[Note: I originally wrote this for my blog, Backwards-Compatible, but decided it ought to be shared with the Destructoid masses. Enjoy.]
Welcome to Liberty City…welcome back that is. Chances are, that if you are interested or have been playing The Lost and Damned then you’ve visited the tiny microchosm of hell before. Here, you see nothing right. Here, you do nothing right. Here, a hooker can be a freebie. All it takes is shift of the car into reverse. Yes, Liberty City is not the ideal place to live and certainly not the right place to raise your kids. But, Liberty City is the ideal place to organize a drug peddling motorcycle gang. Thanks to The Lost and Damned, my sick dreams can be realized. *Sigh* Oh, how I envy the man with a meth-addled female companion.
A few things to note right off the bat. This game does not departure significantly from GTAIV’s original mission and story structure. One finds a mission way point, a cutscene ensues, you do the deed, then you are rewarded with another cutscene and/or phonecall. Despite being so similarly structured, the missions are much more enjoyable and much less frustrating as a result of the new checkpoint system. Many complained about the punishing complete restarts that GTAIV required upon death, especially when a mission was accompanied by a long and tedious drive. The Lost and Damned remedies many of those complaints by allowing the player to restart at the last designated checkpoint. It is usually very easy to know when you reach a checkpoint, most often between cutscenes, loading screens, or significant changes in action. The system really relieves the frustration many felt during the original game and then some. I never really cared if I died as I often wanted to try things in new ways every time, happily and curiously testing out new approaches to each individual mission. After I felt this new form of “GTA Creativity”, I felt an urge for Rockstar to implement a mission select option of some sort as there are some great set pieces in the new expansion.
Johnny Klebitz is no biking newb. He has been riding those hogs since the day daddy could slap him in a somewhat legal manner. The bike handling in The Lost and Damned is much, much improved since we all last used Nico’s shitty skills. It no longer feels like one is driving underwater at an accelerated speed, slipping and sliding all over the god damn place. It makes the infamous “shooting-while-driving” missions and driving bikes in general much more enjoyable, but that’s not to say its perfect. There were many times I was riding my hog around town, scoping the city for meth-babes, when I would drive over a curb at 30mph and do a triple-sixty-backflip to faceplant and DIE. This can be increasingly frustrating during missions, especially ones that require skillful and fast hog skills. Who knows though? Maybe you are uber-1337 and can drive a hog uber-1337ly and pick up meth-babes with a simple and sensual lick of the tongue. Whatever, don’t judge me.
The missions themselves don’t revolutionize GTAIV in the slightest, although they do approach what I believe the ideal gameplay GTAIV should utilize. Most missions deal with revenge, drug deals, and driving. Whether you enjoy that or not is up to you, as it may seem clunky to many. I find the shooting satisfying, especially with the new weapons. They, in no way, change the gameplay, but are very well designed and finely-tuned to feel incredibly satisfying. Drive-bys with the sawed-off shotguns are the best. Regardless, you will probably stick to whatever makes you happy and you feel most comfortable with.
Without spoiling anything, I will mention quickly that the last third or so of the game approached, as mentioned earlier, my ideal form of GTA gameplay. I enjoyed Nico’s romp through Liberty City as a whole, but my favorite missions in the game were actually outside of the main storyline’s. I can’t remember exactly when, but eventually one unlocks the assassin missions. They are genius in their simplicity and the amount work and strategy you put into them will be matched in reward. You call a mysterious man at a phone booth. He says “Go here, Kill this person.”
How exactly you go about that is up to you. Climb the nearest building and snipe him. Get the rocket launcher and blow him all to hell. Go in guns blazing. Maybe even get a car bomb from Packie and park it where is going to be and do things discreetly…kind of. The freedom offered in those missions was liberating. Rockstar crafted this huge, detailed city yet doesn’t take advantage of it enough. In The Lost and Damned they show signs of redemption as a few missions near the end allow the creative flow I desire. Here’s to hoping they realize their own potential.
How the story fares is really up to how much you want to be a gruffy badass biker. Personally, I dig that shit and am now in the process of acquiring a leather jacket and killer goatee. It’s a story of how far you will go for those you’ve pledged your loyalty. When do things go too far? Who is the real antagonist here? The story tugs at your morality and does so effectively due to the incredible characterization. I fell in love with almost every character. They all come across as real people with real personality traits. The stereotypical shitty videogame voice acting is gone, replaced with Hollywood worthy dialogue. If what is on the surface isn’t enough for you, then explore. Use email, drive around, listen to the radio. Rockstar has added much more than one may think, but I’ll leave that to your own discovery (OMFG NEW REPULICAN SPACE RANGERS EPISODE). There are many ways to get to know everyone and the city itself, so I do advise to take advantage as I don’t believe any game does it better.
The multiplayer is also open to interpretation. I always felt it was out of place and somewhat unorganized. Many of the matches take only a chunk of the city to play on, but that even feels too large. If it’s called multiplayer, then why do I feel so alone? I did happen to enjoy the hog racing as it was very reminiscent of Road Rash, giving the player the ability to smash in other bikers’ skulls. That was very satisfying, but multiplayer may also be where most players really get frustrated with the bike handling. Although improved, it still doesn’t feel good enough. I found myself flying all over the place in almost every mode and since most of the new modes require hog-backing it can really turn one off. The entire time I was playing though, I was wishing it was with friends. Multiplayer in general is better with friends and GTAIV:TLAD seems to serve as a perfect example as a game that almost requires friends for true enjoyment. Only then will one be able to overlook and forgive the many flaws and just have a good time. Also…more co-op Rockstar! Much, much more please.
Overall The Lost and Damned is more than worth the $20 asking price. With an incredibly lovable campaign, bursting with emotion and polish, and lasting around eight hours, the DLC is worth it just for the single-player experience alone. Whether or not you like the multiplayer or not is up to you, but its there regardless and only justifies your purchase even more. Not to mention that loads of radio content, television programming, building interiors, vehicles, weapons, and general pedestrian chatter has been added. Whatever, I just like it for Republican Space Rangers and the meth-babes.
- James D.