GTA IV: The Lost and Damned
16th Feb 2009 | 18:00
If Grand Theft Auto IV was the biggest game disc-based release ever, then the first 360-exclusive episode is undoubtedly a contender for the DLC crown.
This ginormous expansion has you walking the streets of Liberty City from a different perspective, that of troubled motorcycle gang VP Johnny Klebitz. Through his twisting, blood-filled campaign you'll visit areas of GTA IV you didn't notice the first time round, and others that have been given a rock-n-roll make-over.
The value you're getting for just over ten quid is outstanding. Despite our doubts, Rockstar's not exaggerating (too) much when it estimates Lost and Damned's main story at "about a third" the length of GTA IV. And that's without considering the expanded multiplayer (read about that here), bike races, San Andreas-style gang wars, air hockey, arm wrestling and hidden seagulls (no pigeons this time).
The plot kicks offer when The Lost Motorcycle Gang's president and Johnny's brother, Billy, is released from rehab to dodge a prison sentence. Johnny's used this time in charge to quell the violence between The Lost and rival gang The Angels of Death. But with Billy out and back in charge, the war is reignited. Oh and all's not well between The Lost brothers...
Cut-scenes, as usual, are incredible. After years working on GTA IV's masterful narrative Rockstar's become a master of the art form. At points we actually preferred Lost and Damned's grittier, back-stabbing tale of a family imploding in on itself than the original Niko storyline.
It's a darker, ballsier plot that somehow manages to feel fresh even after the controversies surrounding previous GTAs. It's like the darkest bits of The Sopranos and Godfather stuck in a blender and paced over several hours.
You'll see enemies smashed in the face with sledgehammers, friends shot in the back and the first polygonal cock and balls we can ever remember seeing in a game.
Thanks to a new 'fight hardened' gang stats system, you actually care whether your AI team mates live or die. You activate the stat screen with d-pad down, which displays a line of bar graphs indicating the 'hardness' of your crew.
If you make sure your buddies survive a gunfight by assisting and saving their arses, they'll become better shots and generally less rubbish. You can also boost their abilities by initiating conversation during bike convoy sequences, which reward you for staying inside a Lost emblem projected on the road with a health boost and dialogue.
The team dynamic is at its most useful when you start picking up the phone and calling your Lost brethren for assistance and backup. Getting on the blower to biker buddies Terry or Clay will have them deliver weapons, bikes or even assist you. Your Lost mates can and will save your arse on numerous occasions, which adds to the whole gang feel.
The main plot is the usual mix of balls-to-the-wall scuffles, bike chases and visits to individuals who've managed to piss off The Lost management. But alongside the meaner plot comes a roster of colder mission objectives, and most of your time in the Lost will be spent acting revenge on the killers of your friends and gunning down those inside the gang who decide to turn on their brothers.
One mission has you meeting our mate Belic in a museum to conduct a diamond sell that goes wrong. You may remember this one from GTA IV - and it's a similar set-up - but experiencing the flop and resulting gun fight from Johnny's perspective, with the old protagonist shouting and swearing by your side, is a particular thrill and builds on the original games foundation.
Another, more clever mission has you kidnapping cousin Roman to deliver him to the Russians, where Niko later rescues the blubbering taxi boss in the original game. It's not all crossovers though; familiar but still enjoyable highlights include a police pursuit on the back or a motorbike with a massive gun, and a ruthless attack on an Angels' clubhouse, grenade launcher included.
The story is complimented by the very welcome addition of mid-mission checkpoints, which manage to skip out repetitive retries of long and difficult shootouts - even if some of the difficulty is sacrificed in the process.
Ultimately the 25 or so story missions fall short of the highs of GTA IV's brilliant Four Leaf Clover, and Rockstar's still to shake off the 'kill these, chases this, loose the cops' formula, but what's there is entertaining, consistently action-packed and brilliantly paced.
What's really special about Lost and Damned though - excluding the terrific amount of value you're getting for 13 quid - is that even after lord knows how many hours arsing about in the game world, its still able to surprise and deliver some really standout, non-scripted gameplay moments.
The sheer amount of content lavished on the context sensitive banter in Liberty City is still staggering. Characters react and behave in the world as you'd expect them to in real life. Phone a Lost brother for assistance and Johnny won't just bark out a street, he'll explain he's about to bust a traitorous colleague's house, and he needs some help sneaking through the backdoor.
Fresh satire leaks from every pedestrian, radio station and television in the city. An advert for the Bank of liberty proclaims "thanks for the bailout America," and mention's constantly made of the deep recession the country's got itself in.
Content-wise there's plenty of potential to extend the sandbox fun; the highlight of Lost and Damned's new guns, which includes an auto-shotgun, pipe bombs and burst pistol, is the grenade launcher. It's a big, noisy bastard of a weapon that's also a great physics fun toy and we can see it alone adding a few hours to the ADD sufferers' never-ending war against the LCPD.
It's been a difficult task judging the Lost and Damned because really, there's no DLC package like it. The production, scope and sheer amount of content is equal to some full releases and Rockstar could've easily put it in a box and sold it for 20 quid. But it's not on the shelves and it's not more than fifteen quid, which makes it a terrific bargain.
Lost and Damned isn't a reinvention of GTA IV and nor does it bring anything terribly original to the mission formula. The first episode should thus be viewed as another greatly entertaining story in the vast and under-explored world of Liberty City, with some welcome team features and multiplayer content worth every penny paid.
Lost and Damned has set the standard for all DLC packages to come. We only expect more from the next portion of GTA DLC.