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Mar 27, 2009

Review: Grand Theft Auto IV - The Lost and Damned

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Rockstar Games, Rockstar North
Available for Xbox Live

The Lost and Damned is the long awaited first downloadable expansion pack to one of last year’s biggest games, Grand Theft Auto IV. Available for the Xbox 360 only at the present time and costing 1600 Microsoft points ($19.99) it is developer Rockstar’s first attempt on expanding an existing GTA game and redefining what downloadable content can be. The Lost and Damned (TLAD) contains a whole new storyline to be played out within Liberty City introducing new main characters and intertwining its plot with old familiar chums like Niko Belic and his associates. It is essentially a brand new game built on the Liberty City foundation but from a totally different perspective.

TLAD’s plot revolves around the notorious biker gang The Lost whose chapter is based out of the Alderny area of Liberty City. You play as Johnny Klebitz, chapter vice president who despite being a badass biker has a relatively levelheaded demeanour. The gang’s leader the oppositely uneven tempered Billy Grey is soon released from rehab and retakes command of the Lost. Billy’s penchant for wreaking havoc, reviving old wars with rival gangs and butting heads with Johnny over business and pleasure becomes the pivotal plot device of most of the story. TLAD revisits with a few characters from the original game that you will interact and do missions for as well introducing Johnny’s junkie ex girlfriend who’ll be calling him to bail her out of a few bad situations.

Gameplay in TLAD differs somewhat from GTA IV’s original solo storyline, as a gang member you’ll immediately have your brethren riding with you on many of your missions. Later on when you are a gun for hire on the side you can call upon your gang members to provide backup. No self-respecting biker would be caught dead driving in a “cage” so you’ll also be primarily riding one of the various newly introduced chopper motorcycles. Thankfully Rockstar has tweaked the bike handling to be more forgiving so if you hit a curb it doesn’t always result in an immediate face plant. TLAD does a great job of capturing what it is like being part of the rolling thunder of a biker gang riding together and if you stay in formation you’ll be rewarded with boosts to your health.

Along with some new vehicles The Lost and Damned introduces new weapons such as automatic pistols, pipe bombs, grenade launchers and automatic shotguns. You’ll need that new firepower, as the difficulty level on some missions has been definitely amped up. There is also the welcome addition of mid mission save checkpoints so if you do end up dying you don’t have to start the whole mission over again. Playing through TLAD’s main storyline will take the average player about 8 to 10 hours, which is pretty good, but many of the new side missions will extend the experience. New and much more challenging races have been added as well as random gang wars pitting you against many of Liberty City’s syndicates will keep you and your gang busy. Johnny Klebitz can also participate in some unique mini games such as arm wrestling, card playing and air hockey.

Graphically there isn’t much to say about TLAD that already hasn’t been said about GTA IV. As the episode is integrated into what was already a visually stunning game you won’t see much difference aside from a curious visual grainy effect the developers added for some reason. I found this to be distracting and turned it off. The voice acting is superb as usual with some great one-liners being tossed about by the characters, especially the unbalanced Billy Grey. TLAD also features many new songs, shows and DJ banter on the radio. There are also some fresh TV shows to watch; new websites to browse and a new foul mouthed stand up comedian to see at Liberty City’s comedy club.

The multiplayer experience has also been expanded and improved. A better and faster option for getting into multiplayer via your phone and skipping the lobbies is a nice improvement. New modes like Own the City, Club Business and Witness protection offer multiplayer games that are more complex and more fun than simple old school team death match which is still available.

Overall The Lost and Damned squeezes a huge amount of gameplay into the confines of what is available as downloadable content and ranks high in value right up there with games like Portal. It sets an amazing standard for what downloadable episodes can do. It extends the GTA experience and is basically a whole new game at the same time, though it may primarily interest those that have completed GTA IV’s original storyline and are hungry for more.

Rating: 9 out of 10
Buy it!

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