Episodes From Liberty City Reminds Me How Overrated GTA IV Really Is

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I’m not one to get into fanboy debates arguing how underrated or overrated games are, but I can’t help but roll my eyes and sigh in disbelief whenever I see Grand Theft Auto IV show up on “Best Games of All Time” lists — it happens so frequently I just have to laugh.

The reason I bring this up is because I recently started playing Episodes From Liberty City on the PS3 — the standalone expansion pack first released last year as two seperate Xbox 360-exclusive DLC add-on chapters — and it has reminded me that GTA IV is an unbelievably mediocre game pumped up on paid-for hype and very little else.

In my original review I praised GTA IV for being a “groundbreaking achievement in sandbox game design” and having improved controls over previous installments, but in the end I came to this conclusion:

“For everything GTA IV gets right, there’s something else it gets wrong. At times I was blown away just driving around the city and taking in the vast, buzzing virtual world Rockstar has created. But when I actually got down and dirty playing through the game, I found it to be nothing more than a lot of dull busy work. As a sandbox playground, GTA IV is a technical marvel and worthy of praise, but as a videogame I want to sit down with, play and feel rewarded for doing so, quite frankly it just doesn’t get the job done. At least not enough to make it worth more than a rental, in my opinion.”

Much of that remains true to this day. However, since GTA IV‘s 2008 mega-launch, a lot has happened in open-world game design and the genre has evolved tremendously, and for a game that is so widely regarded as an all-time classic I’m amazed by just how rapidly it has aged in only two years. In that time, numerous games — like Red Faction: Guerrilla, Just Cause 2, inFamous and The Saboteur, off the top of my head (and Red Dead Redemption looks spectacular) — have brought new innovations and even greater immersion to open-world gaming, and in comparison GTA IV looks, sounds, and feels dated.

The first thing that struck me when I started Episodes From Liberty City was how old and muddy the graphics were. The characters are detailed and animate realistically during cutscenes, but during gameplay everything looks so flat, blurry and, yes, ugly. Age hasn’t been kind to the gameplay either, as the driving physics are overly sensitive and floaty to the point of absurdity — driving up the small ledge of a sidewalk shouldn’t send my motorcycle bouncing straight up into the air like a pogo stick — and the cover and targeting systems are clumsier than ever.

But once again, the main problem I continue to have with GTA IV is how monotonous and overbearing traveling around the city is. The Lost and Damned chapter is the worst offender of the two, as being part of a biker gang equates to you spending more time trekking back and forth across Liberty City than actually participating in missions. The Ballad of Gay Tony is unquestionably the better of the two add-ons, mainly because it forgets about taking itself seriously and brings back more of the over-the-top fun and humor of previous games. But even though the mission variety is greater and more insane, you still wind up playing the boring role of chauffeur far too often. As I said in my original review, “I wouldn’t necessarily describe GTA IV as “fun” to play,” and unfortunately the same holds true with Episodes From Liberty City.

As harsh as I’ve been here, though, I do recognize GTA IV‘s mainstream appeal and understand that I am clearly in the minority in my belief of its mediocrity. With that said, I do have to give Rockstar a lot of credit for the amount of work it put into the two chapters that make up Episodes From Liberty City. Regardless of my personal feelings about the game itself, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony are two of the leading examples of what downloadable content should be, and I applaud Rockstar for not phoning it in to make a quick buck like most publishers do. They didn’t do enough to convert me into a true GTA IV believer, but for those who already are these episodes should not be missed.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!