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Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City
Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Action/ Free-Roaming/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Do you like Grand Theft Auto IV? Is your only next-gen console a PlayStation 3? If your answer to both questions is "yes," you should already own Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City. If you don't, you'd better be dirt poor. Of course, if you consider yourself dirt poor, you probably shouldn't own a PlayStation 3 in the first place. I'm not really here to preach, but if I get carried away while talking about this game, I really hope it's just me preaching to the choir. Episodes From Liberty City is a fantastic experience that shouldn't be missed by anyone who loves open-world action games.

Before I go on, I must note that this release is pretty much identical to its Xbox 360 counterpart. If you read my review of last year's 360 release, please note that the delay between releases hasn't necessarily made the PlayStation 3 version the better one. If you've already played this game on the 360, there's no real reason to pick this one up unless you've got more friends on the PlayStation Network who want to play it with you.

Liberty City is every bit as alive as it was in April of 2008. Of all the developers I know of, Rockstar is the best at creating game worlds where the atmosphere is infectious and the attention to detail is staggering. Technically, the world of Grand Theft Auto IV is a bit behind. Given the age of the original game, though, I'm quick to forgive any visual shortcomings. Character models are distinct and memorable, even in the ways you don't particularly want them to be. Johnny Klebitz and Luis Lopez are interestingly-designed characters, but their otherwise ordinary appearances foil nicely against the likes of flamboyant, drug-addled, Hall & Oates fan Evan Moss to exhibitionist Congressman Tom Stubbs. Before you ask, the answer is yes. If you don't skip the sauna cutscene, you will see everything.

Episodes From Liberty City has some of the best voicework you will ever hear in a video game. The gritty, hardcore nature of The Lost and Damned's storyline doesn't leave much room for improvisation. Conversely, the insanity of The Ballad of Gay Tony is embraced by Omid Djalili and D.B. Cooper. Evan may turn the flame up way beyond stereotypical boundaries, but Anthony Prince is grounded, brutally cynical, masochistic, and paranoid to the point of madness. In addition, when Yusuf performs his rendition of Busta Rhymes' "Arab Money" for an unimpressed hooker while wielding a submachine gun and wearing no pants, you will be reduced to tears. Tears, I tell you.

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City finally gives PlayStation 3 owners the chance to complete the Impossible Trinity; to see two very different sides of Liberty City through the eyes of two very different characters whose paths intersect with Grand Theft Auto IV anti-hero Niko Bellic. This single-disc release contains two distinct campaigns: The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

The Lost and Damned is the first and less impressive of the two episodes. It's absolutely worth playing, but be sure to expect a dark, morbid, and relatively humorless adventure. Remember running into members of The Lost MC as Niko Bellic? Well, you play as the Liberty City chapter's Vice President, Johnny "The Jew" Klebitz. Chapter President Billy Grey has just been released from a well-deserved stint in rehab, and he's not quite fixed. The story takes some very dark turns, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I guess I'm just spoiled when it comes to Rockstar's brand of humor.

Cleaning up after your boss seems to be the motif for Episodes From Liberty City. The Ballad of Gay Tony casts you as Luis Lopez, a Dominican-American street-savvy ladies' man who was once a lowlife punk. The story begins well after Lopez is rescued from the gutters by one of the most successful men in Liberty City: "Gay" Tony Prince. Lopez serves as a bodyguard and confidant to Tony, which, at the time the story takes place, is a very difficult job. You see, Tony has gotten into the habit of making terrible decisions. That's all I'm going to say. You need to experience it for yourself.

Rockstar's open-world games follow the same tried-and-true formula, but what sets each game apart is the diversity of the scenarios. Yes, Episodes From Liberty City does not mess with anything that makes GTA what it is, and that's a very good thing. In both of the single-player campaigns, you will assume the role of murderous errand boy. You'll jaunt across the city and advance the story by performing missions for your contacts. I'll save the specifics for the final section of this review.

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City is a far easier and less frustrating game than Grand Theft Auto IV, thanks to a much-needed mid-mission checkpoint system. Failing missions in GTA IV is almost heartbreaking, because the game often forces you to replay long drives that serve only narrative purposes. This is more an issue of convenience, but I judge that kind of stuff along the same lines as I judge difficulty levels. It's great that Rockstar allows you to go right back to your problem areas, instead of forcing you to slog through all the exposition just to get knocked down again.

I remember a few missions from GTA IV that kicked my ass time and time again. There aren't more than two of these missions in Episodes From Liberty City. Instead, what this game offers is a more balanced challenge. More often than not, the odds are stacked slightly against you, but a generous targeting system and the same reliable cover system from GTA IV keep the challenge fair. In addition, vehicles handle fantastically (with the possible exception of the new attack helicopter, which Yusuf dubs the "Buzzard").

Game Mechanics:
First off, know that all of Grand Theft Auto IV's gameplay mechanics apply to Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City. If you've got any experience with GTA IV, you will feel right at home.

Now, on to the new stuff. There are a handful of new weapons and vehicles that you can use in single player or multiplayer, and most of them are fantastic. First off, there's an N.O.O.S.E. APC (read: tank). It's a blast to play with, but it's also incredibly difficult to destroy. If someone takes control of one of these bad mothers in Free Mode, good luck surviving. The aforementioned "Buzzard" is devastatingly powerful, but it's extremely difficult to land hits with its impressive arsenal. And then there's the new weapons. Grenade launchers and P90s and C4, oh my! These additions add a welcome dose of the Michael Bay factor to the on-screen carnage.

The emphasis on motorcycles in The Lost and Damned paves the way for a formation mechanic. It doesn't do much in the way of gameplay, but it sure makes you feel like you're part of a twisted brotherhood.

The Ballad of Gay Tony's answer to all the motorcycles? Parachutes. Yes, you can now skydive from helicopters and BASE jump from skyscrapers. This oh-so-welcome returning mechanic from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas adds variety to both the single player diversions and the multiplayer component.

If you're a PlayStation 3 owner and open-world fan who hasn't yet experienced Grand Theft Auto IV's wonderful closing act, what shade of green could you possibly be waiting for? If, like me, you are dying to get your hands on Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption, this game will make the wait easier on you. Bear in mind that I've played through both episodes twice. I think I've said all there is to say. Buy this game. Your time and money will be very well-spent.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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