|April 9, 2010 - It's been two years since GTA IV hit store shelves and no new content has come to PS3. That's because Microsoft dropped some serious cash to secure the rights to two downloadable episodes. The exclusivity has run out and PS3 owners finally have the chance to extend their GTA experience.
Episodes from Liberty City is a stand-alone disc containing two new single-player campaigns: The Lost & Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Between the two, you get more than 50 new music tracks, new radio stations and DJs, TV shows, vehicles, weapons and multiplayer modes. It's a hell of a deal regardless of how long it's been since GTA IV came out.
The Lost and Damned takes place in Liberty City at the same time as Niko's tale from GTA IV. You play as Johnny "The Jew" Klebitz, Vice President of the biker gang named The Lost. Johnny's been the de facto leader while the President of The Lost, Billy, has been in rehab. The story begins with Billy's release and resumption of duties as head of the gang. This naturally leads to a conflict as Billy looks to dive nose-first into the drug trade while Johnny wants The Lost to be smarter about how it handles its business.
The campaign, which can be beaten in 8-10 hours, is not one of Rockstar's stronger offerings. Johnny's not a likeable guy. He's a jerk, but not in the loveable way of someone like, well, me. While the story and characters aren't great, there are moments when Johnny's story intersects with Niko's. You might be surprised to discover that Johnny was a part of the GTA IV storyline all along. Getting to see pieces of the story from a different point of view is a cool idea.
Several crucial gameplay changes were made for L&D. The most notable is a major tweaking of the motorcycles. Every bike handles better in L&D than in GTA IV and a healthy number have been added so that there's plenty of variety available. More importantly, it's incredibly difficult to be thrown from your bike now. You pretty much need to run head-on into a wall to get tossed. You can bounce off medians, smack against other cars and pretty much run roughshod over Liberty City with little concern for being unseated.
What many found an annoyance is now a great asset. Not only are the bikes easy to handle and fun to ride, but they're so quick and nimble that the very thought of jacking a car in L&D makes me ill. In fact, I just threw up in Greg Miller's lunchbox. This, of course, has to be exactly what Rockstar wanted (for bikes to be more appealing than cars, not for me to chuck all over Miller's Lunchables). You are, after all, playing a biker. Being in a car is like being in a coffin.
Johnny has one major advantage over Niko -- he's been in the city pretty much his entire life. He doesn't need to make friends. Sure, you can call up your biker buddies to shoot some pool or play air hockey, but you don't need to in order to attain their services. They're already your homeboys. Instead of measuring the strength of your friendships, The Lost and Damned measures the battle-readiness of your crew. Many of the missions in L&D have Johnny riding with his pals -- or having the ability to call in backup. Every member who survives gains experience, which increases their maximum health and their fighting prowess. If someone dies, they'll be replaced by a newbie lacking the experience. This makes it beneficial to assist your friends in a firefight, as keeping them alive makes them stronger and thus makes the next shootout easier.
Outside of the campaign, there's plenty to do. Getting 100 percent in L&D will take a good amount of time. There are 25 gang wars to be won across Liberty City, a dozen new bike races, new bike theft missions, several odd jobs to tackle for various miscreants, 50 seagulls to find and kill, a new comedy show to enjoy, some new mini-games to try once and then ignore, and full frontal nudity. Make that full frontal male nudity. That's right, Rockstar brings PS3 some swingin' dong.
As for multiplayer, it's back and just as strong as it was in GTA IV. Several modes from GTA IV carry over -- deathmatch, team deathmatch and free mode -- with others being altered to fit the ride or die lifestyle. The alterations were all made for the better and with access to better bikes and better weapons, L&D multiplayer is superior to that of GTA IV. The two best modes are easily Witness Protection and Chopper vs. Chopper.
Witness Protection has one team playing as NOOSE officers escorting a witness to one of the police stations in Liberty City, while the other team plays as The Lost, trying to take the witness down. A gang of bikers rolling up on an armored van is incredibly cool and the fact that speed and handling are now on the side of the assassins alters the strategies all around. Chopper vs. Chopper is a two-player mode that puts one person in a helicopter and the other on a motorcycle. As the chopper flies through the city attempting to blow the rider to hell, the player on the bike races through checkpoints, attempting to stay alive as long as possible.