When these first came out as DLC they were a couple of mighty fine additions to GTA IV. They added so much content that it extended the life of the core game almost indefinitely, in fact I still go back to the 360 and play free roam using The Lost and the Damned or the Ballad of Gay Tony content even now. Now PS3 owners have the chance to enjoy the 2 episodes as a stand-alone disc packed with as much content as the original DLC release at a decent price to boot.
Where to start, there are two main episodes and they both interweave into the core GTA IV story, the Lost and the Damned sees you playing a grizzled biker and working alongside some famous GTA IV faces as well as struggling with a bike gang that desperately needs a change of leadership. The Ballad of Gay Tony puts you squarely in the glitz and glamour of Liberty City's nightclub world, full of bars, old friends and new enemies. Both stories are spot on and explain events from GTA IV that you may have wondered about for a while.
Things remain largely unchanged from the core GTA IV gameplay mechanics; there are now mid-mission saves for both Episodes and substantial additions to the arsenal of both Johnny and Luis respectively. There are new vehicles across both Episodes too and for the Lost and the Damned Rockstar have tweaked the bike handling to make things a lot easier to ride a Hog and look like a cool biker whilst doing so. In Lost you have access to the club house and there are new mini-games, friends and a gang mechanic for you to play around with. If your biker gang does well on missions and stays alive, members will level up and gain new weapons to play with.
If they die, they'll be placed on the Hall of Fame (or infamy) as little memorial plaques. You can call your buddies and get bikes or guns delivered to the field or club house. There are friends to take out drinking but the social aspect is not pushed into your face like in GTA IV, in Lost and Ballad you set the pace of how you want to do things. The true star of the Lost though is the bike gang mechanic that lets you ride as a posse through the streets and heal up mid-mission, listen to some chatter and basically pose on a powerful motorbike putting fear into the hearts of your enemies.
In Ballad you're Luis, Tony Prince's best guy, bodyguard, club manager and hitman all rolled into one smart-talking package. You get to do all of Tony's dirty work and meet a cast of colourful characters on the way. The mission structure is less gritty than Lost and there are some truly over the top missions that harkens back to San Andreas, and that's a good thing. There are night club management mini-game that's quite good and again, the Episode adds a lot of weapons content, vehicles and other goodness that's just not in GTA IV or Lost.
Both episodes are excellently produced and are in some ways better than the core GTA IV game experience, with the mass of new content, characters and control tweaks plus additions in single player (and multiplayer) they are worth the price of admission alone.
We have to draw your attention to one of the best features of the Ballad of Gay Tony, this is the parachute which substantially changes gameplay and lets you try out base jumping challenges. There are also a bunch of new guns, remote explosives, a new chopper (the Buzzard) and all of this seamless integrates into the game world. The explosive sniper rifle is in a word: awesome.
Lost has a gritty almost Noir feel provided by the film-grain washed out colour palette, sepia tone and dark, whilst Ballad is a brighter experience, Liberty City at her finest with neon lights and flashy clothes. Both Episodes use the same (but tweaked) version of GTA IV's core graphics engine which means it's capable of some nice draw distances with very little pop-up and texture problems. The use of lighting and shadow in Lost works perfectly to draw you into the seedy world of the bikers whilst Ballad puts a smile on your face when you see Liberty City all lit up at night.
RAGE is a solid engine and when you add Euphoria to the mix, you have a powerful combination that works on so many levels. It might sound like 'a line' but I smiled big when I was able to see Nico in GTA IV walk up and down those stairs with complete realism. When I shot a guy and he tumbled down the stairs in a Hollywood manner that would make most directors proud, I knew that something special in terms of animation had arrived. Euphoria is an awesome technology that makes canned animation a thing of the past, it brings true reactive and skeletal/muscle based animation to the game. There's more to it than that and expect a deeper look at Euphoria when Red Dead Redemption hits.
The physics engine to the game remains largely unchanged, and the classic 'haunted swing-set' remains true even to this day. Just search YouTube for the Easter egg: GTA IV car cannon to see what we mean. There are tweaks to the physics in terms of the new parachute and some of the car handling.
Not much has changed here, apart from the AI using the new weapons and controlling the new vehicles, a few cover tweaks a so on.
Nothing has altered much; there are new sounds for some of the vehicles and of course the weapons.
Both Episodes contain new music and new radio tunes to listen to. Ballad has the return of Vice City FM and a host of new tracks, audio snippets and adverts. There's nothing to complain about here.
There are sterling performances from all the cast, welcome returns to old favourites and brand new characters that are really great. There are new episodes of Republic Space Rangers and even a few more surprises we won't spoil here across the game's TV channels and they're all acted out brilliantly. The script is sharp as you might expect from the Rockstar product and showcases just how great it was as DLC to begin with filling in gaps in GTA IV's solid and very dark story.
Both the Lost and the Damned, and Ballad of Gay Tony have their own multiplayer additions that bring something new to the mix. TLAD adds road rash style brutal bike races, a gang style war and so much more, including a witness protection game mode. BoGT throws base jumping into the Free Mode as well as the new vehicles and additional weapons. It brings back race and GTA Race where all the cars have nitrous as well as the usual Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch.
Once again for both Episodes the MP mayhem is well worth the price of admission and the game content is beefed up considerably by Lost and Damned.
If you missed Episodes as DLC or on the 360, you want to get this on the PS3 since there's no finer stand-alone or downloadable DLC on the face of the planet. Rockstar has really nailed the essence of GTA IV's fun in these two expansions and together they add countless hours of story and multiplayer to the mix that you can't afford to miss. I had tonnes of fun on the 360 DLC with my buddy Black Reiley and we discovered the chopper spawn locations and weapons, had a blast in Free Ride just owning the city and putting the hurt on anyone who got in our way.
Until Red Dead Redemption hits later this month, this is the finest multiplayer time you can have in a sandbox game and the finest single player content that's available on any format.
Pick it up, even if you didn't like GTA IV's gritty story - the Lost and the Damned or the Ballad of Gay Tony has something for everyone.