Review: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned (Microsoft Xbox 360)

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Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Genre: Action
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 2/18/09

Note: This game is an expansion to the game GTAIV and requires that game in order to play. The expansion is available on the Xbox Live service for 1600 points ($20)

Usually when a console game has downloadable content, it means there might be an extra couple of maps, or some extra missions. There have only been a few occasions where DLC has added a large amount of content to the previous game, most notably the Shivering Isles expansion pack for Oblivion. Instead of offering a few additional maps or a brief extension of the single player game, Rockstar went and developed what essentially is a new game that just happens to take place in the same city.

This is evident just from the production value for the expansion. The Lost and Damned features a new protagonist, complete with loading screens, cut scenes, different style in the menus and a visual grain filter over everything.

The new protagonist is Johnny Klebitz, a member of the biker gang The Lost. Johnny is the Vice President who happens to be in charge of the motorcycle club while Billy, the President of the gang, is in prison. The game starts with Billy being released from prison and taking control of the gang again. However the transition is rough since the gang isn’t the same before, during Billy’s prison stay the gang has been less drinking and destruction and more organized drug trade and making peace with other gangs so they could survive and pay Billy’s legal bills.

lad2Billy wants the days of breaking laws and breaking skulls back. Of course this leads to a power struggle between Billy and Johnny, and one that’s deeper than just a second in command unwilling to hand over the reins to a returning leader. With each game Rockstar just gets better at telling a story about flawed characters, and The Lost and Damned is a good example of how to tell such a story in a video game. The dialog is filled with swearing, and the characters are hardly ever heroic and sometimes do stupid things. Yet they’re almost believable people because of these flaws.

At the same time, some of the humor from the last generation of GTA games is still missing from The Lost and Damned just as it was from Niko Bellic’s story in GTAIV. The characters are slightly over the top, but most of the humor comes from the radio, television, or in-game internet instead of from the cut scenes in the game. I guess this is the direction Rockstar is planning on going in, and while I like these stories, it’s still an odd transition for someone like me who loved the wackiness of the old games. In movie terms it’s like some of the older games being directed by Michael Bay, but now they’re being directed by Aaron Arlovski. Instead of over the top brainless action, we’re getting the stories of flawed characters trying to do their best but still on a downward spiral.

The game does more than just explore the power struggle between the two guys. It deals with an ex-girlfriend Johnny just can’t get over, other motorcycle gangs such as the Angels of Death (which are an obvious spoof of the Hell’s Angels), and also different events that connect Johnny’s story in different ways to Niko’s story. Some of these are well done and even give more backstory to GTAIV.

Graphically the game is essentially the exact same as GTAIV. The only real difference is the inclusion of a noise filter that adds a film grain overlay to the screen and gives the whole game a grittier look. This helps set the mood for a character from a biker gang, but if it bothers you than you can at least turn it off in the options menu.

The only thing graphically surprising is the inclusion of full frontal male nudity. You’ve been warned.

lad3As ever, the voice acting is great. At first I didn’t like the voice for Johnny, however now that I’ve played through the game I can’t imagine him having a different voice. The game includes a lot of vulgar dialog, but it’s also supposed to be about a biker gang. There have been a couple of new songs added to the radio stations, and as someone who prefers rock music and was disappointed by the original selection of music in GTAIV, The Lost and Damned makes up for that with some great older rock tracks and some new hardcore songs. Riding around on a motorcycle in the game while blaring “Run To The Hills” feels more natural in a game like The Lost and Damned than cruising around listening to rap music.

The game controls exactly the same as GTAIV, but there have been some small changes and additions. Controlling motorcycles is just so much better than in GTAIV. It took me a little bit to get used to the handling of the bikes, but once I did they have become my preferred form of transport around Liberty City. There are some new bikes in the expansion, and they all control just fine. There are a couple of new guns, such as the automatic pistol, shotguns in both assault and sawn-off variety, pipe bomb and grenade launcher. The auto-pistol and assault shotgun are great additions to the weapons and can cause mass devastation. The sawed-off shotgun is put to good use as an additional weapon to use while riding a motorcycle. Out of the entire new weapon the most disappointing is probably the grenade launcher, which barely gets put to good use within the missions of the game.

The missions in the game are probably my biggest disappointment. The thing that bothered me the most about GTAIV was how repetitive the mission structure was. Nearly every situation involved driving somewhere and killing a few people then driving back, or following someone, killing them, then driving back. The Lost and Damned isn’t much different as far as mission structure goes. One nice thing is the fact that the missions are generally more difficult than most of GTAIV’s missions, so if you’ve beat GTAIV at least you don’t have to worry about starting off with a bunch of tutorials or simple missions. The Lost and Damned also solves another major issue with GTAIV, checkpoint placement. Every mission of The Lost and Damned features handy checkpoints in case you bite the dust.

lad4There are some other new additions to the gameplay, like riding around in a pack. As Johnny you ride with the leader of The Lost in formation, and riding around Liberty City as part of a biker gang is a different experience than driving around as Niko. Aside from the story missions there are jobs you can take for a few different people, then there are races and gang war locations.

Gang Wars is exactly like it sounds, you meet other members of The Lost in different locations and then attack a different gang. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is similar to the style of gang warfare from San Andreas, you don’t take over territory and defend it here, it’s all about attacking another gang. These large scale skirmishes are pretty fun though.

Racing is done Road Rash style, a fact that the developers even refer to prior to the first race. If you aren’t familiar with that game, you race around on motorcycles in The Lost and Damned armed with a bat and try to knock off the other racers. This is a great addition and is pretty fun. While it’s frustrating to lose a race because you got knocked off of your bike, it’s satisfying to knock someone else off their bike.

Just like Niko had side events that he could take his friends out to do like bowling or seeing a show, Johnny also has some side things to do, but different since it would be hard to imaging Johnny going to see a cabaret show. Instead Johnny can participate in a card game of Hi/Low, arm wrestle, or play air hockey in addition to many of the things that Niko could do. Hi/Low is so random it’s pointless and I don’t know why they didn’t take the time to add something like Texas Hold “ËœEm instead, and Arm Wrestling boils down to just flicking the right stick back and forth the fastest, and is not much fun. Air Hockey is a pretty fun diversion though. They also added comedian Frankie Boyle to the comedy club, and is worth checking out.

The online multiplayer for The Lost and Damned is different than for GTAIV. In The Lost and Damned you can access multiplayer modes like the above-mentioned Road Rash style races. There’s a co-op mode called Club Business which is very similar to the online mode in GTAIV where you received tasks from the Mob. Then there is Lone Wolf, a mode where one player is the target and everyone else has to try to kill them, and whoever kills the target becomes the target. Sort of like tag, but backwards. Chopper vs Chopper, which pits one player one a motorcycles trying to race through checkpoints while the other player who is flying an attack helicopter tries to stop them.

Witness Protection is a variant of the Hangman’s N.O.O.S.E. game from GTAIV. One team plays as the N.O.O.S.E. attempting to deliver witnesses to police stations while the other team tries to stop them. Gang War is much the same as it was in GTAIV as well where two teams compete for territory on a map.

lad5As you can see there is a lot of content for an expansion. If you play through the storyline, do the side missions, races, gang wars, etc, it can easily take you over 12 hours before you ever get to the multiplayer modes.

If you played GTAIV and didn’t care for how the game played, than The Lost and Damned will not make a convert out of you, however for those who have played and enjoyed GTAIV, it’s an excellent addition that I believe is fully worth the $20 entry price. Rockstar really went above and beyond what current expectations are for episodic content, as I mentioned before, this feels less like additional content than a completely new game that just happens to take place in the same city. The amount of small details in things like the biker gang patches, to emails Johnny gets from family members, to the additions to radio stations and the TV, to the slightly different visual style of the filter and menu just make the virtual Liberty City come to life.

Final Scores:

Story: Classic
Graphics: Great
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal: Classic
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
Final Score: Great Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Lost and Damned is a great addition to the GTA franchise and well worth the price for anyone who enjoyed GTAIV.

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