Summary: Rockstar's standalone expansion to GTA: IV, Episodes from Liberty City, includes the DLC that was released for console gamers last year, namely, The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Sounds good right? The question PC gamers who are fans of the series want to know is if the performance issues have been fixed and if the game suffers from consolitis. Find out in today's review!
Rockstar North has been the driving force behind the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series for more than a decade. It achieved its first mainstream success in 2001 when GTA III made the transition to 3D on the Playstation 2. Due to the game’s ability to push units for Sony, Rockstar/Take Two was paid to delay its porting to other platforms. Thus, a tradition of “exclusivity” has been established, which boils down to the PC version of each game coming out approximately 6-8 months after it debuts on consoles.
The newest to follow this trend is Episodes from Liberty City, a 2-in-1 standalone expansion to GTA IV that includes both full-size DLCs that were released on Xbox 360 last year. The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony follow the misadventures of Johnny Klebitz and Luis Lopez, respectively. These two intrepid businessmen each have a knack for violent crime and struggle to make it big in Liberty City, with their stories taking place in parallel to the events of GTA IV. In several instances, you will cross paths with prominent characters from that game, particularly its protagonist, Niko Bellic. While it’s not required that you play through the main story first, those that have will find these episodes to be much more interesting in terms of overall plot.
New missions, characters, weapons, vehicles, activities, music, and more await you in this, the latest addition to one of the most prolific and critically acclaimed franchises in gaming history. Frankly, I don’t know why you would even need to read a review, but since you’ve already started, might as well turn the page!
Johnny Klebitz is the Vice President of Liberty City’s chapter of The Lost Motorcycle Club. He has a practical philosophy when it comes to the group’s affairs, as opposed to their President, who thinks random acts of violence and old-school kickassery are much more fun. Soon after getting out of court-ordered rehab, Billy Grey incites a gang war with rival bikers the Angels of Death, ending the truce Johnny established in his absence. While scrambling to keep the Club together, you experience a different perspective of some of the things that happened in GTA IV, including the Italian Mob’s problematic diamond dealings.
Some missions are undertaken in a group, and you ride in a ‘V’ formation with fellow members of the Lost. You must maintain your position in order to talk with them and receive health bonuses, a process that can be monotonous at times. Thankfully, it often degenerates into a free-for-all race to the objective. Gang members will become “battle hardened” over time if they survive missions, and will be more helpful in later skirmishes. Many of them are weak and expendable, but main characters are invincible and will even be automatically upgraded with better weapons.
When you’re not rolling with your homies and need help with a mission or wreaking havoc around town, you can call for backup. It’s a neat feature – I could see it being useful in a 6-star shootout with the cops – but I hardly ever used it. I was even bombarded with texts saying I needed to make those guys get off their asses… You can also call and have a bike delivered to you if you need a ride, or for a mobile weapons shop to stop by and give you a discount. There are many new weapons including the sawed-off double-barreled shotgun, combat shotgun, automatic shotgun, automatic pistol, pipe bombs, grenade launcher, and more.
In addition to the many story-related tasks, there are side missions and other activities spread across the city. It wouldn’t be a GTA game without those, right? You can spend time in the Lost Clubhouse, or participate in skirmishes with other Liberty City gangs. For every ten of the latter you complete, a weapon is unlocked to spawn at your safehouse. There are also bike races, during which you can beat up on your opponents with a baseball bat, Road Rash style.
With the more fully-featured cell phone, GTA IV introduced the ability to immediately replay a failed mission via text message. An evolution of the “trip skip” function from previous games, this allows you to try again without having to return to the location where the task was first initiated. The Episodes take it a step further, adding checkpoints throughout a mission where you can resume your progress if you fail, letting you forego repeating parts you’ve already completed. This is a welcome change capable of preventing many headaches, particularly when dealing with tricky or tedious sequences.
Luis Lopez is your run-of-the-mill Latino womanizer with a troubled past. As business partner and personal bodyguard to Anthony “Gay Tony” Prince, owner of the biggest night clubs in Liberty City, he’s trying to turn over a new leaf and make an honest living for once. However, things turn ugly when Tony gets mixed up with the wrong people while trying to make ends meet. So, Luis has to get his hands dirty in attempts to clean up his mess and keep the clubs running.
In this episode, gameplay is more traditional and similar to other GTA games. You don’t have a gang following you around, just the occasional associate that may have hired you and/or agreed to give you some aid. There are several new things to do, though, including participating in hand-to-hand cage fighting tournaments, drug wars, and nightclub-related minigames. One activity is of particular interest to long-time fans of the series: base-jumping. That’s right, the parachute from San Andreas returns, even though there aren’t as many uses for it in Liberty City aside from the preset challenges.
Luis has a pair of childhood friends that resent him for spending most of his time in glitzy downtown Algonquin while they’re stuck in the Heights slinging drugs on street corners. You help them out from time to time, and in exchange they’ll hook you up with vehicles and discounted weapons, of which many are new. The P-90 and Uzi submachine guns, M249 light machinegun, and remote-detonated sticky bombs are now in the mix, to name a few.
A brand new feature to the major iterations of GTA is that each mission is scored on criteria like time to completion, weapon accuracy, and other unique factors. The game will automatically upload your score to the Social Club if you’re online, but no retries are allowed. After you finish the story you can go back and play them again to attempt a higher score. This should inject even more replayability into the game for you competitive types, as you try to beat yourself or your friends.
The UI, loading screens, and such have been changed slightly in order to match the theme of each episode. Otherwise, the visuals are mostly the same as they were in GTA IV. The most notable change is the improvements to the shadows, both in appearance and how costly they are to render. They are no longer the blurry, grainy mess we remember, though the Very High setting is still taxing on the system.
You could say the same about the rest of the options, such as reflection resolution and water quality, so I played with them on high most of the time in order to keep a solid 30-40 FPS. It still annoyingly limits your graphics options, but you can add “-norestrictions” to the shortcut command line to set them to whatever you want without regard for how crappy your framerate will be.
Like GTA IV, SLI support for EFLC is non-existent. This is contrary to what the GeForce drivers’ release notes said a while back… Not only does enabling SLI do nothing to increase performance, it actually causes an unsightly flickering with a lot of the environmental shadows and sprites. I don’t know if the same applies to Crossfire, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.
New music has been added to the soundtrack for each expansion; for TLAD it’s mostly a lot of classic rock and metal, to fit in with the biker theme, while TBOGT gets a lot of dance music and etc. Exclusive to the EFLC disc are three totally new radio stations: Vice City FM (featuring Fernando Martinez), RamJam FM, and Self-Actualization FM. Unfortunately, a lot of the music from the base game is not included because EFLC is a standalone release and probably did not have licenses renewed. Perhaps there will be some sort of workaround created to allow you to combine both games’ soundtracks?
Contains the same great gameplay as GTA IV, only improved and expanded.
The game engine remains poorly optimized and very CPU-limited.
|<% print_image("26"); %>||<% print_image("27"); %>|
|<% print_image("28"); %>||<% print_image("29"); %>||<% print_image("30"); %>|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|