Its been a while now since Grand Theft Auto IV released, and much of the hype surrounding the title has died down, not to mention that some of the more frustrating elements have become more obvious.
That means it's the perfect time for something new, and that’s where the Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned downloadable content comes into it. Microsoft paid a bundle to ensure this content was exclusive to the Xbox 360, and the real concern is if the investment was worthwhile, or if this is another example of gamers being encouraged to pony up for worthless DLC.
Fortunately, from the moment you delve into The Lost and Damned you will notice the high level of quality that we have become accustomed to from Rockstar. Sure, this is still Grand Theft Auto IV, but even from the early stages it feels surprisingly refreshing, although this could have something to do with how long its been since we last booted up Grand Theft Auto IV.
Niko Bellic is no longer the main protagonist; instead we step in to the shoes of Johnny Klebitz, the co-president of The Lost motorcycle gang in Liberty City. This is a difficult period for the gang - the president of The Lost, Billy Grey, has just been released from prison, and seems to want to drag The Lost into some dangerous business. Johnny is a more balanced character than Niko ever was, and not only does he act as a counterweight to Billy Grey’s anger, he also seems to be the brains behind The Lost.
The story follows Johnny as he participates in the day to day activities of the gang. The plot runs parallel to that of Niko, and there are several moments where missions you undertake tie in with those from the original game. Unlike the original Grand Theft Auto IV you won’t spend much of your time running around after others, as you're now in a position of authority and instead must co-ordinate gang activities and ensure your gang is kept in tow to help you complete missions.
Thankfully, gone are the irritating phone calls requesting you take a friend to a pub or for a game of pool, and now you can increase your rating with your gang simply by rolling with them, be it getting them to back you up in a fire-fight or in a hit on a rival gang.
The story is well told and pretty exciting, although it won’t appeal to everyone due to the rougher elements that have been included. Then again, if you already own Grand Theft Auto IV you won't be any stranger to videogame violence. It is a very different tale to that of Niko Bellic however, as there is much less frustration than in the original due to various tweaks that have been added.
The Lost and Damned's UI has been updated slightly to reflect the gritty nature of the biker culture. Visually too, a filter has been put in to make Liberty City appear seedy and rough, which suits the heavy metal lifestyle inherent in The Lost. This really helps to set the mood, and although many people will cry about the inclusion of a filter, it simply wouldn’t have the same atmosphere without it.
Rockstar have also finally included check-points during missions just before the action starts. This means much less traipsing around the game world when you fail a mission, although several times we found ourselves restarting a mission without enough armour or the right weapons, which was very frustrating. Also, games are now saved after successful missions, and you do not necessarily need to return to The Lost clubhouse to save your game.
When the story runs dry or you feel like a change, there are motorbike races throughout the city for you to take part in, as well as gang wars which will enhance the skills of your gang members. There are also a number of jobs you can complete, such as stealing bikes from other gangs to make money.
Each time you call your gang out to help you complete a mission for The Lost, the members who take part in the fight will gain experience which can improve the weapons they handle as well as their total health and overall skill levels. Heading to gang battles will quickly increase these skills, but you always run the risk of losing one of your members if you aren’t careful enough. When this happens they will be replaced by a new recruit, who will start without any experience. Unfortunately the battles themselves don’t feel as though you have very much control over the safety of your gang, and really the pressure is simply on to shoot as many gang members as fast as possible to protect your gang, and this doesn’t always go according to plan.
Rockstar have included a host of new content to make the DLC even more worthwhile. The bike physics have been updated in the game to suit the range of new motorcycles that have been included, one of which is Johnny’s own and only appears once in the game. The updated bike physics will see you swiftly master the bikes, and you’ll be darting through traffic in no time, and wondering how you ever survived without the bike heavy gameplay. Some new cars have also been added in to match the style of the game, along with more rock music. Radio and television stations have increased their content considerably as well, with new shows that are as humorous and entertaining as they were in the original Grand Theft Auto IV.
Some of the best additions come in the form of new weapons, such as a quick firing shotgun, and a short barrelled shotgun which you can blaze away with whilst on your bike. Pipe-bombs are included too, although these really just have the same effect as grenades. It's clear that when it comes to new content, Rockstar did not hold back and Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned feels almost like a full game in itself.
Even multiplayer has been updated, with some new character models and also a range of new game modes. These include Races, Club Business, Lone Wolf Biker, Witness Protection and Gang War. Club Business is a co-op gameplay where you join with some people online to form a gang, continually receiving calls giving you work to complete together. Complete enough, and you will be promoted to gang leader. Lone Wolf Biker has you running away from an attack chopper (or simply other bikers) which is a blast. Witness Protection involves one team protecting a bus full of convicts which are being dropped at police stations around Liberty City, while the other team tries to destroy the bus full of snitches. Finally gang war involves teams fighting for control over territory, which harks back to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The multiplayer has considerably improved with these new game modes, but even without these Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned provides a very solid package.
Overall the value of this pack is exceptional. Despite the high sale price of 1600 Microsoft points, the amount of game you receive exceeds that of many full release titles, and for anyone who still has Grand Theft Auto IV sitting at home it represents a wise investment. It really reminded us what a great game Grand Theft Auto IV was, and it removed considerable frustrations in regards to restarting missions from scratch.
The new content is witty and clever for the most part, and the updated bike physics are noticeable. You will feel most at home when riding on one of your choppers, which is great because it takes the emphasis away from cars as well as opening the player up to the dangers of being more exposed on a bike. The price point will deter some, but rest assured the ten to twelve solid hours of gameplay for the main storyline (not including the side missions, races and such that you can do) more than make up for it.