Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City Review
What would a game be without its main characters? Zooming around the Green Hill Zone wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t playing as Sonic, Master Chief is the only marine suitable for saving humanity from the Covenant and raiding tombs without the delectable Miss Croft would just feel wrong. The starring role in Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest instalment in Rockstar North’s ground-breaking open world crime-sim, is undoubtedly Liberty City itself. Yes, you took on the role of Niko Bellic as he strived to survive in a harsh, dog-eat-dog world populated with gangsters, killers and other unpleasant types, but the way you interacted with the city, the way it seemingly moved and breathed even when you weren’t there, always made it feel as if Niko’s story just happened to be one entangled within a million others.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City enables you to play two more of these intricate, interweaving stories in the form of this year’s two downloadable content packs, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Offering a perspective of the city from two massively diverse angles, each tale is as engaging, captivating and all-enapsulating as the main game’s original story.
The Lost and Damned sees you take on the role of Johnny Klebitz, vice president of The Lost Motorcycle Club and acting leader while president Billy Grey has been in jail for narcotics possession charges. In the absence of the headstrong boss, the club has flourished under Johnny’s management thanks to the deals and truces he has set up with the city’s other gangs. Billy’s release and ensuing irresponsible and anarchical behaviour threatens this precarious balance, however, causing tensions to boil over between the two on how the club should be run and casting the club’s future and crumbling hierarchy into doubt.
A tale concerning the values of loyalty and conflict in a brotherhood destroying itself from within, The Lost and Damned is an altogether darker affair, even when compared to the seedy underworld and confused morals of the main story. With an emphasis on maintaining squad formation on motorcycles (Johnny dislikes driving around in ‘cages’), alongside the introduction of some brilliantly devastative weapons, TLAD shows the player Liberty City’s most hostile side, offering one of the most sombre narratives you can experience in a videogame. The morose atmosphere will linger long after you’ve reached the game’s conclusion.
If The Lost and Damned showcases the darkest side of the city, The Ballad of Gay Tony illustrates the glitz and glamour the city can offer, or at least to the right people. Concerning the encroaching collapse of nightclub mogul ‘Gay’ Tony Prince’s social empire thanks to drug abuse, spiralling debt and vicious loan sharks wanting their money back (plus interest), it’s up to right-hand man Luis Lopez to salvage the situation and keep his boss’s rule over the city’s nightlife intact (or maintain it for as long as possible: whichever seems more likely).
While TLAD remains grounded in realism, TBOGT cranks the ridiculous factor to the max, flaunting some of the most outrageous missions to be found in any Grand Theft Auto instalment to date, such as tossing an unpleasant celebrity blogger from a helicopter before jumping out to catch him to ensure he doesn’t become a splotch on the tarmac and hijacking a moving subway carriage via helicopter while it’s still moving. With new weapons, such as the hilariously explosive shotgun, to terrorise the population with and base-jumping activities and more dotted throughout the city, there’s plenty to do with all the money and high profile offered to you in the final instalment.
Episodes cements Rockstar North’s position as the greatest storyteller in the industry, masterfully crafting two consistently intriguing and entrancing interlacing tales, deftly dropping in appearances from characters from all three stories, their inclusion never feeling forced for the sake of fan service. Each story has a satisfying ending, with the trinity of characters bringing the infamous diamond storyline to its humorous conclusion.
Rockstar North also plays its finest hand in the form of its impeccable characterisation. Johnny’s ex-girlfriend Ashley is a tragic figure tortured by drug dependency whilst the Kibbutz brothers feature in some of the funniest cutscenes you’re ever likely to see. However, it’s Yusuf Amir, the shameless Arabic playboy with a penchant for gold-plated objects, be they Uzis or attack-helicopters, who truly steals the show. The energy given to the character by comedian Omid Djalili leads to every inclusion of his character causing fits of laughter, making him possibly the greatest character to ever feature in a videogame.
Both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony expand the GTA universe convincingly, immersing the player further into Liberty City all over again. With new weapons, added music and more mayhem, along with a combined length roughly equal to the main game’s tale, the only real criticism that can be levied at Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City is that it sadly has to end at some point. With its continuation of constantly pushing boundaries, Rockstar North has produced one of the finest pieces of downloadable content seen so far this generation. Criminally good, Episodes is a steal at any price.