Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Of all the big triple-A game franchises out there, none seem to polarize gamers as much as the Grand Theft Auto series does. It has a huge following – Grand Theft Auto IV alone recently was reported to have shipped 13 million copies. That’s a whole lot of games, and the power of this brand can’t be denied. Sales aside, however, there seems to be two distinct camps when it comes to these games – GTA lovers and GTA haters. I’ll preface this review by stating that I am definitely in the former, but that I can certainly understand the latter and I hope that I can use this perspective to show in this review why the recent downloadable expansion, The Lost and Damned, is worth playing.
Right from the first moments of The Lost and Damned, it’s obvious that you’re in for some pretty hardcore stuff. The game opens up with mad drugs, the creative use of a motorcycle wheel as a face exfoliant, and a brutal, jaw-busting hammer swing. The story is grittier and darker than Niko Bellic’s tale is in GTA IV, right off the bat.
That said, there are some definite similarities between GTA IV’s two protagonists. The Lost and Damned starts off with your character, Johnny Klebitz, picking up the leader of The Lost motorcycle gang, Billy, from rehab. Johnny, like Niko, is no ‘good guy’ by any stretch of the imagination; but he also is a villain with a code. Johnny had been running The Lost while Billy was locked up, and friction begins as soon as Billy’s back to run things his way – through constant alcohol and drug-fueled violence. Johnny finds himself sucked into a chaotic, murder-filled gang war that he never wanted to start in the first place.
While the story starts off fantastically, it does suffer from the same problems that the main story of GTA IV does. Johnny’s tale quickly takes him from wanting to stop the violent gang war that Billy is starting, to blowing up vans with pipe bombs in the middle of the crowded city streets and dealing pounds and pounds of drugs – all the while pumping fists with his bad-ass biker buddies. It leaves the player scratching their head wondering whatever happened to ‘laying low’ like Johnny kept pushing for when the story began.
While the narrative obviously suffers from the GTA sandbox-game curse, it still provides some over-the-top action sequences and some very mature, well-written scenes. The relationship between Johnny and his former love Ashley is particularly interesting; with Ashley’s drug addiction causing her to constantly need rescuing. The voice acting and scene direction are top-notch; and if the overall story isn’t perfect, there are many individual moments in the game that shine with that wonderful crime-drama polish that Rockstar does so well.
It’s obvious at this point in the review that the reason that this gamer loves GTA IV (and indeed, The Lost and Damned) is for the story, the gameplay in this expansion has a few improvements over that main game that are worth mentioning. The motorcycle mechanics have been tweaked to actually make the bikes usable in the game’s famous chase sequences. The missions focus more on teamwork than in Niko’s more solitary tale, and the more you utilize your crew’s help, the tougher and more useful they get for future missions. There are ‘Gang War’ locations all over the map where you and your leather-clad homies can show up and throw down with the rival Angels of Death motorcycle gang, and multiple bike races all over the city. There are a few new multiplayer modes as well, though that’s nothing that I really ever got into in GTA.
All of these are welcome distractions and add some fun-filled length to the roughly 7-8 hour main story. The Lost and Damned is still very much GTA IV, but there is enough different to keep the player interested and wanting more. That said, if the sometimes repetitive nature of a Grand Theft Auto game is something that turned you off from GTA IV’s main game, The Lost and Damned will certainly not change your mind. I got a little tired of the main game around hour 25, but kept playing through to the end for the story. The short length of this expansion never left me feeling tired out from the action and seemed just about right to me.
Overall the question that always must be asked by a reviewer is ‘Is it worth the cost of entry?’ While The Lost and Damned’s twenty dollar price tag is among the most expensive of downloadable content thus far, the game has enough meat to it to make the purchase worth it. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but if you like GTA IV then grabbing this expansion is a no-brainer.
So what are you waiting for? Strap on those biker boots, get on your hog, and go kick some ass!
Peep the trailers below!