Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City
Everyone's favourite murder simulator is back -- now with added sequins!
- Two games in one, plenty of new missions for your buck, it's GTA!
- Issues that have plagued GTA still persist; gamers who've moved on past GTA won't find a compelling reason to return
Episodes From Liberty City is the same old GTA that we know and love. That means more missions, more activities and more crime. But it also means dealing with more of the same issues that have been around since the beginning.
Price$ 69.95 (AUD)
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City is a compilation pack that bundles The Ballad of Gay Tony with the previously released Lost and the Damned into one retail package. It only took twenty minutes of playing for us to realise it was the same old GTA that we all know and love. But is this a good thing? Yes and no. Let's take a look at each game in turn...
The Lost and Damned
In The Lost and the Damned gamers play as Johnny Klebitz, the second in command of a motorcycle gang called The Lost. Johnny is a level-headed sort, as criminals go, but is constantly at odds with reckless gang leader Billy Grey. Billy, who was recently let out of prison, is just aching to take out his pent up frustration on the other biker gangs in Liberty City -- consequences, and you, be damned.
Initially Johnny is resigned to soldier status (steal this, kill that), leaving gamers with the feeling that they've seen all of this before. But once you take over the gang, the characters in "Lost and Damned" become more developed, and the rest of Johnny's world opens up to more opportunities for you to wreak havoc.
Much of the gameplay is standard GTA shooting and driving fare, but there's more to the "Lost and Damned" than that. There are new motorcycle street races to win (knocking your opponents off their bikes by nailing them with a bat never gets old), relationships to cultivate, side stories to complete, mini-games to play (air hockey, arm wrestling), gang wars to win, and dirty laundry to be washed. New music, weapons and vehicles also help give Liberty City a fresh feel. And when you get tired of playing with yourself, gamers can always go online to try out the five new multiplayer game types. Finding ways to occupy your time with Johnny is an easy thing to do.
The Lost and Damned isn't without its flaws, however. The storyline isn't particularly interesting, and while it alludes to some links in the original GTA IV plot, it never really connects the dots. Unlike the charismatic Niko, Johnny never truly comes into his own. Most gamers won't feel much of a bond with him and because of that his successes (and ours) don't carry much weight. And where is that trademark Rockstar humour? Aside from two cut scenes where I saw more junk than in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, there were few laughs to speak of.
Even with some minor hang-ups this is a must buy. It offers so much content it could easily be called GTA 4.5. With a gameplay time hovering around 10 hours (or even 20-30 if you choose to experience everything) The Lost and Damned is a must own for any GTA fan.
The Ballad of Gay Tony
We hate to say it, because it's trite and rather lazy, but The Ballad of Gay Tony is, simply put, "more GTA." And honestly, if you're the type of gamer who would buy this expansion, that's all you need to know, because that's all you want: you want more missions, more weapons, and more activities -- in short, "more GTA." In this regard, Gay Tony succeeds admirably. It's vintage GTA and it offers a surprisingly meaty experience. Unfortunately, it also offers up a lot of the same problems that have plagued the series since its inception, a fact that nearly ruined an otherwise engaging gaming experience for us.
Gay Tony might be new to the GTA family but it's inherited a lot of the same genetic defects that affected its siblings. Cars still handle as if you're driving on a sheet of ice and the auto-aim is still ridiculously fickle; there's still a lot of aimless driving between points of interest and the difficulty of certain missions is still painfully uneven; and the camera is still wonky and the penalty for failing a mission is still too steep.
Anyone who's played GTA knows these problems well and the fact that they're still around is a little troubling. Rockstar isn't completely deaf to complaints -- GTA 4's incessant cell phone calls are almost non-existent in Gay Tony, for instance -- so it's a real shame that the ghosts of GTA's past still haunt the overall experience, especially because despite all its warts, Gay Tony still manages to be fun.
That's a testament to the strength of the GTA formula and proof that Rockstar still knows what it's doing. Technical and AI issues aside, the game is still entertaining thanks to the rock solid gameplay and the varied missions. The narrative tone is also a high-point because it's far more light-hearted than GTA 4, which took the business of being serious a little too seriously. We also appreciated the characterisation of the titular Gay Tony: instead of portraying him as a cartoonish caricature, Gay Tony comes across more as a flawed man who just happens to be gay rather than a flawed 'gay' who just happens to be a man.
During our playthrough, there were plenty of times when we wanted to throw the controller halfway across the room in frustration but there were far more moments when we were fully engaged in the action that was unfolding before us, which is basically the same reaction we had to every single GTA title since GTA 3. We're going to recommend Gay Tony but only to GTA-fanatics who are willing to gloss over the still persistent faults; it's with them in mind that we award the game a high score. But gamers who've already given up on GTA won't find anything here to change their minds.
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