Replay Value: 9.5
To the informed gamer, it's no surprise that I'm sitting here playing my copy of Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City...on my PlayStation 3. The alleged Xbox 360 exclusives were never believed to have been true exclusives, and numerous slips from both Sony and Rockstar reps have confirmed as much for years now. Unfortunately for Microsoft, who invested tons of cash on securing a timed exclusivity deal for the two expansion packs, these GTA side-stories didn't sell as well as they had expected it to. My personal belief is because the expansions debuted far past the hysteria of Grand Theft Auto IV, they didn't sell as much as they could've. So now it's time for the PlayStation 3 versions to pick-up the slack and Rockstar's hoping the Sony crowd eats this up. But should they?
First off, the most important think to know is that you can either buy the retail copy of this game, which includes both "The Lost and The Damned" and "The Ballad of Gay Tony". The retail package runs $40, which is not a bad deal for, what are practically two full-fledged games. Both stories are not as long as a typical GTA game, but are certainly longer than most games we have today. Now, if you buy the game disc, you don't need GTAIV to play it. Alternatively, if you do have GTAIV, you can download the episodes from PSN ($20 each) and that syncs the expansions with the original game by combining all of the music - which gives you access to over 300 songs no matter which GTAIV experience you're playing.
So, that out of the way, how do both games play? Well, they essentially play the same as GTAIV does with a few enhancements added here and there to freshen things up. The expansions introduce new weapons, cars, aerial crafts, online modes, allegiance struggles, minigames, and best of all...checkpoints during missions. Now no longer do you have to redo the entire drive to a mission after you've died, you'll be able to select retry and spawn right before the action goes down. Basically, between both expansions, there are a ton of new features added, enough to satisfy the GTA fan.
But it's the stories in particular that suck you in, and both episodes really do a fantastic job of making you feel a part of the experience. You really take a liking to your respective characters, and you especially boil up on the inside when your enemies confront you. So seeking vengeance continues to feel great. The way both episodes intertwine with GTAIV's story is pulled off exceptionally well, and the plot twists you'll encounter throughout both expansions is brilliant, filled with a number of "ohhhhh" moments. Rockstar really did a fantastic job with both stories.
There isn't a whole lot to add as far as gameplay, I mean it's basically the same formula we've all come to love. I will say this though, don't expect anything radically different, because at the heart of it all lie the same mechanics, which do stand the test of time for the most part, but may be considered a bit old to some gamers who are always looking for leaps in the next iterations. If you're that type, these expansions are not for you.
Moving on, one of the things I most looked forward to from these expansions is to see whether or not visual changes have been made to the games. Thankfully, fixes have been made. For starters the framerate has seen improvements, and it's certainly less jumpy than GTAIV's was. Moreover, that comical pop-up which would draw cars and trees right in front of you, not to mention buildings, has been cured for the most part. There is some pop-up left to be seen, but it's definitely a lot less than before. The resolution runs at a cleaner, and proper 720p now, as opposed to the sub-HD 600p resolution found in GTAIV. Though don't expect anything high-caliber, either. This is a fairly dated game engine, and it does show its age today. Though, all in all, the visuals are still a marked improvement over the original GTAIV.
As you'd expect, the audio here is top-tier stuff. In pure GTA fashion the voice acting is nothing short of perfect; no annoying accents, no annoying off-beat characters, and no cheesy dialogue that makes you want to gag. Grand Theft Auto continues to do its voice acting right, and I'm always thankful for that. As far as the soundtrack, like I mentioned earlier on, downloading the games from PSN in conjunction with owning the original GTAIV will net you a combined total of around 300 songs. Purchasing them stand alone on a retail disc gets you 150 songs. Either way you look at it, it's a ton of songs, and the rest is just down to preference - thankfully the multitude of stations make preference an easy thing to find.
So, for a total of $40 are these expansions worth it? Absolutely. Episodes From Liberty City is a great way to soak up 30-some hours on a sandbox adventure. Combine the two titles together, and the stories add up to about the length of a standard GTA game. With a horde of new features and modes for both online and offline gameplay, there is definitely no reason a GTA fan should be without Episodes From Liberty City for the PlayStation 3...unless of course, you've already played them last year on the Xbox 360.