Did you play Grand Theft Auto IV when it first came out? Did you like it? If you answered ‘yes’ to both of those questions, then Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City will be right up your alley – even if you’ve already traded in the GTA IV base game. Episodes is a stand-alone title that features every part of GTA IV except the story. This time around you’ll be playing as either Johnny Klebitz of the The Lost biker gang or Luis Lopez, right-hand man of Tony Prince – a prominent Liberty City night club owner.
The two protagonists couldn’t be more different. While Johnny rides his custom motorcycle around Liberty City struggling to stay in formation (it’s harder than it looks!) and fighting rival gangs, Luis finds himself visiting nicer places and, well, still stealing cars and shooting people, but that’s what the game is all about. It’s an outlet for our inner demon – we get to steal cars, run over pedestrians, and take part in cinematic shoot-outs without feeling bad the next morning or ever going to prison for it. Luis differentiates himself from Johnny and Niko even more by re-introducing base jumping from San Andreas as well.
So, what doesn’t shine quite as bright as the story? The mechanics. Grand Theft Auto IV is a year old, and it shows. Shooting, although still leagues better than GTA III and its two sequels, now feels a little antiquated when compared with contemporary cover-based shooters like Gears of War 2 and Uncharted 2. Granted, neither of those titles has a focus on vehicles, but it’s hard to ignore that voice saying that the shooting could be so much better. Never again do I want to pull a trigger halfway to free-aim at a guy. It’s awkward, and it gets in the way of the fun.
An unexpected right move, I think, is the way achievements are handled. As far as the 360 is concerned, you are playing the same copy of GTA IV whether you have the base game and DLC packs or the Episodes disc. This way you won’t have a bunch of DLC achievements left unobtained on your gamercard (a la Tomb Raider Legend with its Anniversary DLC / separate release).
For a scant $40 you are easily getting a similar amount of content in Episodes as you got in GTA IV. And there’s no feeling quite like jacking somebody’s car and then seeing how many stars you can rack up. As a bonus you now have new stories to play through in between rampages.
Pros: Great characters, achievements handled well, return of base jumping
Cons: Shooting feels dated, motorcycles are better but still difficult to drive – especially in formation
Plays Like: Grand Theft Auto IV
ESRB: Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs and alcohol