GTAIV: The Lost and Damned Review
Game publishers have tried for years to find an effective way to deliver expansion packs for console games. We've had second discs, partial hard drive installs, and other gimmicks, but so far nothing has seemed to really stick. And it's not helped recently, seeing quite a few publishers charge $5, $10, or even more for tiny add-ons that offer very little in the way of new gameplay. So if you were a little skeptical giving Rockstar $20 for their GTAIV episode, The Lost and Damned, I don't blame you.
But this is a true expansion pack, folks. It's got hours and hours of new gameplay with a full set of its own characters, missions, activities, music, and more. About the only thing they didn't expand on was the exterior of Liberty City itself; just about everything else here has new elements that the developers have painstakingly added here and there. You play as Johnny Klebitz, the Vice President of The Lost Motorcycle Club. If the gang's name is familiar, it's because Niko Bellic had a bit of a run in with one of their members relatively early on in GTAIV (and yes, as Johnny you'll meet up with Niko here). Anyway, Johnny's got his own problems: namely Billy Grey, the gang's President, who has just returned from a year-long stint in rehab. He almost ruined the whole thing on the way into rehab, and while Johnny has shrewdly been building The Lost's stature since Billy almost tore the gang apart, Billy now seems to be picking up right where he left off as they both clash over leadership of the gang.
Still, you won't be spending your whole time under Billy's thumb. The members of The Lost often work together to further a wide range of goals, but they're still their own bosses most of the time so Johnny winds up flying solo or running his own crew for quite a few missions. That being said, there is something cool and unique riding in mid-formation of a pack of motorcycles, and you'll actually regenerate health (a plus for those combat-heavy missions with multiple stops) when you stay in place with the rest of the crew on their bikes.
So this is the overall feel of The Lost and Damned - Johnny is tough but not invincible, witty and funny but not so much to break that hardened exterior, and he's in a tough spot in trying to deal with Billy. Then there's his ex-girlfriend, Ashley, who he's trying to swear off of due to her recurring addiction to meth. There's a lot of great story here, and it probably feels just a bit more familiar to many gamers than Niko's fresh-off-the-boat story of Eastern Europeans, mixed up with the Russians, in trying to make it in America.
It helps that Johnny doesn't have to do tutorial missions, or be rewarded with something as trivial as a basic phone; sure, Johnny can call up his pals for some of those same activities Niko had to take his friends out on, but Johnny doesn't have to do that for those perks that Niko had to work to get. Right from the start, he can call up Clay to have a motorcycle brought out directly to him (which is handy, considering most missions require you to be behind handlebars instead of a steering wheel), or have some guns delivered to the safehouse or in the back of a van around the corner.
Somewhere, someone right now is hating the idea that Lost and Damned has so much damned time spent on motorcycles. It's hard to forget how many times we've all gone careening off of a PCJ while trying to chase down some idiot in a number of bikes-required Grand Theft Auto missions, but it's a little different this time. First, Johnny Klebitz only rides a crotch rocket if he absolutely has to (as in, stealing it). Otherwise, you're on a bigger beast that doesn't catch air or lose control quite as easily. But you'll also find that Rockstar has subtly tweaked the motorcycle handling to allow Johnny to more easily take sharp turns and stay on his bike much better, even in a 40+mph collision. No, it's not as safe as riding in a car - if someone's shooting at you, you're still pretty susceptible to taking direct health damage, even on the bike, and you'll fly off a Hexxer at much lower speeds than the lowest speed required to go careening out of a car's front windshield - but it's still a lot easier than those chaotic bike missions of the past.
It does help that Rockstar has wisely changed their years-old design decisions and now includes mid-mission checkpoints. Sure, when you die you'll still reappear at the hospital with some money gone from your pockets, but now when you use your phone to retry, you'll usually pop back to the start of the last big action scene you had to do. This can save you hours worth of wasted time and a lot of aggravation - and it was probably tempting for Rockstar, too, to leave this feature out to artificially make Lost and Damned seem like a longer game. But they didn't, and I'm glad they finally got on board with some kind of checkpoint system. Yeah, overall the game is quite a bit easier than past GTA games because of it, but I imagine that Rockstar probably had some interesting data on the percentage of people who played GTAIV for many hours but never finished it, and decided to finally make a change to ensure more people finish their game this time around.
What you won't find is a huge jump in mission variety. For those who have been complaining about yet another GTA mission where you drive, meet someone, get into a fire fight, then chase him down and kill him to end it, well, The Lost and Damned isn't exactly going to win any "Innovation in Gameplay" awards in their eyes. But there are a few gems in these missions, and a lot of them are spruced up by the new things added to the game: the music, the vehicles, the arm-wrestling mini-game, a good set of new weapons (like a fully automatic pistol, pool cue, sawed-off shotgun that you can fire on foot or from your bike, or a grenade launcher), and more all add up to feeling like it's fully another story that just happens to take place in the same city as GTAIV. It won't last as long as Niko's adventure, but by the end few will feel like they paid too much for Rockstar's latest release.
Jumping into multiplayer will certainly help extend that replay value, as there are six new modes to play online. Most of these revolve around racing bikes, and in a great homage to the classic EA racing-action game Road Rage, you'll be able to race motorcycles and hit each other with bats at the same time. But there's also the Chopper vs Chopper mode (helicopter vs motorcycle), Club Business (an extension of Mafia mode), Own the City which has gang wars popping up around the city for control of the map, and more. Some of this stuff is based on the new action available in the single player game, but it all works pretty damn well online. That being said, this is not a dedicated multiplayer shooter, so if GTAIV didn't pull you away from games like Call of Duty or Halo, then this expansion is likely going to be only a short distraction at best.
But that's alright - for a $20 add-on, you get a lot for your money with The Lost and Damned. The quality of the acting, cutscenes, story, and missions is just as good as in GTAIV, and the convenience of not having to switch discs is handy. Do be aware that if you still have the old 20GB hard drive in your 360 and like having whatever game you're playing copied to the hard drive, well, this expansion takes up its fair share of space (about 1.5GB in total). So clear up some room on your 360's HDD if you need to - either way, it's worth the effort. The Lost and Damned is definitely one of the better console expansion packs I've seen in quite a while.