In The Lost and Damned, you’ll play as Johnny Klebitz, the vice-president of a once civil bike gang. All of his attempts at maintaining a peaceful, prosperous biker gang go to hell when the president, Billy Grey, is released from rehab and decides to throw a 40oz at common sense. If you thought it was weird that Grand Theft Auto 4 tried so hard to make you sympathize for the sociopath Niko Bellic, then you’re in luck because this game is filled with certifiably despicable jerks that you’d never want to run into. But I like that; to see these characters act as the goons they are and not try to rescue an orphanage or visit us from Mars or some other nonsense. There are a couple instances of the story intersecting with the main game, hilariously so at one point. The ending has a similar problem from the main game in that it comes out of nowhere without any build or rising tension, though it doesn’t feel as cheap or underhanded. Otherwise, an interesting and fairly unique plot.
So here’s the reason I disappoint my PS3-loving friends and extended family by depriving them the chance to gun me down in virtual Liberty City Survivor deathmatches and getting the Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto 4. Not that I typically pin any high hopes on downloadable content; most of the time these extra packs comprise of items ripped right off the disc. Which is, in essence, what The Lost and Damned is; you’re still in doing the same chase missions, gun battle missions and waste of time seagull hunt that you did in Grand Theft Auto 4.
It’s just also that I’m not used to downloadable content having such extended production values. All of the story sequences and in-game dialogue have the same high standard of voice-acting and script-writing of past games. There are a handful of new TV shows and radio songs, with a new episode of Republican Space Rangers worth the price of admission alone. And the developers at Rockstar North are continuously on the lookout for new and innovative ways to offend people. The contents of The Lost and Damned include; bikers, their crack-babies, a drug mule, a Howard Stern parody, pipe bombs, and a politician hanging out with his polygonal wang out. None of which are particularly shocking, though I find it funny that people find a virtual penis cutscene to be any kind of a big deal. Anyone that’s been in a gym change room shouldn’t be phased whatsoever.
The main game missions are more of the same; you have gunfights, you sometimes chase down people in locomotives, you run from cops, etc. You just now have the added context of doing everything as part of a bike gang. Prior to certain missions, the game will kindly ask you to follow proper biker gang etiquette and ride in formation, i.e. at the back of the line. You get body armour bonuses and the chance to hear your crew converse amongst themselves for doing so. A faux attempt at building a sense of camaraderie to be sure, as The Lost just don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to get to their destination when following formation. I was more thrilled when one of my brothers would proclaim that it was time to drop the hammer and RACE to your desired destination/deal/hit, and drop these false ideas of me wanting to conform to their non-conformist ways.
Speaking of group, I should at least give the game credit for trying its hardest to play on the biker theme, even if I didn’t want to play along. In your biker hideout, you can play a new and trivial arm-wrestling game and a silly high-low card game, or invite your new friends over to the bowlerama and play the new air hockey mini-game, which further proved to me that people shouldn’t try to make air hockey video games. You can summon your buddies at any time, sometimes in ways that change the dynamic of individual missions…you’ll know which ones because your friend Jim will be sure to text you every time and let you know that CLAY and TERRY (and not necessarily Jim himself) are eager to help. In another attempt to build a bond with your digital brothers for life, there’s some kind of Fire Emblem-style gang-mate experience system that strikes me as useless; the more you use members, the more “hard” they become and thus the more potent in combat they are. However, when they die, they stay dead, and live on as a portrait on a wall in the hideout. But being as they’re quickly replaced, the game gives the player little incentive to flinch at a gangster’s passing.
On the opposite end of the scratched poker chip, biking has been tweaked to allow more theme-friendly notions, such as “you won’t fall off the bike every time you run into a small rock” and “the ability to wield a sawn-off shotgun while driving, with surprising accuracy and no problems reloading.” At any time, you can call CLAY and he’ll drop off a new bike at your location. Likewise, calling TERRY will thrust the soul of Little Jacob into Terry as he comes to your location to sell weapons. And there’s two new, strictly-optional but still obnoxious attempts at artificially lengthening the game and give Xbox Achievment-craving psychos some petty new goals to aim for.
“Gang wars” consist of going to a certain area and dealing with waves upon waves of rival bikers. When you played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, did you ever think it was odd that the Ballas gang had seemingly hundreds of armed members? You know, enough to actually populate San Andreas or wage a turf war on ? Well the rival gang, the Angels of Death, seem to have the same over-recruitment problem. The less annoying sub-game is the motorcycle races, in part because they not-so-subtly rip off an older game by giving you a baseball bat in which to administer road-induced rashes on your enemies.
I’m a little torn about the new multiplayer options. I shouldn’t complain about getting new multiplayer options because the amount of content given to the game’s single-player mode is already pretty flabbergasting. I like the bike races because it’s the closest we’re getting to Road Rash Online anytime soon. “Own The City” comprises of two teams striving to control as much territory as possible, and the mode is surprisingly balanced. A careful player, if given the chance to get away with it, can pick off each AI defender of a territory and score his team some of that precious turf that gangs love to fight about. “Witness Protection” either has you playing as the cops protecting a bus filled with snitches, or as bikers trying to off them. This mode is anything but balanced; the bus has so much armor that there’s not really much a point in trying to damage it, but the moment a snitch gets off the bus to get into a station, there’s nothing stopping a biker car from running over the sucker and scoring easy points. My biggest issue with the multiplayer is that no matter what happens, I have to play as whatever biker or cop the game tells me to. This is the same problem I have with Halo making me play as an armoured troop, or Call of Duty making shoving me into the body of a soldier. Is it thematically correct? Yes. But there’s nothing thematically correct or realistic about the very concept of human versus human deathmatches, so please give me the option to run wild with whatever avatar I’d like to make. At least Grand Theft Auto 4 gave me the chance to customize my ordinary human being avatar a bit.
All but ignoring the redundant gang wars and racing, I managed to get an impressive 7 hours out of this expansion, which is more than most $60 games (and what more $60 should actually strive for). If you bought the “wrong” version of Grand Theft Auto 4, then you need not panic and rush out to get an Xbox copy. But that said, the gameplay is still enjoyable, the story is interesting, it’s much stronger than pretty much any single piece of “downloadable content” available on the Xbox, and you won’t feel ripped off, so pick it up if the chance presents itself.