The much awaited expansion pack for Grand Theft Auto 4 "The Lost and Damned" has been out for a few days now on the Xbox store and we can safely say that the 12 hour campaign has set a new benchmark for other downloadable content to achieve. Xbox owners rejoice!
The Lost and Damned is based on the same setting as the original title but the action has been moved to Alderney State — the left side landmass that mirrors a section of New Jersey. Rockstar have created not just a mere mission pack but a strong standalone title within the theme of their massively successful franchise.
To play the game you need a copy of GTA IV in your DVD drive and 1600 Microsoft points with a Live Gold Membership. This translates to around $20 and it offers around 12 hours of game time, 54 new music tracks, 20 new vehicles, 6 new weapons as well as new side missions, new TV shows and support for new multiplayer options. Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me.
Alderney State was not accessed much in the main Niko Bellic game and the industrial environment proves to be a compelling location for the additional series of missions. It is a marvelous setting for the rundown depravity of Johnny Klebitz’s story, a guy who ascends in the ranks of the Lost Motorcycle club and finds himself at odds with the gangs returning president Billy Grey. Johnny is searching for peace with the various criminal factions throughout Liberty City, whereas Billy is more interested in violence and drugs. What follows is a story based on the same rags to riches climb to fame as the Niko script delivered. Obviously the setting and details are wildly different but the underlying story follows the same lines.
Many will be disappointed to hear that Johnny is not as strong a characterization as Niko however I had just as much fun with him in the single player campaign even if his persona is a little weaker. To be fair, the Johnny character did grow on me after a while and it is clear that Rockstar invested a lot of time putting in detail with the various settings and missions. Johnny and Niko’s stories intersect both directly and indirectly throughout. Johnny gets partnered up with Niko during the game, which is tied into two of the GTA IV missions and they seem to get along just great. Later on however there are some missions which show the darker side of Johnny and it is possible that some of the more sensitive audience might be slightly upset with this (I won’t ruin what it is). At least Johnny doesn’t spend most of the game time trying to make friends in Liberty City, he was born and raised here so most people know him already.
Graphically the game uses the same engine as before with the rather unusual addition of a grain filter which has been included to add a realistic gritty overtone to the environments. Perhaps Rockstar feel that by doing this it will add a different take to the environments but thankfully you can turn it off in the settings as I think it is distracting. Of the five or so people who played the game with me during the review time, only one actually liked it so it will be interesting to see more views about this on our forums.
The voice acting is just as attractive and polished as ever and there are many moments when I laughed out loud at the sharp dialogue and wacky scripting. Rockstar are the pioneers at this kind of game and it really is just everything you would expect them to deliver.
The Lost and Damned is focused on a group of bikers with a new gang mechanic in place. Fellow riders can be called in for backup now in the middle of combat and by entering into the various secondary missions outside the main storyline it is possible to boost every members statistics. Cards and Arm Wrestling are two new activities available in The Lost Clubhouse and Air Hockey is another fun experience, even if the whole idea of leading your gang of violent bikers to a bowling alley is silly (but amusing!).
There are numerous gangs and wars that break out across Liberty City’s map and they are played out over 25 skirmishes with a plethora of rival factions. That said it is unfortunate that your allies are so shockingly bad in the heat of battle, if you get into a random turf war then members of The Lost will help you out but in dangerous exchanges within a full-on gang war then your colleagues are pretty much incompetent.
Obviously as this is a story based on bikers there are a new selection of bikes available. They have also been fine tuned to be more stable and manageable and they don’t lose their grip as easily (yay!). Collisions with cars mean you are more likely to be able to keep riding whereas before you would suffer a lot of damage and would spend time recovering from the damage. Cleverly you could assume that a hardened and skilled bunch of bikers would be more proficient on two wheeled machinery which explains the differences between the titles, but at the end of the day it works, and it works well.
The weaponry also gets overhauled with shotguns and pistols now available in automatic versions and they are joined by the grenade launcher which is still a devastating weapon in action. These are particularly useful in multiplayer modes which also receive a significant improve in this expansion.
There are online race modes, which are virtually identical to the offline single player race modes and herald to the days of Road Rash with players being able to hold a baseball bat while riding on their bikes. Maximum carnage ensues! Turf War and Team Mafiya return in a slightly adjusted state in Own the City and Witness Protection, so fans of the previous escapades will be happy to see them still present and thriving. Lone Wolf Biker also deserves a mention because it is a complex game of tag in which a player must flee from a pursuing mob. This mode has been the most fun I have had online in a long time and is a great platform for intense and frenetic multiplayer mayhem.
The Lost and Damned has not only reached the goals I had set out for it months ago but surpassed them comfortably. The size of the expansion is not to be underestimated and there is a great variety of action on offer both offline and online. The new story is entertaining and very different from Niko’s previous exploits and offers a new take on Liberty City that fans of this genre will fall in love with. The only problem now is that all the downloadable content will be measured against this, and there really is nothing even to come close.
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