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The Lost and Damned

Almost two years after Grand Theft Auto IV hit store shelves, this follow-up expansion pack is taking aim to re-vitalize PC and Playstation 3 owner's relationship with Liberty City. These two expansion packs have been available for the Xbox 360 since last year, but recently hit Playstation & PC audiences in April. Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City is comprised of two, separate expansion packs: The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

Both packs offer the same type of car-jacking, bullet-firing and gameplay found in the original game and, interestingly, the stories of both packs intersect with each other as well as Niko's storyline from GTA IV.The fact that the console-exclusivity deal for these episodes has finally run out doesn't diminish the fact that these are two quality games bundled together for forty bucks (or less depending on where you're looking).

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The Lost and Damned

First off, The Lost and Damend delivers more of everything that defines the venerable Grand Theft Auto series: car chases, firefights, kidnappings, colorful characters and controversies. It's still the same Liberty City, but the story follows the progression of Johnny Klebitz. He's thrust into becoming temporary leader of his motorcycle gang, The Lost, and has to deal with the return of the previous boss of the gang.

One excellent element of this expansion pack comes in form of your fellow gang members that offer posse benefits when riding with them in the form of power-ups. Many of the missions in L&D have Johhny riding with his pals - or having the ability to call in backup. If someone dies, they'll be replaced by a newbie lacking the experience. Also, there's some new game mechanics. Now, it's much easier to stay on bikes - even during high-speed collisions. And in the event that you're involved in a slightly higher high-speed collisions, you'll take less damage when flying off them. Unrealistic? Maybe. But when Johhny and cars are so diametricaly opposed, it's a vital tweak, allowing fast-paced chopper persuits without the crippling fear of bollard-instigated-death.

New weapons added to the existing GTA IV arsenal in The Lost and Damned include a grenade launcher, pipe bombs, and shotguns, which came in both sawed-off and assault flavors. These weapons are very much keeping with both the episode's subject matter and it's gameplay. And because Klebitz spends so much time riding motorcycles, you can use some of them while in the saddle - which wasn't possible in GTA IV.

When it ocmes to missions, there's variety of where and how you fight but it's what you'd expect in terms of GTA. Ride somewhere, kill loads of people or nick something or blow something up, then go to the next mission, escape the cops or follow someone to a new location. Most of the time, you'll have gang members with you, but its still same missions again. Another great new addition is mid-mission checkpoints, something that will have you cursing less if you're between locations in a mission and accidently drive off a cliff or into the water.

So single player is typical GTA fodder with a little extra spit and polish, but there 's also so much more with new multiplayer additions. There are new street races on bikes where you fight on the move Road Rash style, new multiplayer battles titled 'Witness Protection' and 'Own the City' and a 'Chopper vs Chopper' mode where a bike takes on a helicopter.

There are some minor annoyances such as your team mates getting in the way in combat and on the road but these won't spoil your fun in a major way.

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The Ballad of Gay Tony

The Ballad of Gay Tony puts you into the shoes of Luis Lopez, a hired bodyguard and business partner for his coked up boss, Gay Tony, who happens to own a couple music-thumping nightclubs in downtown Liberty City. As Gay Tony continues to get into trouble with some of the worst elements of Liberty City, it's up to Luis to protect his boss and ultimately keep their business interests alive.

Again, Rockstar have introduces some welcome additions to teh game. After a brief hiatus, parachutes make a welcome return, enabling base jumping from buildings and helicopters. And best of all, they are extremely well implemented in the missions as well - so you'll be gliding onto roofs for stealthy entrances, and jumping out of skyscraper windows for dramatic escapes.

There is also a new Cage Fighting club, with a campionship that will seriously test your unarmed combat abilities, and finaly long-awaited 'Replay Missions' feature, enabling you to go back at the end of the game and replay any of the missions, trying to improve your scores.

Not only that, the follow system from L&D is back again. Whitlist helping your Northwood friends in their new business venture, you'll notice that despite there being three of you, the 4-door car restriction of old has gone. Instead, whoever is left behind will grab the nearest suitable mode of transport, and follow you to the destination - it comes with the same caveats in L&D, but it's a great feauture that works tremendously well - tearing into a drugs deal, guns blazing, before fleeing in a pair of their Banshees with angry gang members in hot pursuit is brilliant.

The missions take place mostly in Algonquin which many of you will know is Liberty City's take on Manhattan. Initialy you are presented with a few missions detailing Luis's life before he met Gay Tony, however the game quickly starts to sweep around the main storyline, which is fortunate because Luis is nowhere near as exciting a character as Gay Tony.

The Ballad of Gay Tony has a such huge plethora of weapons that it is hard to cover them all. You will battle on roof tops, in helicopters, on vehicles. Everything you can imagine. The new P90 assault SMG is absolutely brilliant and you can mow down literaly rows of bad guys without even looking. A shotgun with exposive rounds also makes an appearance and you can easily take out vehicles with it if you get close enough, which makes for some interesting strategy confrontations. A new sticky bomb is also key to some great situations as you can attach them to vehicles, run away then trigger them from a distance causing mayhem when you are out of harms way.

Side quests are offered with 25 Drug Wars additions. All your frends from the past are needing your help in building a drug cartel without money to fund it. The plan is to steal a ton of drugs from various gangs in the city and each of these missions gets progressively more difficult. Multiplayer is catered for with 16 player online options such as Deathmach and Team Deathmach, Free Mode, Race and GTA Race. It's slightly underwhelming set of options but at least you can use the new weapons as well as parachuting and nitrous boosting.

Beyond the jokes, strip slubs, and bits of the ultra-violence, Ballad of Gay Tony finally gives you a reason to keep playing long after you've completed Luis Lopez's 10 hour story. Base jumping, booty calls, club menagment, air hocky, golfing, television shows and multi-vehicle races help extend the life of the city for just that much more.

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Both L&D and TBOGT take place during the same time that Niko did his dirty work building up the empire that he and Roman how share. There is no doubt from the storyline of both episodes that this was planned from the beginning and Luis Lopez and Johnny were both build into the universe from the start. There are times where all three stories intersect and it is here where EOLC really comes into its own. There are many 'ohhh yeah' moments as you play through the games and it also giveis a heck of a lot of back story as to what was going on in Niko's world. At the ending of playing TBOGT (which is the second episode and should be played last to get the most benefit, though Rockstar does not stop you skipping straight to it), the entire IV story wraps up and not once does it feel rushed or slapped into place.

You can find walkthrough for Episodes From Liberty City here.

The Ballad of Gay Tony