A quality performance marred by gunplay balance and plot issues.
I had a hard time articulating my feelings while playing it, having really loved GTAIV and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Lost and Damned starts off interestingly enough, with The Lost Motorcycle Gang receiving their leader now released from prison and heroin free. Things quickly return to old news as Johnny Klebitz (that's you) has to deal with everybody's bullshit. Luckily he's got a few good friends in the MC to back him up, namely the exceptionally likeable Jim.
The gameplay is largely unchanged from GTAIV which I don't mind at all. Again I rather had fun shooting in GTAIV because nothing about that game's difficulty pushed the combat beyond what it could do. Sadly not the case with Lost and Damned. Sure enough there are a few missions that flow just as well as GTAIV and make you feel the fun as intended. However what stands out after the fact is how many times I had to redo certain missions because there were too many enemies, I didn't have enough armor, health was a pain to replenish, or I got caught in the wrong spot. I understand failing once but that game was pushing itself by the 5th or 10th retry. Luckily the re-do system is intact, that is you simply pick the option from your cell phone and you resume from the last checkpoint. I had this luxury in GTAIV however so it didn't feel like a relief to have in Lost and Damned and even instantaneous re-dos wouldn't fixed the fundamental issue.
The gameplay that did feel satisfying was the riding mechanic. Being a biker gang, you get the opportunity to ride around with your posse. That means either trailing Billy or being your own leader and leading the pack to a mission. These moments feel truly compelling and the part unique to Lost and Damned. In addition you can call for backup from Clay and Terry making missions not only easier to complete but also feeling connected to the gang.
But what about the the story? The characters and plot arcs are what make games like GTAIV shine. Does the Lost and Damned take full advantage of them? Unfortunately not. Where Luiz and Niko's story feel complete, I can't think of a single story arc in Lost and Damned that felt complete and satisfactory. The game introduced an element but seemingly cut it off at what seems like a half-way point. The biggest problem being that characters are introduced but just disappear and you're left with a sentence at the most about what happened to them. You apparently work for Elizabeta and Ray but then they just disappear. Why? Johnny stresses "business" at the very beginning of the game but it's never said that The Lost need money. Likewise the best supporting character, Jim,
Related to this is the gripe I had with the introduction. It's the same problem but in reverse. I felt like I came into the second-half of a story without knowing anything about the first. Unlike Niko and Luiz where you get everything you need to know about these characters and their world, you just plopped into the middle of this one. Who are The Lost? Why was Billy arrested in the first place? Why is his former drug habit just shooed away without nary a mention later? What about the other chapters in the city? How come I never meet any of them? What's our beef with the Angels of Death MC? What about the racial politics of the bikers? Why does Ashely's meth buying and using happen off camera? Why and who set Billy up? What connection does Brian have? I want to know but the game never tells me.
While gunplay and plot were a disappointment as compared to GTAIV or Ballad of Gay Tony, I'm not going to gloss over the best part of this side-story: the cutscenes. The voice and character acting is as good as any entry in Rockstar's catalogue, with well written dialogue and competently animated scenes. This makes every non-gameplay sequence a delight to watch. None of the characters are slouches or poorly executed in dialogue, making the desire to know more that much more painful. While not all the characters are memorable, some stand out and shine as the best of the bunch. Like I said before, Jim is a wonderful character; straightforward and trustworthy, he's the true companion of Johnny. Not to mention he's Hispanic which in addition to Clay's representation as a black man makes The Lost feel progressive, unique, and another element the plot unfortunately could have explored but didn't. Ashely is an almost perfect portrait of a drug addict. Wants to get clean, has heart, loves you and this time man I swear I'll be good but it never works out. They never seem to pull out of the rags and it's really tragic. Billy is the charismatic leader and boy it shows. He's articulate but unpredictable, having that air of being a know-it-all but with the ugliness to enforce it. Thomas Stubbs is a politician looking to use Johnny as muscle but the brilliance is that he strikes that balance between morally reprehensible and admirable in character. He's honest about his sleaze and politician-ness and he does keep his word when helping out Johnny. Johnny is arguably the weakest as his motivations aren't terribly clear and he just seems to reiterate that the gang is falling apart. That and he never really expresses what the dynamic of the gang was like before and after Billy came back except at the very end kinda.
The gameplay of GTAIV while fun at its best, really don't' stand on its own and take a back seat to the real reason GTAIV and its expansions matter: character stories in a satisfyingly real world. The Lost & Damned has some balance issues with the combat pushing it over the edge into "not really that fun" and the half-way plots rob the legitimately well written and acted characters of any satisfying story they could have had. I couldn't help but feel like with a bit of tweaking in the gameplay and properly tying up story threads, this could have been as good as anything in the main game or Ballad of Gay Tony.