GTAIV: The Lost and Damned Impressions

The first downloadable episode for Grand Theft Auto IV is a great excuse to revisit Liberty City.

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Downloadable content isn't something that we review right now, but that doesn't mean that we don't have anything to say about a release as significant as the first downloadable episode for Grand Theft Auto IV. If you've come here looking for a recommendation on whether or not you should buy The Lost and Damned, the short answer is that if you enjoyed GTAIV, I can't think of a better way for you to spend $20 when it hits Xbox Live tomorrow. If you want to know exactly what's included in the download, then keep reading. I had an opportunity to play through the entire Johnny Klebitz storyline using an advance copy of the DLC on one of our debug consoles last week, and I promise I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

The first thing I think you should know about The Lost and Damned is that it's best played after you've already beaten (or at least played a long way through) Niko Bellic's story in the original game. That's because the two protagonists' paths cross on occasion, and Johnny could conceivably spoil some of Niko's surprises for you. It could also be said that Niko spoils some of Johnny's surprises of course: The Lost and Damned doesn't just acknowledge that you've likely already beaten GTAIV, but it also delights in it and affords you an opportunity to see key events and characters from a different perspective.

Obviously I don't want to talk too much about Johnny's story, but what I will say is that it's 20 or so missions took me the best part of 10 hours to play through and that the narrative was every bit as compelling as Niko's. Where gameplay is concerned, the new missions aren't radically different from those in GTAIV, but there are some great new weapons to play with (the grenade launcher and assault shotgun are favorites), and you'll find that a number of them--including pipe bombs and the sawed-off shotgun--can be used while riding a bike. Bikes are a lot easier to ride with Johnny at the handlebars than they were for Niko, but they're still prone to getting thrown up into the air unrealistically if you hit a curb or another small object at the wrong angle and speed.

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While we're on the subject of bikes, much is made at the start of The Lost and Damned about the fact that Johnny's ride is unique and that, supposedly, it can't be replaced if you let it get destroyed. Based on my own experiences with it, I suggest you not worry about it too much--not only are there plenty of better bikes in Liberty City, but Johnny's custom Hexer has a habit of finding its way back to you anytime you lose it. I parked a completely different bike outside a Burger Shot one time, and after I was done eating, I walked outside to find that it had been replaced with the Hexer. Another time, shortly after parking the Hexer outside the gang's clubhouse and going inside to save my progress, I walked outside to find two of the "unique" bikes parked next to each other. Obviously none of this stuff really impacted my enjoyment of the game, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.

The quality of the missions varies somewhat, as does their difficulty, but there are some really great ones in the mix, and if you fail one at any time, you can restart from a checkpoint within the mission rather than from the very beginning--an option I'd have welcomed in the original game. I didn't spend nearly as much time riding alongside the rest of the Lost gang as I was expecting to in the story missions, but I did take advantage of the option to call brothers in for backup once or twice when things got tough.

In addition to the story missions, there are a number of optional missions that you can undertake for characters old and new, and two new activities that are very much in keeping with the biker theme. The first, which I had no idea about going into the game and was thrilled to discover, is a series of 12 bike races in which you can use a baseball bat to attack opponents on either side of you. I was a huge fan of Road Rash back in the day (who wasn't?), and I suspect that if that series were still going it would have evolved into something resembling these races by now. The second is a gang war system that highlights the locations of enemy biker gangs on the map so you can go and do battle with them alongside a few of your crew. There are 25 gang-war scenarios to play through, and while they generally don't take very long, they're a lot of fun while they last.

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Other additions to Liberty City are less significant, but taken as a whole they go a long way to making The Lost and Damned feel more fresh than DLC for an existing game has any right to. There are loads of new bikes and a few other new vehicles on the roads, there are new arm wrestling and hi-lo-card minigames (don't get too excited about those), and those pigeons you could exterminate in GTAIV have purportedly (I say that because I've yet to see one) been replaced with 50 equally hard-to-find seagulls. There's new content to find on the in-game Internet, there are new shows on the TV (check out the new episode of Republican Space Rangers if you're not easily offended), more than 50 new music tracks have been added to the radio stations' playlists, and there's even a new comedy act all the way from Scotland.

Even the visuals in The Lost and Damned feel a little different from those in GTAIV. A muted color palette and an optional noise filter that's turned on by default give the episode a grittier feel than the original, and Rockstar North's attention to detail even runs to equipping Johnny with a cheap old cell phone. Like Niko's before it, said phone can be used to get into multiplayer games, and this time there's an instant action option that lets you bypass the lobby system and get right into a game. New multiplayer modes include Bike Races, Chopper vs. Chopper, Club Business, Lone Wolf Biker, and Own the City, as well as biker-gang-flavored Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch variants. At the time of writing I'm afraid I haven't had a chance to check out any of the new multiplayer modes for myself, but after reading Brian's recent Lost and Damned multiplayer preview, I can't wait to do just that.

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