Once again, it’s time to take a drive through the dangerous streets of Liberty City. Grand Theft Auto IV elevated the GTA series to a whole new level back in 2008; combining all of the things we had grown to know and love about the past series entries and presenting it all in a glorious High Def experience. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft shelled out a shitload of moolah in order to present their Xbox 360 flock with two exclusive expansion games.
At first, I was furious — uttering the familiar expression that anyone who has ever used a PC has cried out at one point or another: “Fucking Microsoft!” Thankfully, my ire subsided when the Xbox 360 uniqueness wore off and Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City was released to PS3 — this time giving way to a less-frequently heard, but just as poetic statement…
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City contains two separate (not to mention completely different) standalone games from the GTA Universe: The Lost & Damned and The Ballad Of Gay Tony, each of which contains their own individual line-up of content (i.e. music, weapons, DJs, TV shows, games, etc.).
Since it was the first game to select on the disc, we’ll begin with The Lost & Damned. It is, without question, the “seedier” tale of the two, taking us on the plight of Johnny “The Jew” Klebitz, a member of Liberty City biker gang, The Lost. Officially the vice president of the gang, Johnny played the role of impromptu leader for a twelve-month stretch following the incarceration of the The Lost’s president, Billy Grey, who was sentenced to rehab on narcotics possession. During that time, Johnny devoted most of his time as boss to improving The Lost’s “business” strategies — which mainly involved repairing ties with rival gangs that Billy and his drug-fueled frenzies had severed.
In the beginning of the game (look quick for a cameo by Nico Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV), Billy is released from rehab, and immediately wants to go back to the way things were. Naturally, this causes tensions to mount between the recently-reinstated president and Johnny, who wishes to continue improving The Lost’s reputation and steering away from the drugs and violence.
Gameplay-wise, The Lost & Damned won’t take the average player a terribly long time to beat. It is also the least “morally-fulfilling” chapter (if such a thing is possible in a Rockstar game!) of the two. On the plus side, however, The Lost & Damned introduces players to the much-needed mid-mission checkpoint system, wherein, if you screw up whilst a mission, you don’t have to start all over again — you can just pick up at the checkpoint (’bout damn time, too).
Moving on to The Ballad Of Gay Tony… This is, arguably, the best of the two games in Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City. Most of the sleaziness found in The Lost & Damned is missing here, which is instead replaced by that glitzy glamorous (yet still dirty, of course) feeling that we first witnessed in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Here, our main character is Luis Fernando Lopez, the bodyguard/personal assistant/business partner of Anthony Prince (better known as “Gay Tony”), the coke-loving owner of two of Liberty City’s most hopping nightclubs (where you, as Luis, are able to dance, drink for free, and have spontaneous wanton sex with female partygoers — hey, we gamers have to have some sort of sex life, right? Why not live vicariously via a virtual playa like Luis?).
In addition to fulfilling missions for Gay Tony (whose drug use grows progressively worse, leading to some truly bad decisions), Luis helps out his poor mum in upper Algonquin, and a couple of childhood pals. Most of these missions occur in the beginning of the game, and, for the most part, The Ballad Of Gay Tony takes us on a number of exciting assignments throughout the city (well, Algonquin, mostly: the more “prestigious” section of Liberty City). This entry also gives users the option to replay missions, which is also a well-welcomed addition.
Sure, it’s fun to participate in a motorcycle race in The Lost & Damned and use a baseball bat to knock your opponents off their bike, but, when it comes down to it, The Ballad Of Gay Tony is the more enjoyable game (in my opinion). The status of things rarely changes in the first game, while The Ballad Of Gay Tony gives you (well, Luis) a chance to move even further up the ladder in life — not to mention we finally get an armed helicopter to play with! And, when you throw in a couple of truly insane characters like Yusuf Amir (a real estate developer with delusions of grandeur) and Ray Bulgarian (a Russian mobster with “loco” written all over his pixilated face), you can’t deny that The Ballad Of Gay Tony is a hoot.
While you need not have ever played Grand Theft Auto IV before this to enjoy the fun, familiar users will no doubt enjoy the many tie-ins with the previous game (e.g. Luis, as it turns out, was one of the hostages during Nico’s hold-up of the Bank Of Liberty; the missing diamonds from one of Nico’s missions finally turn up; etc.). Both game’s main individuals take a bit of a backseat to their respective stories and (often outrageous) supporting characters, but there’s still a whole lot to do and explore in Liberty City.
The bottom line: Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City may have been a longtime coming to PS3 players, but it’s well worth the wait.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.