Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City finally makes its way over to the PS3, and it contains all of the downloadable episodic content that the Xbox 360 received earlier this year, which means that you're getting both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Both of these titles could almost serve as full-fledged experiences in the world of GTA's Liberty City, but combined on one disc, it's one heck of a package for GTA IV fans. While the world of Liberty City doesn't see much of an overhaul, you'll have access to the same island locations, landmarks, etc., that were present in the core game. The stories are far more entertaining than GTA IV's core tale, so I think Episodes From Liberty City is the better purchase if you're new to the series.
The first episode on the disc comes in the form of the biker tale, The Lost and Damned. While you have access to either story right off the bat, I suggest playing them in order, as there is a bit of overlap. While neither game is directly tied into the story of GTA IV, you'll get some cameo appearances plus a mission or two that'll be more familiar to you if you've already played the main title. Either way, you don't need to own GTA IV to make this disc work; it's a standalone purchase that remains separate from GTA IV.
In The Lost and Damned, you take on the role of biker Johnny Klebitz, vice president of the Liberty City chapter of the biker gang known only as The Lost. When the game starts up, you're introduced to Johnny as he rides to pick up club president Billy Grey, fresh off a stint of court-mandated rehab. Grey has been itching to get back to business, but in his absence, Johnny has been running the club and doing an all right job of keeping things together. Grey wants to take things in a new direction, implementing a new policy of busting heads and taking what he feels rightfully belongs to the club. The game sets up the conflict between club vice president and president, and the story culminates in a pretty satisfying finale. My only real complaint with this particular episode is that the story is a little clichéd at times. If you've ever seen a biker movie like "Stone Cold" or the like, then you'll see how heavily this particular story borrows from different existing media. It's a fun romp through Liberty City, but it's not nearly as fresh as The Ballad of Gay Tony tends to be.
The Lost and Damned brings a few improvements to the game, including mid-level checkpoints, one of the bigger gripes that most people had with GTA IV. For the longer missions, there's generally an unannounced mid-point where if you fail you'll start at that particular section on a retry instead of starting all over. Just like GTA IV you get access to an in-game cell phone, which allows you to do these quick retries instead of driving back to the mission point start. Along with that you'll get a phonebook with access to different characters, including two members of your gang that you can call on for backup on different missions.
The Lost and Damned also has an experience system, which is primarily helpful for the two bikers who you can call for backup, Clay and Terry. Each mission that you successfully finish with them in tow will build up experience bars, including things like health and weapons, making them stronger the more you use them. The AI for these two characters is pretty solid — a little better than the AI you get for partner characters who occasionally accompany you on other missions as mandated by the story.
Another addition to The Lost and Damned comes in the form of specific multiplayer modes, which can also be accessed at any time via the cell phone function. Selecting multiplayer opens you up to these specific modes that are tied directly into the Biker theme of the game, as opposed to the run-of-the-mill modes you found in GTA IV. These include Lone Wolf Rider, where one player is designated the lone wolf and the others need to chase him down and kill him, thereby becoming the lone wolf themselves. This is a timed event, and the winner is the person who was lone wolf for the longest period of time. Race mode is pretty self-explanatory, but other modes like Chopper vs. Chopper (bike vs. helicopter), Club Business, Own the City and Witness Protection are all pretty unique to this particular entry, and they're also a lot of fun. Witness Protection provides a whole lot of mayhem with a group of friends, and it's easily my favorite of the bunch.
The second episode, The Ballad of Gay Tony, is really the highlight of this package. It's the best of the story lines and is one of my favorite GTA tales to date, across all systems and iterations. In Ballad, you take on the role of Luis Lopez, right-hand man to the titular Gay Tony, who runs a couple of nightclubs in Liberty City and is generally seen as the go-to guy for entertainment. The problem, however, stems from Gay Tony and his excessive addictions, which get him in to trouble more often than not. That's where Luis comes into play; as Tony's right hand, he often bails Tony out of trouble or cleans up his messes afterward. What really shines in The Ballad of Gay Tony, though, is that you're not simply some thug for hire working for an ungrateful mob guy like most GTA titles. Instead, Luis and Tony have an actual friendship that really comes through with a strong script, dialogue and great voice acting. It's a great dynamic that really helps you feel emotionally involved in the game, and it's something that I'd like to see in future GTA offerings.
Also, while The Lost and Damned is a pretty action-oriented adventure, serving up missions that require you to kill a lot of guys at once, the mission structure in Ballad is pretty different. Two aspects that help that are the introduction of flight and sky diving, which come into play in a variety of missions. Luis can BASE jump off buildings as well, which is entirely new for the GTA IV game and spin-offs. Another thing comes from the missions being ranked, so depending on how well you perform, you'll earn a percentage score for each mission. Achieving the best score in each mission is pretty difficult, but the missions are set up so that retrying them isn't too difficult, and they're paced well enough to make you want to try them over again. Of course, the mid-mission checkpoint system is in place for this entry too, which helps considerably.
On the multiplayer angle, The Ballad of Gay Tony completely misses the mark when compared to the cool modes of The Lost and Damned. I'm not sure why so much obvious effort was put into TLaD's modes and not Ballad's, but there's a striking difference. You get some basics, like Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, Free mode and GTA Races. Races is really the only thing of interest, as it allows you to shoot it out with other racers, but that's about it.
Both DLCs have unique strengths, but I think The Ballad of Gay Tony is the stronger of the two. The story is really great, and the relationship between Tony and Luis is far better than any dynamic that TLaD managed to get across. However, I will say that I find the stories here to be far more interesting than anything that vanilla GTA IV had to offer, and I think that picking up both DLCs in a package like this is a great way to go. Sure, you can download both episodes online for around the same price, but a little Internet searching can net you this title for under $40, and there's no real deal to be had out of DLC unless you enjoy not having to access a disc. There are also a couple of exclusive radio stations in this package, one of which is Vice City FM, a welcome addition that echoes that popular version of GTA.
For PS3 owners, I'm happy to note that no content has been cut or changed, and while it took a little while for Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City to reach the system, it's certainly a welcome addition to any fan's library. Visually, the game looks identical to the Xbox 360 version, so if you haven't snagged this yet, I'd definitely suggest you give it a try.
More articles about Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City