It’s been a rocky road to the arrival of Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City to the PS3 and PC, one that many had wondered would actually happen. With a rumoured $50 million deal between Microsoft and Rockstar to put two additional episodes of the massively popular Grand Theft Auto franchise on the XBOX 360, it was assumed that the agreement was one of permanent exclusivity. Less than a year after the release of The Ballad of Gay Tony to the XBOX 360, both episodes are now compiled on a retail disc in identical fashion to the XBOX 360. And for fans of Grand Theft Auto IV who only have a PS3, this is still a title you want in your collection.
Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City takes place concurrently with the events of the original Grand Theft Auto IV. It’s actually a compilation of the two downloadable episodes that were released after GTA IV hit retail shelves, and both episodes are still available online as in their original digital format. Each episode puts players in the shoes of two very different characters, the only common trait both share being that they are natives of Liberty City, rather than immigrants, as was Nico Bellic in the original game.
The two episodes, being downloadable content, use the exact same graphics engine as the original Grand Theft Auto IV, so gamers familiar with the series should know exactly what they’re getting into. The scope of the GTA games is still impressive visually, though draw-in and pop-up can still occasionally plague the games from time to time, as well as some occasional, noticeable drops in the frame rate. GTA IV was never the prettiest looking game in the industry, but it always had size going for it, and that still holds true here. Just Cause 2 may have recently toppled it for sheer size of real estate, but the wealth of detail seen in the streets of Liberty City is still impressive, with dynamic weather, trash drifting in the wind, and the constant humour of the street signs and other subversive elements weaved throughout the setting.
Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City also adhere to Rockstar’s usual high standards in the sound department. Voice acting is still some of the best in the industry with performances from gritty biker gangs to corrupt politicians all delivering dialog at turns convincing, funny and depressing because of the constant focus on a morally bankrupt society. There are also new television and radio stations that maintain Rockstar’s reputation as one of the funniest, most satirical developers in the industry, with fan favourite Fernando Martinez making a return on an 80’s retro radio station complete with selections like T’pau and Lisa Stansfield available for nostalgia drives down virtual Manhattan.
Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City offers players two types of experiences. For those that enjoyed the change in direction offered by the original Grand Theft Auto IV, the first episode, The Lost & the Damned is a return to the more realistic, low key tone that GTA IV established. For those that missed the over the top antics of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, The Ballad of Gay Tony addresses those criticisms. The Gay Tony episode also seems slightly larger, with more content and varied missions, though the two episodes combined easily equal the equivalent content of a normal, retail game, and then some. Both of them offer a look into different aspects of the urban underworld, one being the more rough and tumble milieu of biker gangs, while the other goes behind the velvet rope of the night club culture. The general gameplay is exactly the same as GTA IV, with each respective character taking on missions from various ambassadors of scum and villainy and indulging in mini-games and optional side missions. The Lost & Damned however, places more emphasis on biker and gang related activities such as turf wars and riding in formation, while The Ballad of Gay Tony uses helicopters and parachutes to add some spice to the traditional GTA mix. As with any expansion, it’s more of the same for players familiar with the original title, and will likely not offer much to players who didn’t like the first game.
These are stand-alone titles, meaning that no previous saves or game data from Grand Theft Auto IV are required. While it’s possible for first time players to just jump in and enjoy the urban chaos that Liberty City offers, it’s the returning veterans who will get the most out of the experience. Both episodes run concurrently with events of the original game, and as such, familiar faces, places and events will intersect, often with new perspectives on the various events. On the multi-player side of things, the episodes don’t disappoint, with new modes such as Chopper vs Chopper, where one player rides a motorcycle, while another player flies an attack helicopter in a game of cat and mouse, or tweaked versions of the old Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes that are standard for multi-player modes. Unfortunately, because these two episodes are also sold as separate pieces of downloadable content, there’s no way to integrate the lobbies or multi-player modes, meaning that players have to load up one episode or the other in order to play a preferred mode, rather than just jumping straight into an online only multi-player mode that offers all the multi-player games in one convenient package.
Episodes From Liberty City is priced $10 less than regular game, and that makes it an easy game to recommend. Despite being DLC compiled on a disc, the two episodes offer more content than most retail games, with some of the best satire in games today. Fans of GTA IV will love the new content, and fans of the earlier San Andreas game will find a the Gay Tony episode to better suit their taste for over the top Action. The multi-player modes are plentiful and robust, considerably lengthening the lifespan of the game. All in all, for PS3 only owners who missed out the original release of this DLC when it hit the XBOX 360, these two episodes are still a lot of fun and will provide a lot of value for your money.