Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City
(Rockstar for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
A lot of developers pay lip service to improving narratives in games, but Rockstar steps up when it counts. Anticipation was sky-high for the follow-up DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV, and instead of just pulling together some new multiplayer maps or releasing some Niko Bellic side missions from the cutting room floor, they created two fantastic full-length games with GTA IV-caliber narratives. The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, collected on disc as Episodes from Liberty City, are full of the same brilliant dialogue, memorable characters, and engaging story arcs as the game they were spun off from. Whether it’s the delusional denizens of a biker gang being dragged kicking and screaming into the realities of the 21st century criminal landscape or an ex-con juggling the needs of his high-powered boss while battling the corrosive jealousy of the family he left back in the ‘hood, the writing is wall-to-wall excellent, and the characters elicit emotional responses you rarely find in a game. With such a focus on story, though, the gameplay hasn’t received much-needed tweaks in the time since GTA IV was released. Gunplay is still rough around the edges, and more noticeable now since games like Infamous have made open-world combat polished and fun. It’s more of an issue in TLAD, since the sheer bombast of the Gay Tony missions mean that precision is rarely an issue. Lean and focused, these episodes are the ideal way to revisit Liberty City.