To live again in Liberty City... (TLAD)
It’s a bit weird how this generation has introduced the inclusion of downloadable content, as on the one hand it theoretically allows games to be expanded in fantastic ways, but on the other hand companies like Namco Bandai and Electronic Arts have made DLC rear its ugly head. Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned not only proves a good justification for the existence of DLC, but also expands on the idea of what DLC can really do and sets a lead that all other developers and publishers should follow in the future of video games.
The Lost and Damned run’s concurrently with the story of Niko Belic in the vanilla version of Grand Theft Auto 4. You play as Johnny Klebitz who is vice president of the Motorcycle gang The Lost whom played a fairly minor role in the grand scheme of Niko Belic’s story. The game introduces itself by the president of The Lost Billy Grey being released from prison. After which The Lost along with Johnny take Billy back to the club house and Billy starts to take command of the gang again. However Johnny always takes a much more political perspective to the gang trying to make the gang function as a profitable adventure as well as limiting and assessing risks with stuff like drugs, police, and other gangs, while Billy on the other hand is a carefree biker which follows a “do whatever you want attitude” to the gang. Eventually these two different viewpoints of the gang clash and tensions between Billy and Johnny start to build, and eventually the story progress with this tension to a much larger level. Like with Niko’s story in Grand Theft Auto 4 there are a lot of themes to be taken out of the story such as the use of drugs, the concept of why people join gangs, and where crime leads you. There is no real happy ending to the Lost and Damned similar to vanilla Grand Theft Auto 4, and it kind of makes you wonder if Rockstar has something to say about as a whole.
Characterization has probably been the biggest focus of Rockstar in this version of as we seen with Niko and his friends and enemies, and it’s no different in The Lost and Damned that Johnny and the rest of the gang comes off as realistic and believable personalities. Though Johnny Klebitz serves as a sharp contrast to Billy’s anarchist manner, he’s certainly no pacifist or pencil pusher. He’ll shoot, swear, insult, torture, and steal if he needs to or if he wants to, but he also has a bit of a humane side to him as well as a bit of a concerned side, in one scene Billy is looking for his bike and he and Johnny interrogate this bike dealer for where it is, after Johnny tortures him for the information Billy hits the dealers face with a hammer and kills him. While going out Johnny says “You didn’t need to do that, he told us where the bike is.” And it’s that sort of contrast that makes Johnny an inherently more interesting character when he is among a gang that for the most part does whatever they want to do. Among Johnny and Billy there are a handful of other new characters such as Ashley who is a heroin addicted former girlfriend of Johnny, Jim who is Johnny’s closest friend, and a pair of African American bikers who ride Japanese sports bikes in contrast to The Lost’s choppers. There are some returning characters that are more fleshed out like Ray Bochinno, and Elizabeta. It’s probably not as much as the personalities that make these people interesting as their interaction between one another. The discussions Johnny has to other people whether in cutscene or while riding on bike is really well written and powerful in a way that most other games don’t do. Everyone finishing Lost and Damned will probably take away a quote from one of the lines the characters speak and it will probably make you think about it for a long time, and that’s when you realize the quality of writing Rockstar has.
In terms of the “cannon” of The Lost and Damned, the story is running concurrently with Niko Belic’s story and what’s interesting is, is that the story of The Lost does not seem shoehorned to fit into the story of Niko Belic. Some minor plot holes in the original GTA4 such as how you killed a member of The Lost, only to work with them the next day as Niko are filled perfectly with the story line of The Lost. The Lost and The Damned also shows you how some of the events in the original GTA4 happened, such as the diamonds, the heroin, down to some very specific touches such as why Ray Boccino was pissed off at you with a gun to your head one day when you entered into his restaurant as Niko Belic. It’s so well executed in filling those gaps, that it gives you a much bigger picture of the world of than before, and might even incentives you to play the original GTA 4 all over again.
The gameplay and mission design of The Lost and Damned is still very similar to the core Grand Theft Auto design, but with some noteworthy changes from Grand Theft Auto 4’s formula. Basically all your friends are unlocked from the get go and all with friends benefits such as discount guns, you can even call up someone to give you free bikes wherever you are. Relationships are far more low maintenance compared to that of original Grand Theft Auto 4. Basically throughout the whole Lost and Damned, you probably will not be called up to go eating or bowling, at least not as frequently as that of the original. You can still call them up to hang out with the included option of a somewhat mediocre air hockey game, but you will probably be calling them up more for the dialog than anything else, even then this is purely optional in the entire scope of the add-on. You still follow the main basic mission design of “go here, kill that dude, maybe chase him a bit”, but it also offers a bit more Variety than that. For instance you aren’t by yourself most of the time this time around, later in the game you get the ability to call up members of your gang and have them help you out in some missions, and it’s actually a little more scripted and complex than adding “bots”. Sometimes they will set themselves in an area where you have to lure who you have to kill in an ambush of where your gang members are, which is pretty cool. In addition, you are also given a couple of new weapons to play with that feel distinctly new, such as the grenade launcher, automatic shotgun, and automatic pistol. The missions are also a bit less frustrating because there is a new checkpoint system which if you die; you have the option to start relatively closely to where you died. These changes and additions make gameplay aspects a little less frustrating and more streamlined than the original Grand Theft Auto 4, which in many ways make it more fun to play.
Of course being in a biker gang, you will ride mean metal choppers. If you hated the bikes in the original GTA 4, you should give this game a shot because of some of the physics changes of the bikes. Specifically with the choppers, they handle more smoothly than the previous bikes in the GTA4, in addition and most importantly, it’s harder to crash your bike and wipe out though it’s entirely possible if you run headlong into a wall. In fact, these bikes handle so well, you might have trouble entering back into a normal car after playing The Lost and The Damned. There are also some neat gameplay diversions involving with the bikes including the “gang formation” mini game while you’re riding with The Lost which will increase your health and amour if you are in the right place at the right time with your gang. On occasion, your gang might challenge you to a race to the mission point, which does a lot more to drive the gameplay than running from point A to point B in classical Grand Theft fashion.
So what can I say about the audio? I can start by saying it’s nothing short of phenomenal. The voice acting is really good and natural, as Johnny has this sort of growl in his tone as well as moments of American sarcasm. Billy Grey just fits perfectly as during some of the tense moments between Johnny and Billy, he would just have this perfect yelling volume and tone that matches his violent psychotic behavior. The voice actor doing Ashley does a great job playing the powerful role of the drugged out girl.
Considering the subject matter, you will most likely lean towards the Liberty Rock Hardcore which gives a very grungy and dirty vibe to the game that perfectly suits the American biker gang motif. If the Hardcore station is too heavy for you, the new and improved Liberty Rock Radio which contrary to popular opinion is the official radio station of this game. Almost every single chopper you take, it will automatically switch to the Liberty Rock Radio station, and for good reason. The Liberty Rock Radio station or LRR in the original Grand Theft Auto was more light rock with songs such as “Cry” or “Street Kids”, and LRR in Lost and Damned is a fair bit more heavier, yet not as heavy as the Hardcore station. The song selection is just ingenious as they don’t only fit with their musical tone, but some even seem to be hand picked for their lyrics. AC/DC’s Touch Too Much, Jefferson Starship’s Jane have a great tone to accent the game with roaring electric guitars, and some have bone chilling lyrics that fit the game like Run to The Hills from Iron Maiden, and Highway Star from Deep Purple. But there is one song that stands above the rest in the entire soundtrack of GTA4, and that is Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive. The lyrics, the tone, the pacing they all just fit perfectly within the context of the biker gang concept, it’s almost as if the game was built around this song, or the song was built around the game, it’s just beautiful. In any case, when you combine this with the original GTA4’s soundtrack, you have something that rivals any Grand Theft Auto series soundtrack.
In terms of visual enhancements, nothing more has been done to the games graphics than a grainy filter effect. While GTA 4 still looks visually impressive even with its little quirks, it’s when the little things come together that the overall presentation becomes phenomenal. When your just riding your bike in the rain, with the film grain on, the members of your gang on your sides, and Bon Jovi’s Wanted, Dead or Alive comes on, it gives such an engrossing experience that very few games match, and it just makes something as simple as driving a more engaging and memorable experience.
Now the question on everyone’s mind is, is it worth it? As being one of the most expensive pieces of downloadable content on the marketplace today, I can thoroughly say in short… Yes it is. The game is about 12-15 hours and it can be even longer than that if you stop to sniff the roses and do more of the side mission stuff and terrestrial events like gang war where you kill rival bikers, and a tribute to the 1991 game Road Rash where you race on bikes while having a bat to whack other bikers off their bike in a violent fashion. Not only that, you get top notch production values like voice acting, soundtrack, and so much more. If you liked GTA 4 or even if you didn’t, Lost and Damned is a great way to reinvigorate or rediscover the world of Liberty City.
(Note: there is a multiplayer mode, but because it is seemingly devoid of life, the reviewer recommends that you purchase the DLC only on the basis of singleplayer only.)