Game Review: Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City

By Tim Boswell  |  11/12/2009

2009-11-12-gtacoverRockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto series is one of the most popular in video game history, with each title improving time after time. Their newest title, Episodes from Liberty City, delivers one old and new episode -- The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

The two stories extend the GTA IV story line. While The Lost and Damned was released earlier this year, as an episodic expansion pack to IV, the Gay Tony expansion is brand new.

Let's start with a brief intro of Lost and Damned. The episode features Klebitz, one of the top members of Liberty City's top biker gang, The Lost. Yes, the same game featured through the course of GTA IV. The expansion episode crosses over some with the main title, but has a story of its own.

Basically Klebitz is embroiled in a power struggle with Lost leader Billy Grey, who has misguided the gang into financial disaster for years. But, he's been absent as of late, due to court-ordered rehab and Kelbitz has filled in, calling truces with The Lost's rivals, thus helping the biker gang thrive. Kelbitz and Grey are very different though. While Kelbitz is concerned with the future of the gang, Grey prefers acts of random violence and mayhem. This leaves the two leaders divided and you're left trying to maintain the gang's status. But of course, a lot of things happen along the way, making your job more difficult. You'll have to play to find out how the story unfolds, if you haven't already when this expansion dropped in February. Either way, it's definitely a fun episode, adding to the entire GTA IV story. Riding the bikes are pretty fun as well.

Now, on to The Ballad of Gay Tony. It's the last episode from GTA IV, but runs parallel with the story lines of both Lost and Damned and IV.

However, unlike previous GTA titles, where you start from the bottom and rise to the top, Luis is already juiced in with some of the biggest players in the city. In Ballad of Gay Tony, you play as Luis Lopez, the manager of the largest straight club in Liberty City, the Maisonette 9. Your boss is Gay Tony, the club's owner who also owns the biggest gay club in the city, the Hercules. Gay Tony is going through some sort of financial trouble, and since you work for him, he calls on you for help. This leads to a hunt for diamonds. Yes, the same ones from the aforementioned chapters of the game. But, those diamonds cause a lot trouble and you're trying to solve those problems, leading to hours of fun missions with tons of big explosions.

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Luis' story isn't the best, though. It dulls in comparison to previous characters, but the crazy individuals you encounter and some of the improved game play makes it worthwhile. The episode is more about the problems of Gay Tony, as seen through Luis' eyes, anyway.

The Ballad of Gay Tony is loaded with big weapons, and the same type of missions you've come to love from the GTA franchise -- you've betrayed me, so now it's time to go on a killing spree. Helicopter missions have a bigger role in Gay Tony than ever before. While the new choppers are packed with weaponry, the mid-air battles can pose a challenge for gamers. Despite being able to use the "lock-on" feature with your weapon on foot, you can't do the same while in the chopper. This is the biggest dilemma for the helicopter missions. Still, the chopper missions are fun, and add something different. Plus, it's easier to get around the city on a chopper than in a car or on foot.

The mid-air battles don't clog up the majority of the your game play though. There's plenty of other missions where you're on foot, or on the top of a train, or car, allowing you to utilize your weapons arsenal, which has a few new additions to help you mow down your foes. There's the sticky bomb, which you can place wherever you like and manually detonate as you leave the scene. Then there's the shotgun with explosive rounds, powerful enough to blow up both cars and choppers if you hit them right.

And finally, a tank has been added to the game! However, not one most would've liked to see. It's a compact, more mobile APC with a tiny turret, but still powerful enough to take out both cars and choppers with one shot. Maybe next time, Rockstar will add a real tank (hint, hint).

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One of the best new additions of Gay Tony is the way missions are broken down once completed. Once you finish a mission, you are given a score, including ratings for time past, player damage, etc. So, once you complete the entire game, you can use your cellphone to select previous missions and go back and try to improve your score. This helps in adding to the replay-ability of the game, because some of the missions are just play fun and you'll wanna go through them again and again.

There's also mini-missions such as 15 base jumping challenges -- where in one you jump from a building, attempting to land on a moving truck, or jumping from a helicopter and landing on a stationary target. There's also underground fighting challenges, a club manager challenge, a dancing mini-game, champagne battles, and tons of other stuff to keep you busy.

25 Drug Wars, side challenges have been added as well, where you help friends -- from the days before you rose from rags -- build a drug cartel. Since they don't have money, they steal their product from rival gangs, thus starting wars.

On top of all that, there's the 16-player online multi-player, but with fewer modes. However, the use of some of the new additions such as weapons and parachuting, make it worth a run through. Overall, the multi-player doesn't have that much to offer, and we tended to lean toward the actual game and missions more often.

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The Ballad of Gay Tony closes out the GTA IV story well, finally giving fans closure to the elusive stolen diamonds from the main title. While Luis isn't the deepest character the GTA franchise has ever seen, it doesn't take too much away since it's not about Luis after all.

For $40, Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City is worth every penny, especially if you never picked up The Lost and the Damned. It will give you hours, days, or weeks of fun, due to the content packed into this double release. It's out now, we recommend you pick it up.

Pick it up over at Amazon.com for $39.99.

Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5