At this point in the video game industry, downloadable content (DLC) has become more of an expectation than an unknown. Now, almost every game that hits the market gives players the opportunity to spend extra cash down the road on new content in an attempt to keep their experiences’ fresh and interesting.
We’ve definitely seen our share of overpriced lemons over the years (looking directly at Oblivion’s horse armor) but there have also been several pieces of DLC that have properly balanced their price and content. Games like Burnout Paradise have even continued to keep players coming back with their year-long slew of great, and free, downloadable content. While The Lost and Damned may not be free, its price still seems surprisingly low considering the quality and quantity of content contained within the sizeable twenty dollar expansion pack.
Once again taking players back to the streets of Liberty City, The Lost and Damned tells a story that runs concurrently to the one found in GTA IV. Players will take on the role of Johnny Klebitz, second in command of the motorcycle club The Lost. After a long stint in rehab, former gang president Billy Grey is released and once again takes control over The Lost. The only major problems with this being that Billy has been gone awhile, is a bit (read heavy sarcasm) unstable, and seems to be at constant odds with the more business minded gang Johnny has cultivated in his absence. Looking at these factors, it isn’t difficult to see where the events of this game are going, but it is definitely still worth the ride.
Speaking of rides, as part of a biker gang, you will get to spend a good amount of time on the back of a motorcycle. Thankfully, controlling these two-wheeled vehicles isn’t nearly as painful as it was in GTA IV. Despite feeling slightly less realistic, the steering and handling of motorcycles is much tighter. This allows players to take corners, avoid oncoming vehicles, and skillfully splatter numerous pedestrians with relative ease. Running into obstacles also isn’t as detrimental this time around, since Johnny’s previous riding experience seems to allow him to stay on his bike much better than Niko ever did. The simple act of running into a median, vehicle, light post, et cetera won’t necessarily dislodge Johnny from his motorcycle’s seat. Actually, unless you have a direct collision with an obstacle at a high speed, you’ll likely just spin around and be on your way.
However, if you do manage to take some unexpected spills, get hurt during a mission, or your bike begins to emit smoke, there is an interesting fix. When traveling as a gang, The Lost will attempt to remain in formation when not racing each other to their next destination. Johnny’s desired placement is indicated by a badge on the street. If you can stay above this badge, you’ll regain some health, repair your bike, and be treated to extra dialogue between gang members. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be easier said than done, since remaining within the limits of this badge in the middle of a dozen moving motorcycles that are frequently changing speeds and directions can be incredibly difficult.
Of course, your gang isn’t just along for the scenic rides. Some or all of The Lost will accompany you on most of your missions. This results in some of the largest firefights yet seen in a GTA. These battles can get pretty hectic when there are thirty or more participants spraying all manner of pain at one another. Most of these large gun fights will see the deaths of several members of The Lost but the old adage remains true, “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” After the successful completion of a mission, every surviving gang member will receive a boost to their hardness meters, while the dead are replaced by recruits with minimum hardness levels. The more hardness a character has, the better their skills are, and the more useful they will be during altercations later in the game.
Although this help is usually appreciated, Johnny doesn’t always have the luxury of backup, at least without phoning it in. Whenever he finds himself alone, he’ll need to rely entirely on his own skills, impressive arsenal, and mid-mission checkpoints to survive. That’s right, if you meet with an untimely demise during any mission in The Lost and Damned, you’ll likely restart either at the mission’s opening or directly following an in-mission cutscene. However, this won’t always be necessary, since Johnny seems to handle himself in combat just as well as Niko, with the same melee attacks and a similar aptitude for handling firearms. Despite the similarities, fighting as Johnny still feels fairly unique thanks to his dissimilar arsenal. The Lost’s weapons of choice include the all-new automatic pistol, sawn-off and assault shotgun, grenade launcher, and pipe bombs.
In fact, despite this expansion sharing some of the same plot points, characters, disc in the drive, and the same city, there is just so much that is different that it can often feel like a completely unrelated product. While completing missions, you will frequently catch glimpses of and/or interact with Niko. However, instead of playing alongside him, you’ll be taking on different objectives. In GTA IV, when Niko and Playboy X have a deal go bad due to some undercover cops, Johnny is also present.
The previous characters’ escape involved running for the rooftop, but Johnny’s has players blasting their way out of the front door and evading the police on the back of a bike. This type of interweaving is pretty tastefully done throughout and helps fill in GTA IV’s story, although it can eventually begin to feel like playing a game of “Where’s Niko” when watching cinemas or listening to dialogue.
The look of the expansion has also been slightly modified to make it stand out from its disc-based predecessor. Most of the color choices in the game have been changed, utilizing more reds, grays, and blacks throughout its menus and maps. Even the minimap located in the corner of the screen appears to be covered in scuff marks, accentuating the tough life lived by the expansion’s protagonist. There has also been a noticeable filter applied to the entirety of the game that adds to the game’s gritty nature. Unfortunately, while I understand the intent of this grainy filter and even appreciate it at times, it makes what was an amazing-looking title appear as though it was filmed using a cheap camera in low light.
In addition to its remarkably lengthy single-player experience, which easily provides upwards of ten to fifteen hours of gameplay, The Lost and Damned offers up several multiplayer options as well. The standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Free Mode are all included along with six other newcomers. Club Business is essentially a variant of GTA IV’s Mafiya Work, having players completing numerous random jobs given to them via calls to their cell phones. Own the City involves taking over as much territory as possible by killing its current defenders. Witness Protection pits two teams, one made of The Lost members and the other of N.O.O.S.E. agents, against one another, where the objective is to destroy a bus carrying a state witness or to deliver it safely to a police station, respectively.
Chopper vs. Chopper is an interesting addition as well, with one player driving a motorcycle through checkpoints while the other attempts to destroy this mobile target using an attack helicopter. If the helicopter is successful in annihilating the biker, the two players switch vehicles and continue. The same also occurs when playing in the Lone Wolf Biker mode. Here one player starts out as the target, attempting to make it through checkpoints while evading the other players. Everyone else is attempting to kill the lone biker, which in turn makes them the next target. And perhaps my favorite of the bunch are the Races. This is about as close to the classic game Road Rash as any game has come in probably a decade, having players racing through checkpoints on the backs of motorcycles while brandishing a baseball bat. With a push of a button you can swing it towards the left or to the right, making it rather easy to crack adversaries in the skull while sliding through turns at high speeds.
The sheer amount of content in The Lost and Damned is truly impressive considering its modest twenty dollar asking price. With its lengthy single-player experience that provides a good amount of new content, while also shedding light on some of the events of GTA IV, as well as its enjoyable new multiplayer options, it would be impossible to not recommend this title to fans of the series. Hell, the inclusion of checkpoints in every mission throughout the expansion, avoiding the frustration experienced in GTA IV from having to drive back to every mission after failing, is worth it alone. Actually, the only real downside to this expansion pack, besides perhaps that grainy filter I mentioned earlier, is that it is completely self-contained. None of the new weapons, vehicles, events, mid-mission check points, music, or multiplayer modes carry over to GTA IV. While this would have been an excellent option, it certainly isn’t a deal breaker. Seriously, if you have GTA IV and twenty bucks, what are you waiting for? It isn’t very often that DLC is done this well.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Liberty City and its inhabitants still look great, although a grainy filter makes them slightly less striking this time around. 4.8 Control
Not much has changed here besides the much improved motorcycle handling. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work is top notch, and the additional rock tunes really fit this expansion well. 4.9 Play Value
For all the content that’s included, buying this expansion for twenty dollars should raise your wanted level to at least two stars. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.