What was probably the most hyped game of 2008 has unleashed what may be the most hyped DLC of 2009. Now, The Lost and Damned is available on Xbox Live and I've taken time to really put it through its paces.
After some time spent dwelling on it, I'm ready to share my thoughts. Does it measure up? Well, for that, you're going to have to venture past the jump. The lazier among you could get the gist from the accompanying video.
GTA IV: The Lost and Damned (Xbox 360)
The story of The Lost and Damned centers around The Lost Motorcycle Club, one of a few motorcycle gangs operating within Liberty City. Players take the role of the club's vice president, Johnny Klebitz, who has been running the club since current President Billy went into drug rehab to avoid prison time. The story picks up with the gang heading out to pick up their returning leader and things start falling apart.
The gang itself is fairly large and make up most of the cast of new characters. Apart from Klebitz, very few are really all that likeable and they are secondary in nature. There isn't even anything sympathetic about the goals of the villains, such as you might expect from a GTA game
Another annoyance comes in how the events in Lost and Damned intertwine with the main storyline of Grand Theft Auto IV. From the first game, it's clear that there are two occasions in which Johnny and Niko are on the same mission and you get to play in those from Johnny's perspective. But then you have familiar characters contacting Klebitz almost out of the blue to indirectly interfere with Niko's life.
It's this sort of need to draw these two stories closer together that is the most disappointing, as I would have been perfectly content to delve more into Johnny's world. And some of the acts he performs are ones which anybody could have done. It's gratuitous and feels a bit lazy.
It does have some decent cutscenes and dialogue, however, and the pacing is great. The story will take you around 8-10 hours, depending on how well you fare against the difficulty which is just long enough to keep from being monotonous. This was clearly intended for people who made an attempt to finish the main game, as there are a couple of refresher missions before things get pretty challenging.
The expansion brings some new (and old) mechanics into the game, such as skills and experience. One of the more interesting new mechanics deals with riding in a group. In missions where you ride with your gang, keeping in formation with them gives rewards such as new dialogue and bike repairs.
There are a ton of new bikes in the game and most of them are pretty damn cool. The custom Hexen Johnny rides seems to be very well-balanced and easy to control. Still, even if you're stuck with one of the other bikes, there's a considerable range and they're all pretty fun to ride.
And ride them you will. While the vast majority of missions and additional quest lines have you on a motorcycle, it's for a good reason. Riding the bikes just feels better than trying to control the cars. This makes racing much more fun and less of a trial, and the dozen races around the city are enjoyable.
They are additionally improved by a melee combat mechanic and route plotting on the GPS. Armed with a baseball bat, you can hit opponents on either side of you. The longer you hold the attack button, the stronger the swing and you can take a bike out of the race with one good smack. And having the complete circuit of the race displayed on the map is a vast improvment over the checkpoint directional indicators used up to this point.
The other major set of bonus activities are Gang Wars. These are missions ostensibly intended to help you train an army of badasses to back you up. Every member of your posse has stats which improve as they participate in missions and Gang Wars. If they survive, they get upgraded skills and equipment. The system would be really cool if the other gang members had an intelligence greater than a bag of sand. So, they die off every other mission or so and get replaced by fresh-faced, dumb gang members.
Which is no reflection on the actual Gang Wars missions, which are pleasant diversions. There are a lot of them and their goals recycle a bit but they're fun things to do if you're in a part of town where one is nearby and nothing more urgent is at hand.
So, long story short, the single-player is pretty much more of the same where GTA is concerned. It does not have the same, enveloping sense of depth as the main game but certainly enough to satisfy. The missions are fun, there are some humorous and melancholic moments and a lot of explosions. If you enjoyed playing Niko, you'll probably feel the same about Klebitz.
The multiplayer Rockstar put together is impressive. The six new modes, including multiplayer racing, add a lot of variety to the rather meager selections on the main title's disc.
"Chopper v. Chopper" pits one player on a bike against a player piloting a fully-armed attack helicopter. The biker must race through checkpoints while trying to stay alive. It's a cool mode but really just comes down to who is the better copter pilot. I personally prefer the GTA equivalent to Smear the Queer, "Lone Wolf Biker." It's everybody together on bikes trying to kill whoever is "it." Simple, quick and fun.
The team-based modes are pretty interesting as well. "Own the City" pits two teams of gangs against each other in a contest to see who can conquer more real estate in the city. AI-controlled guards defend your areas, allowing you to strike against your opponent's domain. You can even rearm and improve the troops defending your properties by driving your Gun Van through them. There's some interesting strategy to it.
Alternately, a more action-packed mode comes in "Witness Protection." In this mode, one team controls police protecting a prison transport bus. The other team is composed of bikers attempting to destroy the bus. It's fast-paced and a lot of fun with teams of four.
The most interesting multiplayer mode in Lost and Damned is a cooperative one. "Club Business" has players teaming up to accomplish missions for the club on a time limit. Riding in formation awards score, as well as completing objectives. Between missions, a well-performing player may be promoted to Road Captain, effectively becoming the new leader of the posse, giving a bit of a competitive aspect to the gameplay as well.
It's easily the most fun I've had playing GTA online. A little something for those who would prefer playing games together with people, instead of just against them. I can only imagine rolling in a posse made up of folks I actually know would be like and I'm looking forward to the experience.
All told, The Lost and Damned is a lot like the game which spawned it. Flawed in some areas but has a considerable amount of content for the investment. The gameplay improvements are welcomed but this is essentially the same game. If you honestly enjoyed playing Grand Theft Auto IV, there's no argument against this DLC. Those who found it overrated will find the same reasons to frown on this as well.
Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)