Review: Episodes From Liberty City does roll off the tongue better than The Lost and Damned Ballad of Gay Tony.
With the addition of The Ballad of Gay Tony to the Xbox Live Marketplace, Rockstar has seen the last of Liberty City and Grand Theft Auto IV. But if you have yet to download the new adventures of Johnny Klebitz or Luis Lopez, does Rockstar have a deal for you. You can also get both expansions to the game on a stand-alone disc (meaning you don't even need to own GTA4) called Episodes From Liberty City...
Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned
The Lost and Damned is no mere two-hour tacked-on mini-campaign; this is a huge package that blows away all downloadable expansions to date and even rivals full-priced retail games. Simply put, if you loved GTA IV, you will love TLAD.
So what do you get in TLAD? How about a brand new campaign and story, complete with new voiceovers and cutscenes; several new side missions and activities; six powerful new weapons; 17 new bikes and 3 new cars; 54 new songs; six new multiplayer modes; a new stand-up comedy show; and new TV shows including a new episode of Republican Space Rangers. Wow.
You should know right off the bat that while TLAD takes place in the same Liberty City we all know and love, it is completely separate from GTA IV (which has a big downside ? more on this later).
The story parallels GTA IV and revolves around Johnny ?The Jew? Klebitz, Vice President of The Lost Motorcycle Club, as he deals with the disruptive return of the gang's leader, Billy. Johnny has been running the Lost while Billy was in rehab, including making peace treaties with rival gangs. Billy, unfortunately, wants to run things the old fashioned way, i.e. ruling the city with guns and intimidation. This clashes with Johnny's desire to run things more like a business and avoid childish and unproductive conflict.
As the story unfolds, Johnny encounters many characters from GTA IV, including Niko. You may recall a mission in GTA IV where Elizabeta asks Niko and Playboy X to meet a biker to sell a big bag of heroin to some buyers who turn out to be undercover cops. That biker was Johnny, and this time you get to see how things worked out from his perspective. There are also several other instances where Johnny interacts with GTA IV's story, including one very cool mission that will have you smiling. These connections serve to fill in several gaps from GTA IV's story and make for an interesting journey ? a good thing since the overall story in TLAD is average at best.
The problem with the story is Johnny himself ? he's really not likeable and as a result, you can't connect with him emotionally. He's a gruff, hard-edged biker as you might expect, but he's also a jerk. This is in stark contrast to Niko, who despite some of the nasty things he does, is actually a good-natured person you wouldn't mind having as a friend. When Niko is happy, you laugh with him and when he's sad, you share his pain. With Johnny, you really don't care, which is a shame. There were some golden opportunities for his character to show some humanity when dealing with his tragically drug-addicted ex-girlfriend Ashley, but he just comes across as a typical biker goon. On the plus side, the voice acting is top notch throughout; I just wish the writing and directing took better advantage of the actors' talents.
Story aside, the campaign is classic GTA IV ? in other words, it's a blast. The missions seem to be more heavily action-based so make sure you warm up your trigger finger. This is a plus since you have plenty of opportunity to play with the six new weapons, including pipe bombs, a fully automatic 9mm pistol, a grenade launcher (very handy for taking out enemies cowering behind cover), a powerful double-barreled sawed-off shotgun, and the devastating automatic assault shotgun. This last weapon is used in one of the most fun missions where you are riding on the back of a motorcycle blasting police cars (and even helicopters) chasing you. It's a very fun rail shooter segment made even better with a powerful weapon, unlimited ammo and dozens of cop cars eager to run you down.
The missions are pretty much straightforward GTA ? in other words, don't expect anything radically different. It's basically more of the same, which is great if you loved GTA IV ? but if you weren't so impressed in the first place, odds are you'll want to save your money and skip TLAD.
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