Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Grand Theft Auto IV, after its blockbuster release last year, has become something of a dirty word in the gaming community. While many stand by it as a bastion of clever writing and immersive gameplay, many jilted fans disregard the serious story and more realistic game mechanics as a step down from the wacky San Andreas, and a lazy effort from Rockstar overall. It’s a debate that rages ever on, especially in the wake of the game’s many game of the year awards earned over the holidays. The Lost And Damned, an Xbox 360 exclusive piece of DLC, expands the adventure with a new protagonist, a more criminal-oriented story, and new activities, as well as some bells and whistles in the form of weapons, vehicles, and minigames. It won’t win over the die-hard San Andreas nostalgic, but GTAIV players will be delighted.
TLAD’s story focuses on one Johnny Klebitz, vice president of The Lost Motorcycle Club. Johnny has been acting as leader while the leader of the gang, Billy, has been in rehab after being caught trafficking heroin around the city, and generally causing a ruckus. Under Johnny’s command, The Lost has calmed down somewhat - they have a truce with the rival Liberty City gang, The Angels Of Death, and seem to have been staying out of trouble, for the most part. However, Billy is now out of rehab and back in the saddle, so to speak, and his first order of business is to shake things up again.
It’s nowhere near the moral depths that Niko’s story in GTAIV touched upon, but TLAD is still an excellent piece of drama. Much of the game is focused on the internal politics of the gang, and it’s clear that Rockstar did its homework. While this is the same Liberty City we tore through in GTAIV, TLAD spends lots of time in places Niko overlooked, and the atmosphere is completely different, thanks to great writing and expert choices for new pieces of music. The Lost’s clubhouse is constantly tuned to the hardcore punk station, which now also features a death metal show. Other tunes have been added as well, some biker-oriented (Bon Jovi’s Dead Or Alive and Deep Purple’s Highway Star are particularly awesome) and some are just to fill out the other stations. TLAD also manages to balance its drama with some more over-the-top moments of humor; throughout the course of the game, Johnny will have philosophical discussions with butlers, rescue well-spoken cannibals, and yes: see a dong.
It’s a short adventure, clocking in around a third of the time GTAIV should have taken, but that’s still a good 10-15 hours of playtime, which is unprecedented for a piece of DLC. Then there’s the new content; TLAD offers a great selection of new bikes for Johnny to ride (as well as tweaking the finicky riding physics), a few new cars (The Rhapsody is excellent, party on), and thankfully, some new weapons. GTAIV’s arsenal was sorely lacking, and TLAD admirably opens up the selection a little bit with a sawed-off shotgun, a grenade launcher, and a new pistol, as well as some pipe-bombs, which provide endless hilarity when used around Liberty City. Johnny can also take part in races around town, and Gang Wars, which is similar to Vigilante Mode on a grand scale. Finally, The Lost’s clubhouse offers an arm wrestling minigame, which is amusing, but hardly a selling point. (At least, it shouldn’t be…)
TLAD is a great expansion for an already great game. Microsoft’s 50 million dollars have clearly paid off; Rockstar has crafted something that every 360 owner should experience. In a way, though, it’s a pity that PS3s won’t be seeing this content. TLAD will go a long way in fueling the endless fanboy feud, which is unfortunate, but then again, it’s probably what Microsoft wanted all along. It boils down to this: if you have GTAIV on the Xbox 360, buy this expansion. If you don’t have it on the Xbox 360… apologies. In a perfect world, it’d be available on all platforms, but sadly, politics wins out. TLAD is a great piece of extra content that sets the bar for DLC expansions in the future; and, while it isn’t exactly something to be proud of, it’s one of the best reasons to own a 360 so far this year.
Nine out of ten