city’s underbelly.

Of course, Rockstar was kind enough to port the pair of TLAD and TBOGT over to the PS3 and make them available either as DLC or on a disc. With plenty of spare time, a hole in my gaming schedule between Final Fantasy XIII and Red Dead Redemption, and a burning desire to blow things up, I was pretty stoked to tear into Episodes From Liberty City in disc form. The cover is shiny and quite nice to look at, and the included poster/map is a nice inclusion. If only I had known that this was pretty close to the high point of my experience with Episodes From Liberty City

Story/Modes
For me, the story and characters of the GTA universe have always drawn me in. I still think Carl “CJ” Johnson is the best video game protagonist of all time. No, really. He was the funny enough to be quotable, ruthless enough to be believable, and easy going enough to just go along with the largely insane plot. Niko Bellic carried on the tradition of likable and dangerous GTA protagonists with his dry wit and vocal reservations towards the direction he was being dragged in life. Into this proud tradition comes Luis Lopez. Luis, the star of The Ballad of Gay Tony, is every bit the lovable gangster the earlier characters were. Hell, I would say his family of co-stars, Gay Tony, his mother, Henrique, and Armando are the best that the GTA series has seen.

With its tale of questionable business practices, loyalty, and ridiculous fortune, TBOGT is a return to the style of earlier titles, like Vice City and San Andreas, instead of the darkness and malaise of GTA IV and TLAD. As it pertains to TBOGT, I have no complaints, story-wise. It all comes together nicely and is a pretty easy world to slide into. If only the same could be said for the big time downer that is The Lost and Damned. From the first mission on, a few things are clear. The main character Johnny is pretty annoying. His boss Billy is annoying. Billy’s lackey Brian is annoying, though he seems to have been written intentionally so. To top it off, the plot is predictable from the starting pistol.

If TBOGT is everything I love about GTA, or at least most of it, then TLAD is most of what I hate in condensed form. The missions are, for the most part, boring. Gang combat does not work in the GTA control scheme. TLAD feels like the outline of a good full size game that got the video game equivalent of being put straight on DVD. What is the point of a motorcycle gang game that never leaves the city?

Story/Modes Rating: GOOD

Graphics:
If there is one thing I can say that I really like about both TLAD and TBOGT, it’s the way they use different graphical filters to alter the player’s view of Liberty City. TLAD has a grungy filter that makes it look like someone got your flatscreen nice and dirty before you started playing. The scratches and imperfections are really appealing and grant the game a nice gravitas. The amazing thing is how the city looks completely different in this mode than it does in GTA IV, which also had a grey and dirty look.

TBOGT uses a filter that makes everything look shiny and clean. The angles are sharp, the lights are bright, and the colors bleed. Liberty City, through the eyes of Luis Lopez, is a city of late nights and opportunity. Star Junction looks every bit the stand in for Times Square that it is supposed to be. The Liberty City of TBOGT has the headache contrast of a late night on the town.

The character models have not changed much since GTA IV, which means they look good, but not great. Time has not been kind to the engine and the fact that GTA IV came out 2 years ago is blatantly clear.

Graphics Rating: GOOD

Sound:
One thing you can rely on from a GTA, even those that are DLC, is quality sound. The voice acting in both episodes is quite good. While it would be cynical to attribute this entirely to the high budget, I do have to admit that Rockstar does a great job of casting voice actors. There are a few that really stand out; Gay Tony is a superstar and Yusuf is a revelation. True, Yusuf dances on the line of bad taste, but I grew affectionate towards the character, in no small part due to the great performance. Gay Tony is even more amazing, as the voice actor, credited as D.B. Cooper, makes Gay Tony a thoroughly flawed but lovable gentleman.

The music is, once again, top shelf. The additional tracks really add to both the biker milieu of TLAD and the nightclub parties of TBOGT. L.C.H.C. gets a death metal makeover and the classic rock station gets even more classic. Truth be told, I think the radio stations are the aspect of GTA games I look forward to the most with each edition.

Sound Rating: VERY GOOD

Control and Gameplay:
Gun fights have never been fun in GTA. Never. The loosey goosey control scheme is fine for shooting one or two people at a time, but the whole thing falls apart in protracted encounters, something both of these episodes throw at the player. Combat is just not tight and enjoyable enough. This is partially due to the fact that the series as a whole has always been weak in this department, but it is also a sign of age. Try playing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and then returning to GTA IV and try to tell me the gunplay is acceptable here. I defy you to try.

The vehicle control is equally busted, as it always has been. I have always defended the insanely bad car physics as a side effect of the story. The characters are almost always driving stolen cars in high stress situations. The drastic oversteer and worthless brakes made for more dramatic car chases and added a bit of panache to the proceedings. With Johnny and Luis, though, it just seems inappropriate. I could almost justify Johnny being a bad driver when in a cage, I mean car, but there is no reason for Luis to be all over the road while driving one of Tony’s cars for him.

The motorcycle controls are even worse. In the past, GTA characters flew from the backs of motorcycles with the slightest provocation, taking to the air and crashing like wounded geese. Now, Johnny Klebitz is seemingly Super Glued to the back of his chopper, resulting in some ridiculous situations. I was driving around town and talking to my wife and she wondered why I was unhappy with the game. Almost on cue, my bike jumped a curb and got stuck up in a tree. Really.

Control and Gameplay Rating: POOR

Replayability:
One thing the GTA series has always been dependable for is replayability. Sadly, the Episodes From Liberty City do not carry on this tradition. Once beaten, there is no reason to return to TLAD and little more to do if you come back. TBOGT has a few side quests and minigames worthy of a repeat visit, but nothing to write home about. The BASE jumping is a nice distraction, but it gets old in a hurry. TBOGT also adds a mission scoring system for the anal, but actual anal might be preferable.

There is a bevy of multiplayer gaming to be had online. Whether you want to brave what seems to be a wilderness of the most annoying players in the world in order to squeeze out a little more fun is up to you. For me, multiplayer gunfights are not any more fun than the single player ones, which I still contend are the worst part of the game.

Replayability Rating: POOR

Balance:
TLAD is pretty simple to pick up and play for those with GTA experience. The same can be said for TBOGT, actually. There is the small matter of learning how to ride in a formation (simple), BASE jump (easy), and fly a helicopter (a firm kick to the nuts). The addition of mid mission checkpoints makes some missions more manageable, but can be a detriment in others. There were a few times I found myself low on the specific sort of ammo needed to make it through a battle.

There has been some complaint at the difficulty of TBOGT‘s missions, but none of them really held me back. Once again, the dependence on only half a dozen or so mission types is a real drag and keeps the game from shining as brightly as the neon signs.

Balance Rating: MEDIOCRE

Originality:
Quick, name another go anywhere sandbox game with rampant crime. So, there is a definite lack of originality in the fact that this is a sequel, or set of sequels, or is it a side quest to a sequel? Whatever it is, it is not the most original thing in the world. On the other hand, playing as the business partner of a nightclub impresario and the only Jewish biker in his gang are pretty novel takes on the genre.

Neither episode really transcends what came before enough to be considered something new, but there is a spark. Whether that spark is enough to warrant $40 is up to you.

Originality Rating: MEDIOCRE

Addictiveness:
I found myself walking away from Episodes From Liberty City quite a bit. Sometimes, it was because I had real world obligations. You know, walking the dog, having a beer, using the facilities, fun stuff like that. Sometimes, it was out of frustration at the way the game’s levels of annoyance in relation to the levels of enjoyment. Sometimes, it was because I thought Yo Gabba Gabba was on and I figured that a show for 3 year olds would be a better time. No matter the reason, it was always easy to walk away from Episodes From Liberty City.

Addictiveness Rating: BAD

Appeal Factor:
Since the GTA series has sold more copies than just about any other game series, they must be doing something right. This game is perfect example of how you can appeal to two completely different audiences at the same time. On one hand, it will appeal to guys who like to wear leather and hang out with other guys. On the other hand, it will appeal to guys who like to wear leather and hang out with other guys. Seriously, though, there is enough butch biker fun in TLAD and enough crazy late night hijinks in TBOGT to appeal to a wide cross section of sociopaths. Plus, the case is shiny enough to attract people who like shiny things.

Appeal Factor Rating: DECENT

Miscellaneous:
Having the DLC available on a disc by itself, with no need for the original, is a nice trick. Not having to wait too awful long for the install is also quite nice. The aforementioned map was a nice touch. There is not a thing I could complain about in regards to the front end and menu system. Even the loading screens are pretty.

Miscellaneous Rating: DECENT

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: GOOD
Graphics Rating: GOOD
Sound Rating: VERY GOOD
Control and Gameplay Rating: POOR
Replayability Rating: POOR
Balance Rating: MEDIOCRE
Originality Rating: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness Rating: BAD
Appeal Factor Rating: DECENT
Miscellaneous Rating: DECENT
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:

Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City is not a bad game. Sadly, it is not a good one, either. There is a fair amount of stuff to do and a nice layer of polish. The question becomes this: is more of the same what I want? If you got all of the Liberty City you wanted from GTA IV, then this is most likely extraneous. If beating GTA IV left you with a burning desire to keep trouncing about the city in your “I heart LC” shirt, then feel free to pick this up. My recommendation would be to skip the disc, grab The Ballad of Gay Tony off of PSN, and watch an episode of Sons of Anarchy if you really need some 1% in your life.