Review: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned

To many, Grand Theft Auto IV was game-of-the-year material. It provided a gritty, open world to explore as well as memorable characters, missions, and even a wide variety of music to enjoy. Plenty of hookers to pick up, beers to drink, people to murder, and cars to jack – for every individual it offended, it picked up another fan. And for good reason – it was a magnificent entry into the Grand Theft Auto series. It’s not surprising that when the game came to an end, many were distraught. That’s why another jaunt into Liberty City was warranted – there were too many loose threads and too many characters that needed their own back story. Fast forward to 2009 – GTAIV’s very first installment of DLC has finally been delivered: The Lost and Damned.

Now that Niko Bellic’s story should be well behind most gamers, the focus has shifted to biker gang The Lost and member Johnny Klebitz. Johnny is one mean, shotgun-toting, mother-shut-yo’mouth. As vice president of the Lost, Johnny has kept the biker gang together while president Billy served his time in jail. However, now that Billy’s back, some newly-built bridges will have to be burned in order for the old way of the Lost to be restored. With that, an engrossing tale about brotherhood, loyalty, and choppers ensues.

It’s unfair to say that Niko’s story has ended in The Lost and Damned – gamers are simply playing from a different point of view . In fact, some of the missions have been ported over to this expansion, some even featuring Niko. You’re simply taking the helm as Johnny and seeing what life is like on the other side of the fence. From the very first half-hour of the game, you’ll be knee-deep in explosive firefights, namely between the Lost and rival gangs, as Billy is back to stir up trouble. While the original game focused more on lone-wolf, vigilante-styled action, TLAD places an emphasis on squad-based play. New mechanics have been introduced from following the leader of the pack by pressing B, to emblems that are displayed on the roads of Liberty City when riding in formation. This reinforces the brotherhood theme. Erase the notion from your mind that you’ll ever be going it alone. But while this may be true, Johnny’s new weapons reflect that of a one-man army: sawed-off shotguns, grenade launchers, pipe bombs, and automatic pistols. All formidable additions to the already varied weaponry, they lend to the grittier tone of the expansion. And you’ll need every single one of these new goodies.

Weapons aren’t always enough, though. As you progress through this expansion, the brothers of the Lost will gain experience as they are battle-tested. Yes, they’ll fight with you and level up. Unfortunately, this won’t stop them from running out in front of you when you spin out on your hog. It’s a refreshing thing to see that these otherwise throwaway characters are taking an active role in the game’s missions and storyline. One notable addition to the expansion is also the fact that you will be exploring locations seen only briefly during Niko’s excursion into Liberty City. Since you’re seeing the place through a completely different set of eyes, more depth is given to this imaginary city – you really begin to get the feeling that life goes on there whether you’re playing or not. This aspect should be lauded moreso than any other of The Lost and Damned, as the immersion factor is deeper than any other DLC currently available.

While playing through Johnny’s story, you’ll encounter missions along with the rest of the Lost that rely on teamwork and heavy firepower for you to prevail. Not only this, but TLAD is extremely difficult. You’ll likely become acquainted with the “retry” message on Johnny’s cell very soon, as this expansion is not for the casual GTA players. Take heart, though – mid-mission checkpoints have been gifted to ensure that your precious time won’t be wasted. It would have been a welcome addition to the main game, but hey, at least they’re trying! Most of the game is spent defusing situations like rotten drug deals. Because of this, slogging through mission through mission can become just a tad stale. However, TLAD isn’t all business. When you’re not spending time on serious excursions, there are more lighthearted, quirky missions to take on. You’ll come into contact with some peculiar characters like Thomas Stubbs, a dirty senator, and at one point you’ll meet up with fan-favorite Roman Bellic.

The additional areas that have been integrated into Liberty City are varied and fresh, though the graphics haven’t been updated. That should be a given, but character models are smoothly animated and interesting. Members of The Lost are surprisingly detailed – many with tattoos, piercings, and buttons or patches all over their grimy leather jackets. As for the music, over fifty new tracks have been added distributed among Radio Broker, Liberty Rock Radio, The Beat, LCHC. This is an impressive addition, as the varied music on the radio was already an enormous draw for GTAIV owners. The tunes are varied between well-known and obscure artists to balance things out, and the tracklist of the entire game is now rounded out at over 200.

All in all, The Lost and Damned is a force to be reckoned with in the world of DLC. It’s a rarity when such a simple addition can turn the game it is based on into something completely different. While this does require ownership of the actual Grand Theft Auto IV disc, this $20 expansion adds enough new and interesting content to warrant calling it an entirely different game. With the slew of new missions, new characters, new music, and a a brand new attitude, $20 is a bargain. If you play straight through with the intention of getting this bad boy finished as soon as possible, expect it to take about 10-15 hours to complete. But where’s the fun in rushing? You have a whole new scenario to explore – why not savor it? The Lost and Damned is highly recommended for any GTAIV fan. Even if you only enjoyed the game a bit, there is tons more fun to be had here. So grab your copy off the Xbox Live Marketplace now. Johnny isn’t going to wait around forever.

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