Review: Get lost
It's been a long time coming but the first of Rockstar's Xbox 360-exclusive Grand Theft Auto IV downloadable expansion packs has finally arrived, 10 months after Niko Bellic first stepped ashore onto Liberty City. Not only was The Lost and Damned (TLAD) delayed several months but it came with a surprisingly hefty 1600 point ($20) price tag. So is it worth the wait and price?
As Brucie might say, ?It's alpha, baby!?
Just as Rockstar revolutionized the industry with the open sandbox genre, so too are they revolutionizing console downloadable content with TLAD. This is no mere two-hour tacked-on mini-campaign; this is a huge package that blows away all add-on DLC to date and even rivals full-priced retail games. Simply put, if you loved GTA IV, you will love TLAD.
So what do you get for your $20 and a chunky 1.8GB download? How about a brand new campaign and story, complete with new voiceovers and cutscenes; several new side missions and activities; six powerful new weapons; 17 new bikes and 3 new cars; 54 new songs; six new multiplayer modes; a new stand-up comedy show; and new TV shows including a new episode of Republican Space Rangers. Wow.
You should know right off the bat that while TLAD takes place in the same Liberty City we all know and love, it is completely separate from GTA IV (which has a big downside ? more on this later). You also need your copy of GTA IV in the tray as this is not a standalone expansion pack.
The story parallels GTA IV and revolves around Johnny ?The Jew? Klebitz, Vice President of The Lost Motorcycle Club, as he deals with the disruptive return of the gang's leader, Billy. Johnny has been running the Lost while Billy was in rehab, including making peace treaties with rival gangs. Billy, unfortunately, wants to run things the old fashioned way, i.e. ruling the city with guns and intimidation. This clashes with Johnny's desire to run things more like a business and avoid childish and unproductive conflict.
As the story unfolds, Johnny encounters many characters from GTA IV, including Niko. You may recall a mission in GTA IV where Elizabeta asks Niko and Playboy X to meet a biker to sell a big bag of heroin to some buyers who turn out to be undercover cops. That biker was Johnny, and this time you get to see how things worked out from his perspective. There are also several other instances where Johnny interacts with GTA IV's story, including one very cool mission that will have you smiling. These connections serve to fill in several gaps from GTA IV's story and make for an interesting journey ? a good thing since the overall story in TLAD is average at best.
The problem with the story is Johnny himself ? he's really not likeable and as a result, you can't connect with him emotionally. He's a gruff, hard-edged biker as you might expect, but he's also a jerk. This is in stark contrast to Niko, who despite some of the nasty things he does, is actually a good-natured person you wouldn't mind having as a friend. When Niko is happy, you laugh with him and when he's sad, you share his pain. With Johnny, you really don't care, which is a shame. There were some golden opportunities for his character to show some humanity when dealing with his tragically drug-addicted ex-girlfriend Ashley, but he just comes across as a typical biker goon. On the plus side, the voice acting is top notch throughout; I just wish the writing and directing took better advantage of the actors' talents.
Story aside, the campaign is classic GTA IV ? in other words, it's a blast. The missions seem to be more heavily action-based so make sure you warm up your trigger finger. This is a plus since you have plenty of opportunity to play with the six new weapons, including pipe bombs, a fully automatic 9mm pistol, a grenade launcher (very handy for taking out enemies cowering behind cover), a powerful double-barreled sawed-off shotgun, and the devastating automatic assault shotgun. This last weapon is used in one of the most fun missions where you are riding on the back of a motorcycle blasting police cars (and even helicopters) chasing you. It's a very fun rail shooter segment made even better with a powerful weapon, unlimited ammo and dozens of cop cars eager to run you down.
While you could breeze through the campaign missions in 8-10 hours, there are many optional side quests like stealing motorcycles (sort of like Stevie's car collection missions in GTA IV), doing dirty jobs for a sleazy congressman, engaging in gang wars, hunting down pesky seagulls and racing your bike in classic Road Rash fashion, where you and your AI opponents can smash each other in the face with baseball bats. Cool!
You can also participate in new activities like arm wrestling, a card game and air hockey ? but don't get too excited. The arm wrestling requires you to jiggle the right stick as fast as you can, to the point where you wouldn't be surprised if it snapped off in your hand. The card game is a simple affair where you wager on whether the next card dealt is higher or lower than the one on the table ? and yes, it's about as challenging (and dull) as it sounds. Air hockey is fun, but the jerky imprecise paddle movement means you'll end up scoring on yourself more than against your opponent.