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Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Rockstar Games
Release Date: Feb. 17, 2009

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned'

by Brad Hilderbrand on March 21, 2009 @ 4:59 a.m. PDT

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned features a new main character and plot that intersects with the storyline of Grand Theft Auto IV; new missions that offer an entirely fresh way to explore Liberty City with new multiplayer modes, weapons and vehicles; and a diverse soundtrack with additional music.
When GTA IV was released almost a year ago, it was met with near-hysteria in the gaming press and impressive support by consumers. Countless perfect scores were handed out for the game as breathless reviewers raved about how this was the best thing to happen to gaming in the history of, oh, ever. Gamers, appreciating the first console sequel to the popular franchise in a long time, snapped up copies left and right, and the folks at Rockstar eagerly rolled in their piles of money. Now, in a new America with a new President, we are treated to the first batch of Microsoft-exclusive DLC of the title and are forced to answer the question: Does GTA IV still matter? Unfortunately, the answer is still unclear.

The first batch of DLC is titled The Lost and Damned and stars Johnny Klebitz, vice president of The Lost biker gang. Johnny has been running the show for a while now, as club president Billy has had a little run-in with the law and hasn't exactly been around to handle business. The game kicks off with Johnny and the rest of the crew going to pick up Billy from rehab, and it isn't long before Billy's bloodlust and recklessness begin to threaten the very safety of the members of the gang. Johnny is obviously conflicted, watching the man he swore to protect and serve run the whole crew into the ground over petty grievances and misplaced aggression. The trappings are all there for a deep, complex morality play.

Sadly, the early promise of the story never really comes through, and the single-player experience ends up as a muddled, unsatisfying mess that never really draws you in or makes you want to see what happens next. The title runs through a laundry list of half-baked stories, changing the focus every few missions on who's pulling Johnny's strings now. Furthermore, I never discovered a real reason for Johnny to be involved in a biker gang. At times, he seems too smart and level-headed to be involved in this sort of nonsense, but in the very next mission, he'll gladly run protection on a drug deal even though he doesn't have any stake in the outcome. In the end, Rockstar has left us with a series of shallow, pointless stories rather than one epic affair, à la Niko's Liberty City experience. While storytelling was one of GTA's strong points, the magic is lost in this expansion.

For those more concerned with the methodology of killing and less concerned with the morality or underlying motivations, The Lost and Damned delivers plenty of creative new ways to off your foes. There are several new weapons in the DLC, each of which is worth its weight in gold. The sawed-off and combat shotguns are great for getting up close and personal with those who have wronged you, while the new grenade launcher is perfect for dusting foes from afar with a nice big explosion. Also, if you ever got tired of blowing enemies up with grenades (and who hasn't?), L&D provides you with pipe bombs so you can do the job in a manner more befitting a biker. Finally, for those looking for a trusty sidearm, you can now access an automatic handgun because repeatedly pulling the trigger is so much less enjoyable than just holding it down and letting it rip. The only real downside to the new weapons is the fact that you can't port them back into the original GTA, so Niko will never get to experience their bliss. Sorry buddy, maybe on the next expansion.

In addition to new weapons, since this is a game all about bikers, one would imagine there would have to be new motorcycles. Rockstar is happy to oblige with plenty of new two-wheeled machines, all of which have seen quite an overhaul during the past year. Thankfully, bikes have been made much easier to drive now, though there is still a slight learning curve. It's nothing too severe, though, and after a few missions, you'll likely find yourself cruising the streets feeling sorry for all those poor saps stuck in cars. The devs have also tweaked the collision system for bikes, making it much harder to be thrown off than before. This is welcome news, considering the number of high-speed chases that go down in L&D; if you got thrown every time you nudged a car, then it's unlikely anyone would ever finish the title.

As for the missions, they're pretty standard GTA stuff: Go here, shoot the bad guys, run from the cops, and rinse and repeat. Mixed in are a couple escort missions and an on-rails shooting segment, but there aren't any radical departures from what you've come to expect. The variety comes in the side-quests, with bike races, gang wars and odd jobs pulling you into the more interesting and unique content. Gang wars are the most fun because they serve two purposes. On the one hand, taking out rival gangs earns you money, but it also toughens up your crew and makes them more useful in later fights, if they survive. Survival can be tricky, since your AI buddies have an infuriating habit of wandering into your sight lines and taking a shotgun blast to the back of the head because they don't understand that a gun kills whoever it's pointed at, regardless of whether that person is friend or foe.

For those looking to play with friends, L&D re-skins all of the existing multiplayer modes while adding a couple of new ones. Lone Wolf pits one rider against the pack, with the single player trying to stay alive as long as possible. Whoever kills the player becomes the new lone wolf, and the cycle continues until time runs out. Chopper vs. Chopper pits a player in a helicopter against one on a bike, with the rider trying to make it through checkpoints while his airborne opponent works at blowing him to hell. This is easily the more fun of the two modes, as Lone Wolf can get boring with a small group due to the size of Liberty City and the difficulty to pin down someone in any one area.

Visually, the game is presented with a grain filter, giving the whole experience a dirtier, grittier look. This presentation can be turned off for those who don't like it, but it's clear that Rockstar would prefer you play the game with it on, as the characters and environments seem to be rendered with the dirty feel in mind. Rockstar once again nails its character design, and you can learn almost everything about a person simply by looking at him, whether it's Johnny's roughed-up biker friends, his strung-out ex or the slickly packaged politician who needs a little help under the table. You'll know simply by sight who you can and can't trust, and that's an impressive feat in a game.

For those who loved GTA IV when it was released last year, The Lost and Damned expansion provides an extremely compelling reason to dive back into Liberty City. The new characters, weapons and other goodies — like new songs and commentary on the radio, new TV shows and even a brand-new stand-up comedy gig — all make the title well worth the $20 price tag for fans. However, those who weren't blown away by the game the first time around won't be wowed here, as it's ultimately just more of the same. For those interested, though, it's a meaty expansion that provides plenty of content to cover the cost.

Score: 8.7/10

 


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