Grand Theft Auto 4: The Lost and Damned (360) – Review

gta-iv-the-lost-and-damnedcoverThe Lost and Damned is the first "episodic" content for Grand Theft Auto 4 (with promise of at least one more episode).  As downloadable content, the addon describes simultaneous events in Liberty City with those in the main game, but now from from the perspective of one of the side characters, a leader of a old-fashioned motorcycle club, with his path crossing that of Niko several times.  While the game does little to change the standard mission approach from GTA4, it does toss in a few new gameplay elements, weapons, and other features to make it a worthwhile download for its high cost.

Story: B

The Lost and Damned describes a concurrent series of events that occur during the same time as the original GTA4 missions, but now focused on one of the side characters, Johnny Khiltbiz, at the start the vice president of a motorcycle gang, "The Lost".  As the game opens, "The Lost" is meeting their president, Billy, who has left rehab and is rejoining the club, but soon tensions between members cause Billy to get arrested again and the club split over Johnny’s leadership, with several of the members splittering off to try to refound the gang in their image. Johnny and those few loyal to him must work to regain "The Lost"’s respect by joining with newer gangs to gain numbers and firepower to take over.  Along the way, the story intersections with Niko’s actions and several other characters from the main game helping to fill in some of the backstory for the character.  However, at times, some of these seem forced, like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  It’s not a bad attempt but it does feel like it was done much later after the Niko storyline was fleshed out.

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Gameplay: B+

The core fundamentals of GTA4 remain unchanged in the expansion; it’s still mission based with lots of possible side missions, so there’s not much change there.  A few new weapons have been added, as well as the ability to use a shotgun while riding a motorcycle, and as you can expect this leads to several missions that involve gunfights while riding your chopper through the streets.  As part of the motorcycle gang, an added feature includes staying in formation as you ride to checkpoints, leading to small health boosts as long as you keep it.  You’ll also gain the help of your gang through your cell phone to bring you a bike where ever you are or to bring about a weapons van.  Additionally, on several missions, you can optionally call up two members to provide backup, and while this is a nice addition, this also makes some of the game too easy to complete.  For example, one mission requires you to flush out an abandoned house by tossing a grenade in the front window, causing them to flee out the back, which makes it difficult to shoot them all down, but if you were to call your friends to help, they’ll automatically cover the back for you, making the mission much much easier.  Overall, the difficulty is really easy compared to GTA4 – though just hard enough to avoid making it a cakewalk.  You get a lot of ammo for the new weapons early in the game, and this will probably tide you over until the last handful of missions, but by which point you have enough money to buy weapons, ammo, and armor to keep you going for the rest of the game.  Otherwise, the game still has the same problems with the original GTA4 in that it is still the "follow the GPS to this location and do something" approach.

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Two new types of side missions are available in the game.  The first is a series of races on motorcycles with the aid of baseball bats to knock off your opponents, which reminds me a lot of Full Throttle.  The second is a series of gang wars across Liberty City, where you need to take out a number of rival gang members on bikes to vie for control of the city.  Both are sensible additions to the game and work well with the concept of a bike gang. There’s also some new multiplayer modes that are added with the game that are centered around bike gangs, including races, operating cooperatively to complete missions across the city, and one which pits a player on a motorcycle verses one on a helicopter.

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Value/Replayability: A-

The game adds about 20 new missions and took me about 8 hours to complete; judging by the side missions, there’s probably another 4 to 5 hours there.  Given that full-price titles may only provide this much in new gameplay, this feels like a pretty good deal.  I’d have liked to seen some new variety in the game, but its still hard to argue that cost.

Graphics: A-

The game, by default, applies a grainy-film filter to the output to make it look like an older 70’s movie, but I found this more distracting than not and had turned it off. There also seems to be a slightly different renderer used that made some distance features look like a Monet painting, but I couldn’t easily compare this to the as-shipped GTA4.  Otherwise, the game is still as nice as the original game looked.

Audio: A

The add-on brings more music and radio talk shows to the game as well as additional TV programs, so there’s a lot of different tunes (but for some reason, I kept hearing "Highway Star" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" a lot more than I thought I would have.)  Otherwise, the rest of the audio work is up to the same standards as the original game.

Overall: B+

The Lost and Damned expansion for GTA4 is pretty much a must-have if you enjoyed the game, and does represent a good way to provide additional content while we patiently wait for a new full-fledged sequel, better than the previous attempts (the two PSP-cum-PS2 games, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories).  Mind you, as the game does not vary much from the core GTA4 gameplay style, you may find it simply to be more of the same, and not worth your time.  But in terms of gameplay, it does provide a lot more than other retail games out there and is worth the price it’s given.

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