When Microsoft coughed up $50 million for two exclusive pieces of downloadable content for Grand Theft Auto IV it seemed like a big deal. Now that the first return on their investment, The Lost and Damned, is here, we can finally find out if it was boon or bust. Gang warfare and riding in formation are in, but should you check this expansion out?
You play as Johnny Klebitz, the second in command of The Lost biker gang. As the game begins the crew’s leader, Billy Grey, is released from incarceration. It doesn’t take long for him to return to his old ways. He’s been away for a while, and in his absence Johnny has moved the gang from lowdown, dirty scoundrels, to lowdown dirty scoundrels who care about finances. That doesn’t sit well with Billy, and the power struggle ensues.
You’ll rub elbows with plenty of characters from the original including Mr. Bellic. The writing is incredibly sharp as it captures the slack-jawed, party-at-all-costs outlaws in their most raw form. There are enough F-bombs to facilitate a drinking game. Johnny and Billy are well-developed, but the concept of a fiscally responsible biker gang is a little far-fetched. You’ll be surprised how much you care, though, and there are plenty of laughs to be had.
If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto IV, then you’ll know what to expect from the game’s design. It’s just as free-form as you want it to be, and there are three new vehicles in addition to a ton of bikes to make your way around Liberty City. [note: the three new vehicles are the towtruck, the burrito van, and the slamvan] Yet, you don’t have to use them much. You’ll find yourself falling into the same pattern of using cabs to teleport, buying body armor, and then tackling a mission. There are lots of objectives that require you ride with the gang, but the rest of the vehicles are only there as toys.
Making your way through the campaign can become a pattern of driving to a location, watching a cutscene, completing the mission, and then watching another cutscene. The objectives walk a narrow path. Most involve shootouts with rival gangs or racing from point A to point B. Few approach the quality of the bank heist or the online dating scenario from the original, but the constant trigger action allows you to get used to the new weapons like the grenade launcher, the automatic pistol, and sawed-off shotgun. That said, there is a surprising amount of missions to complete for the $20. Granted, it costs twice the cash as most downloadable content, but you also get far more than double the play time.
The extras just keep on rolling up. You can hit The Lost safe house for some arm wrestling or a game of Hi-Lo, watch a new roster of shows on the TV, or surf the web for new sites. A close attention to detail is paid to everything.
The single-player quest is almost long enough to be sold as a full game, but you also get a bevy of new multiplayer modes. A lot of them are cleverly veiled classics that you’ve experienced in countless other games, but own the city is a new twist on an old idea. You must capture spots scattered around the city that are held down by AI or human opponents. Kill them all and your own drones are spawned. He who takes the most territory wins. Witness protection has the cops taking snitches to a safe house while the other team tries to take them out. Just like with the original multiplayer, there are a lot of unexpected features to fiddle around with and the open world gives each one a twist.
For the cash, The Lost and Damned is a fine deal. The single-player missions lack variety and GTA IV vets will find themselves right back in the same patterns, but there’s a ton of story missions to complete and the new multiplayer options bloat the existing suite nicely.
Not much has changed where the gameplay is concerned. You still get the solid cover system, and the driving controls still take some getting used to. Since they’re such a huge component of the game, the bike handling has been adjusted. It’s much more difficult to go flying head over heels, and the tires supply a little more grip for cornering. It’s a great, and needed, improvement.
The map is still your best friend, as you can set waypoints, hop in a cab, and pay a little extra cash to get to any mission objective or location immediately. Friends that can bring you weapons and other support are available out of the gate, so you won’t have to retread the path of building valuable contacts. They’re also much less demanding this time around. You can work for multiple people, but the tug of war between friends and lovers takes a back seat to the action.
Since it’s all about gang warfare, it only makes sense that there’s something to regulate it all. Each of the members of The Lost increases in effectiveness the more you use them, but be careful. If one dies, he’s gone for good. It makes you protect some of your comrades more than others and definitely helps build the brotherhood vibe.
All the rest of the advances seen in GTA IV have made the jump like manual targeting while driving, and the excellent euphoria physics. This episode is all about new content, and not changing the way the game is played, but those who already took over Liberty City as an immigrant from Eastern Europe won’t mind one bit.
Nothing has changed with the graphics engine. The game looks identical to its big brother minus an awful film grain overlay that you can turn off, and there are no new areas of Liberty City or its suburbs to explore, minus building interiors. The game looked great back when it was released in early 2008, but it’s starting to show a few chinks in the armor at this point. It’s a testament to how quickly the visuals in games are improving. Character models still look good, but the facial expressions that appeared so convincing a year ago, are starting to look wooden in 2009. On the whole, it still looks great. You won’t find another game with this much going on at once in each frame, but the fidelity is starting to fall behind.
Despite some botched lines in the opening cinema, the rest of the voice work is stellar. The actors really get into the characters to bring these ruthless scumbags to life. There are 54 new music tracks. Expect to hear tons of New York City hardcore classics as it appears to be the official soundtrack of The Lost.
The Lost and the Damned is one of the most robust pieces of downloadable content we’ve ever seen. We’re used to getting a handful of hours, but we were surprised again and again that the missions just kept on coming. There’s a certain level of déjà vu involved and more mission variety would be appreciated, but the new multiplayer options are practically worth the price of admission alone. If you’ve taken Niko as far as he can go, kick start your bike, join the gang, and enjoy the ride.
Source: Rockstar Games