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Platform

Playstation 3

 

Genre

Action / Adventure

 

Publisher

2K Games

 

Developer

Rockstar North

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

April 13, 2010

 

 

- Like revisiting the old neighborhood
- Great new stories
- Awesome soundtrack
- Mid-mission checkpoints

 

 

- Pretty darn linear
- Drive, shoot, and shoot some more in long stretches can make it all feel samey

 

 

Review: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP)

Review: Grand Theft Auto IV (360)

Review: God of War III (PS3)

 

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Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City

Score: 8.5 / 10

 

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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

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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 replaced by

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"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) America.

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 game.

 

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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.

- D.D. Nunavut

(May 7, 2010)

 

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