It took forever and a day, but PS3 owners finally have access to the two outstanding "Grand Theft Auto IV" expansions on one reasonably-priced disc. As is custom for the GTA series, the game includes a small booklet and the ubiquitous full-size fold-out poster. In addition to the disc version, the Playstation Store has both expansions available for download as well. This is an option of convenience or useful if you only want one of the expansions.
Buying both, however, is the same price or more than the disc, so you might as well buy the disc. You'll get the nice poster and booklet in addition to the hard copy you can either sell or give to a friend when you're finished. The poster has an image of a party girl in a pink dress on one side and a detailed map of Liberty City on the other. The booklet contains brief paragraphs outlining the premise of each expansion, a full list of the radio songs, and the game credits.
Both "The Lost and Damned" and "The Ballad of Gay Tony" are amply sized and playing through both took me around twenty hours, and this is considering I ignored much of the many interesting diversions and side-quests (everything from arm wrestling, gang wars, bike races and more) present in both. A very dedicated player could easily spend forty to fifty hours completing all the side-quests and obtaining all the trophies, making this disc a nearly mandatory purchase for PS3 owners who enjoy a good sandbox-style romp.
Of course, both games are rife with the bizarre hallmarks of the GTA games. The nudity is particularly bizarre, including a scene of full-frontal male congressman nudity, which is ostensibly intended to be amusing but only elicited a furrowed brow from this gamer. This sort of thing is nothing new to the franchise or even the genre, so I'm not complaining, just making note. The language is often coarse but I wouldn't have it any other way. It lends atmosphere to the storyline, and after all, we're dealing with a biker gang and a bodyguard/drug dealer. Speaking of which, it's amazing to me how many parents complain about the content of games when specific ratings are provided on each title's sleeve and detailed content descriptions of games can often be found online. But that's another story entirely.
Unfortunately, much as in GTA IV, the AI scripting for your teammates is rather weak. Occasionally they can even become a hindrance, as they get in the way during chases, and even with relatively high attributes are often unable to hit their targets (particularly if the enemy is behind cover). Another slight mark against these expansions are those missions that frankly don't even make much sense. For instance, during one mission on "The Lost and Damned", your character is to ride his motorcycle to find three rival gang vans driving around Liberty City. Once you find a van, you're to throw pipe bombs at the van until it's destroyed, all while the heavily-armed crackshot gang members are leading you with semi-automatic weapons. To be fair, the mission can be completed without resorting to the pipe bombs (I stood in the street and used a rocket launcher instead), but I just couldn't shake the feeling that Johnny Boy had taken too many knocks to the skull. Well, no one said biker gangs were very bright to begin with, right?
This is admittedly a small complaint. Besides, I appreciate that Rockstar tries to add a bit of variety to the missions so that each one isn't simply a full-throttle shootout. At least no mission on these expansions is as ridiculous as that one in "Vice City" where you had to plant bombs using a very unwieldy remote-controlled helicopter! Story-wise, however, neither expansion disappoints in any way. "The Ballad of Gay Tony" is colorful, amusing and more characteristic of a typical GTA storyline. As far as mission variety is concerned, "TBOGY" wins hands down. One moment you'll be piloting a high-tech aircraft, the next you're in a speedboat chase, and before long you're parachuting from a skyscraper to escape the police.
My personal favorite storyline, however, was "The Lost and Damned" which features a darker, more involving plotline. It's nothing terribly complex, mostly a series of drug deals gone awry, mixed with gang wars and internal conflicts within your own gang, but Johnny Klebitz (the player character) is my favorite of the entire franchise. This is due in large part because, despite the limited and somewhat dated graphics (keeping in mind GTA IV was released almost exactly two years ago) I'm always impressed with how solid the acting is. The voice acting and scripting are top gear, but what really sells the cutscenes is the dead-on body language and gestures from the characters.
The numerous multiplayer modes add nearly endless replayability to the title and are often a source of great amusement. My favorite multiplayer games include: "Chopper VS Chopper", where one player rides a motorcycle through a series of checkpoints while another player in a helicopter tries to destroy the biker, "Lone Wolf Biker" where every other player is trying to kill the one who is tagged the 'lone wolf', and "Witness Protection" where one team is trying to destroy a bus full of witnesses while the other team is trying to protect it. There are also a multiplayer motorcycle race mode, a "Club Business" mode where the players act together as a team to carry out various tasks, and a "Own the City" mode where the players attempt to take over the city piece by piece.
My personal favorite addition is the mission checkpoint system, which really cuts down on wasted playtime after a failed mission (i.e. having to take a ten minute drive back to the mission site after every mission failure). I hope this becomes the norm on every subsequent GTA title. All things considered, it was well worth the wait. For the modest price this title typically averages, it's highly recommended, and a great way to stave off the waiting for the next GTA title (or, in my case, the upcoming "Red Dead Redemption").