GTA: Corrupt me harder
Having recently blasted through a bit of gorgeous mid-00's nostalgia replaying San Andreas, and with the release of GTA V glinting in the distance like the eyes of Lindsay Lohan stumbling, stoned towards traffic up the I-88, it seemed like a good time to finally catch up with GTA IV's two downloadable episodes. I was never a great advocate of GTA IV in the first place, but I'd heard these two half-games cure all of the vanilla badness. And what I'd heard was correct, they really do improve on the standard game by a ridiculous margin. Here's why.
To understand what makes The Lost And Damned and The Ballad Of Gay Tony so great, we first need to understand why GTA IV was a shitty game that almost soured the most ubiquitous non-Nintendo gaming franchise in the world. GTA IV was a game that had clearly been designed with a clear and precise vision and concept. It brought spades of realism and "modern grit" into the Grand Theft Auto world, and whilst this had some benefits to driving and shooting, it made everything elsefucking boring as shit. The only people that enjoyed taking a break between gang warfare, cold-blooded murder and gritty crime drama to take their virtual friends to play a 3D flash game are arseholes who play The Sims. Sure, it attempted to bring a wider scope to open-world games than had seen before, but instead of packing Liberty City full of interesting, varied side missions, it just shovelled as much unrewarding crap into it as it could without thinking about whether anyone would want these features or not. Not to mention the plot and characters were dull as hell, too. The Grove Street family, Vercetti, Vance and Rosenberg and even some of the cast of GTA3 were all far more memorable than this bunch. To me, it felt like Rockstar aimed high but didn't manage to quite make it stick.
But they totally fucking do make it stick with the DLC episodes. They not only demonstrate whatGTA IV should have been, but they set the standard for what downloadable content in general should be. DLC has quickly lost it's idealistic function as primarily a way of delivering substantial expansions to popular games, and has taken on a variety of other uses for game developers. From being a failsafe mechanism to fix your shitty broken game because you didn't bother to fucking test the piece of crap, to simply squeezing a little extra cash from naive and loyal customers. These two episodes are fully realised, self-contained expansions to an already fleshed-out world. They couldn't have been done any other way. Its been a while since Gay Tony was released, and if you really cast back at DLC since, it's a real struggle to find anything outside of Fallout that matches it's ethic. Anyway, this is quickly turning from a review of Grand Theft Auto into a review of the gaming industry in general, so lets get back on point.
The Lost And Damned totally nails a gritty, engaging, serious GTA betrayal story into IV's realistic gameplay. The bike handling has been tweaked just a little bit from Vanilla, so that spending the majority of the eight or so hours the story takes to complete on a Harley doesn't get frustrating. The main improvement that is consistent across both of these expansions, however, is that the story and characters are far improved. Two typical GTA protagonists, both more human and less obnoxious that Niko, drive their stories, and the whole thing just feels far more cohesive (especially as you don't have to go bowling twice an hour). Gay Tony takes a slight step back to nod at the series' zanier past, bringing back parachutes, helichoppers and melodrama. The missions in Gay Tony in particular are incredibly fun, emphatically delivering cartoon violence that stays just the gritty side of realism.
You can get Episodes From Liberty City for £15 these days, and it's an absolute steal. It's GTA distilled down to it's best bits. There are no boring escort missions, plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (not including the weird, awkward e-performances by Frankie Boyle and Gervais), and two different, engaging stories. It makes me a lot more hopeful that GTA V won't be as disappointing as it's predecessor. See that, tabloids? GTA actually brings hope to people, it doesn't inspire them to kill. It inspires them to hope.
Written by Ashley Chittock. Read more http://ashleychittock.blogspot.co.uk