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Auto: Episodes from Liberty City
Score: 8.5 / 10
Somebody somewhere along the line put Grand Theft
Auto at the top of the "sandbox action/adventure" hierarchy. It doesn't belong
there. That hierarchy is constantly shifting as designers learn new tricks and
offer crazier, non-linear action along the lines of Red Faction: Guerrilla or
Just Cause 2. Grand Theft Auto has always offered more in the way of story and
interesting characters than true sandbox experimentation.
The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony is like going back to your old
neighborhood. There are things you remember; what happened on that street
corner, that construction site; the crazy stunts
you pulled. And it all just feels slightly different.
Some of that feeling of "difference" is because of the story and characters that
you come into contact. The psychopathic stylings of Niko Bellic (who has makes
brief appearances in both storylines) from Grant Theft Auto IV, are largely
"softer" characters Luis Lopez (Ballad) and Johnny Klebitz (Lost) that I could
feel some empathy for even though they get caught up in the same gun fighting,
murdering, racing, and vehicle-jacking that Niko so often became embroiled. The
real treat for fans is how these particular tales intersect with Niko's
murderous romp through Liberty City (moreso with Lost) and, of course, the
triumphant return of Brucie, the pumped-up, fast-talking fool who's obsessed
with finding out who might be gay. (I'd wager that if Rockstar released a Brucie-centric
Episode it'd sell.)
All of it meets the same level of excellence in presentation and production
values that was laid down by GTA IV (with one or two exceptions). The writing
and dialogue isn't The Wire type good, but it's top in the world of videogames.
Rockstar also seems to be showing just how comfortable and confident they are
with the setting and characters. They know what they're doing and they know how
to make it all come together in what has to be the worst city in (fictional)
Some of the missions, especially if you're playing for long stretches, feel too
similar to previous missions and come close to boring. The drive for me was to
push the story forward. This is why it's awesome that Rockstar inserted a
mid-mission save point. In GTA IV there were some awesomely frustrating
objectives (like the bank robbery mission) that made me put down the controller
and stay away from the game for weeks at a stretch just to cool down. With
Ballad and Lost, having that mid-mission checkpoint to retry a mission from
takes a huge edge off missions that might also have made me walk away from the
There are many, many hours to the single-player campaigns -- say, 24+ depending
on your play style -- and if that's not enough, there's also a full complement
of multiplayer modes to play around with. While the modes make good use of
having such a massive and interesting environment to run around in, my own
preference is for a much closer experience along the lines of Red Faction:
Guerrilla's multiplayer. It's still worth trying them out, especially for
Chopper vs. Chopper, which puts one player on a bike gunning through a series of
checkpoints and the other in a helicopter tasked with stopping the bike rider.
Plus, it's much easier to get one of those games going than some of the larger
team or deathmatch modes.
For $35US, GTA: Episodes from Liberty City is an easy recommendation.
Playstation 3 kind of got the short end of the stick when it came to these
stand-alone episodes but now that it's here, it's time to grab a two-way ticket
back to Liberty City.