As our second DLC (downloadable content) review, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned is in a prime position to set the benchmark for all DLC packs to follow. There's no denying DLC has become the big thing in gaming, and this year we're going to see a lot of updates on offer.
A little while ago we reviewed our first DLC pack for Fallout 3, Operation Anchorage, and did so based on how much life it breathed into the Fallout 3 package. GTA IV is much like Fallout 3 in that both games offer a robust living, breathing world you can spend hours upon hours in away from the main narrative. Operation Anchorage not only gave gamers a new chapter to play through, but rewarded them with new goodies at the end they could then take into the Wastes and play with as they saw fit.
The Lost and Damned does something similar to Operation Anchorage, but where the Fallout 3 expansion failed in compelling narrative, The Lost and Damned makes up for in spades in as much the same way you're not really given an intense set of tools to reshape your play experience outside of story-telling in The Lost and Damned as you were with Operation Anchorage.
Comparing these two experiences is both important and warranted because they represent the idea games can exist beyond a single buy experience. You don't need to purchase a full sequel if a game's game-world foundations are as solid as the likes of Fallout 3 or GTA IV (there are others too, such as Mass Effect, but I digress). It's what developers can do
with said game-worlds post initial launch that sets their DLC moments apart.
A few stand out factors come into play with GTA IV. Like our review of Operation Anchorage, I'm going to assume you've played enough of GTA IV to know what I'm talking about, but again beware of spoilers here.
During your stint as foreigner Niko Bellic in GTA IV, you were spending a lot of your time familiarising yourself with the newly crafted Liberty City. It was a fitting experience; with Niko being channelled more as an extension of you as much a foreigner in Liberty City as he was. But that's not the case with The Lost and Damned. Here Rockstar North have presumed you know all you need to know about the game-world. So there's very little in the way of tutorial and what is there is only in place for some of the new elements added to the gameplay fray.
You're playing through the game as Johnny, a member of the Liberty City chapter of the motorcycle crew, The Lost. Johnny is Vice president, and has been running things during the absence of chapter president, Billy, who was nabbed by authorities and made to attend a rehab clinic to clean himself up.
Upon Billy's return, however, all of Johnny's hard work patching up rivalries and making his brother's money through business ventures (hey Bikies need to eat, too) is entirely undermineded and we're given an early idea The Lost are going to find themselves lost
with internal struggle. Before anything overtly drastic happens within the walls of The Lost MC though, you are given a few missions that showcase a few of the new major gameplay changes.
These changes consist of being a part of a union of brothers. What this means is even flying solo you can bust out your trusty mobile phone and call team-members for backup. How you perform with your brothers in conflict also determines their progressive strength as a seminal XP system has been implemented to reward you for playing with other Lost brothers at your side. It's an element that is even brought home in the way of travelling. While you'll most certainly be cruising the streets on your own, you're more often than not riding with your crew, and you're equally rewarded with new conversations or impromptu races to your destination for maintaining formation on the road with your brothers.
As a biker, Johnny is also a man of his ride, and his is the sweetest one in all of Liberty City. So sweet in fact, it's the only one of its kind meaning destroying it at any given point in the game will render it lost
to you. Having your own bike changes the way you might approach travel, also. In GTA IV, for example, after a while I ended up just catching cabs to pretty much all my destinations; stealing cars there instead of using them to get there. I did this because a lot of the time failing a mission meant you had to do it from scratch, which often required lengthy driving across town. In The Lost and Damned, however, you're almost always required to be on your bike, and because of its superior handling and speed it's far more enjoyable to ride. The requirement to utilise your own property more is also helped largely by the implementation of new mid-mission markers (or at least markers that set you at the point of the mission without the need for a long and arbitrary commute after a mission failure).
There are also new toys to play with in the way of new weapons. From a number of variations on the shotgun to the new grenade launcher, there's plenty more destruction and chaos to be the progenitor of in The Lost and Damned, and these are obviously a lot of fun to take away from the main narrative and just play with in the base game-world.
So there's more than enough new with The Lost and Damned to keep the experience fresh, and the exclusion of Niko and an overbearing all-encompassing plot spread across and throughout Liberty City (ala Niko's criminal journey and quest for truth) and replaced with an intimate internal struggle between 'brothers' of a motorcycle gang shifts things in the right direction.
The scripting here is much tighter than in GTA IV, and with a central point of focus (instead of attempting to use the expanse of Liberty City), you're almost more obliged to power through the game's narrative over just messing around. Our proantagonist
(get it, he's an anti-hero) is a conflicted soul torn between his rank in the club and his solidarity for his brothers. Johnny has a goal that still includes "sticking it to the man", but he's a more organised and driven character. Though that isn't to say he's not without force and strength. Within the first few missions of The Lost and Damned I'd killed more people than I had halfway through GTA IV with Niko – you are playing a biker, after all.
As such, you can expect your missions to include tasks such as stealing bikes, killing rival gangs, escaping the feds, collecting drug mules or fire-bombing whatever you're tasked to. The whole game feels more anarchic than GTA IV, and you'll end up revelling in the solidarity of the brothers of The Lost you're closest to.
There are still a few issues here and there though. While it's a cool idea to attempt to maintain formation with your brothers on the road, I found myself being knocked around by them just a bit too much. They'll get caught in the environment too, screwing up your attempt at keeping it all neat and tidy. It's not a major problem, but in certain areas of Liberty City it can be the cause of some serious frustration.
I also found myself losing my bike all too often. Whether it was just getting off it and wondering around only to return and find it gone, and no longer at the club house, either. In these instances I usually had to trigger the next mission for my bike to respawn. It's clearly a tech issue, but something that shouldn't happen (especially if you're the sort of person who looked after the bike, like I did). There were also similar visual, frame-rate and screen-tearing problems to what we all encountered with GTA IV, but again these aren't major issues, just points of polish it would have been nice to see addressed.
There's still plenty of cool stuff here, like the new camera view from inside a pursuer's vehicle (one mission has you escaping the feds and you can switch to an internal view of their vehicle and even catch glimpses of their conversation as they chase you), or the intentional shift in hue; the whole game seems grittier and more urban now. Even the inclusion of revamped radio stations (in the form of new segments in between old segments with updated information and quips) sporting loads of new metal, hip hop and rock from Cannibal Corpse and Sepultura to Bathory, Busta Rhymes and more (in fact, there are 54 new songs added to the mix), add to the end-product making it feel like an entirely new game.
There's a stack of new multiplayer options, also. Witness Protection
, for example, has you as a group of bikers attempting to destroy a bus, or as cops trying to protect it. You can partake in racing as you could GTA IV, only this time it's on bikes and with baseball bats at the ready (this mode is pretty fun). Or one of my favourites was Chopper Vs. Chopper
where one player rides through checkpoints on a bike and the other mans a helicopter with a view to stopping the rider. There are more modes as well, such as Lone Wolf Biker
(kill the carrier, only you're on bikes), Own The City
(essentially king of the hill) or Club Business
(the same as Mafia from GTA IV, but with more to do). Even in the multiplayer portion, Rockstar haven't held back.
As far as extending gameplay goes, while Fallout 3's first update only gave around four or five hours of new gameplay (beyond using your new tools in the Wastes), The Lost and Damned offers something in the vicinity of 10 or more hours, depending on your level of skill. Add to all of this a fresh new story, more enjoyable characters, new features, a slightly altered presentation, a robust new set of multiplayer options (plus heaps more) and you definitely have that benchmark for DLC I mentioned earlier.
And this is only the first round of episodic content for GTA IV - where they go from here is anyone's guess.
As it stands, The Lost and Damned adds a lot to an already proven title, and some may argue the meat of The Lost and Damned (its story) tops the off-the-boat antics of Niko Bellic and co. And I'm inclined to agree. For 1600 Microsoft points (roughly AU $26), this really is worth it.