Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and the Damned

There’s something slightly sad about a middle-aged biker. He’s a man whose identity is inherently tied up with the past, evocative of a fat Elvis Presley or a Mickey Rourke post-surgery. He’s surely an odd protagonist for a video game, a medium where pixilated bodies are generally painted in broad ideals of the fittest, strongest and sexiest. The bikers in the first downloadable episode for GTA IV, the Lost and the Damned, are boozy, foul mouthed, aggressive and tubby: in short, less than ideal. But that’s what makes them so unique, and more importantly, so Grand Theft Auto.

These bunch of dodgy uncles are unquestionably the driving force of Lost and The Damned. Rockstar North has conceded that Liberty City is quite big enough, choosing to forgo any pointless extensions to the already mammoth landmass, instead concentrating on the story of Johnny Klebitz and brother Billy Grey, leaders of the aging gang ‘the Lost’. Johnny and Billy are brilliant leads, the former – who you control – a downtrodden, beaten kinda guy who misses the good old days, while the latter is a dangerous lunatic, continually pushing himself and the gang further down the path into genuine sadism.

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It is their relationship that forms the heart of the Lost and The Damned, Rockstar waxing on the theme of brotherhood and acing the tricky emotional subtleties between Johnny and Billy. Much of this is to do with uniformly excellent voice acting and a naturalistic script that inexorably ties us to Johnny as a character, just as we were tied to GTA IV’s disillusioned immigrant, Niko Bellic. Told with this kind of flair, individual missions of the drive-n-gun type take a back seat to narrative, our minute-to-minute experiences inconsequential in comparison to the overall story.

This is perhaps a good thing, as the missions in Lost and the Damned are very similar to GTA IV: drive from point A, shoot, kill, pillage, drive back. Fairly uninspired stuff then, and if you enjoy the formula you won’t find much to complain about here. If, however, you found the small-time crook slog eventually tiresome in GTA IV, repetitiveness will unfortunately become an issue. To counter, we get that well overdue mid-mission checkpoint, so if you die you don’t have to repeat the thing from the beginning (honestly, God bless you, Rockstar) injecting the game with some welcome momentum.

For those worried that this sounds all too Niko Bellic, fear not. Rockstar has done a fantastic job with the implementation of the much beloved bikes, tweaking the admittedly awkward controls from GTA IV into streamlined, adrenaline-fueled glory. The bikes are both weighty and elegant, and once you start weaving through traffic at top speed, a blur effect at your sidelines, all thoughts of stealing a car or truck seem clumsily inefficient.

You generally ride with your gang too, encouraged to stay in the middle of the group with a health boost and some genuinely hilarious inane chatter from members of the Lost. It sure beats the lonely haul of some of Niko’s longer drives, and certainly makes you feel part of something that’s bigger than yourself, even if most of your ‘brothers’ aren’t exactly playing with a full deck. There’s an incentive to keep them alive during firefights too, courtesy of their individual ‘battle-hardened’ meters that gradually fill after each successful mission, or alternatively are eradicated if the member dies. It is hard to tell exactly what benefits one gains from being ‘battle hardened’, just as it is hard to tell what impact your brothers have in a battle, but you really are so grateful for the company it’s hard to care.

Socializing is equally encouraged, and your base is a raucous gang clubhouse where you can hang out with your bros, play cards, arm wrestle (surprisingly taxing on the thumbs) and generally do all the life-whittling stuff that bikers do. Your brothers provide necessities on tap, and acquiring guns is a simple phone call away. Indeed, these guns deserve a quick mention: newbies include the satisfying sawn-off shotgun and the chillingly effective grenade launcher - to wander round the city blowing stuff up with this bad boy is pure pleasure.

If you’re looking for other such deviations from the main plot, there’s a bunch of life-expanding side missions, including 20 races scattered about throughout the city, 25 optional ‘Gang Wars’, and various new television and radio stations to occupy your time. Some modification to existing multiplayer modes add to the excess of generosity, and although they don’t deviate too far from GTA IV, playing on bikes can get a lot more aggressive with the addition of the handy baseball bat. There’s also one fantastic new mode called ‘Chopper versus Chopper’ which pitches a bike against a helicopter, naturally.

With such a wealth of characterization, exceptional narrative, side-quests and good old-fashioned homicide on the sprawling Liberty City streets, Rockstar have delivered us a title that is the first worthy piece of downloadable content of this generation so far. It will be interesting to see then, in the next instilment, if the standard mission-to-mission gameplay remains as traditional as it is, or whether Rockstar are willing to mix up the formula that is becoming ever so slightly stale. Let’s hope they do, because everything else in this expansion for a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of a game is top notch.

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and the Damned
"More than enough bike for your buck."
- Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and the Damned
Follow Own it? Rating: R18   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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Comments Comments (6)

Posted by Oliver
On Monday 23 Feb 2009 12:49 PM
Sounds sweet, too bad I can't have it cause I have a PS3. :(

I'd like to know how the expansion works... Like can you switch between being Niko and the new guy as you please or do you have to exit and then reload the game then choose? And do the new things such as tweaked bikes work when playing with Niko or what?
Posted by Nivicious
On Monday 23 Feb 2009 1:56 PM
damn xbox. sounds interesting especially with the changes and i like the idea of being in a virtual gang that actually sticks together. hopefully the driving is better, well atleast better than 4, its ridiculousy annoying. just hope i dont get switched off like i did with 4
Posted by luce
On Monday 23 Feb 2009 9:37 PM
23 February 2009, 12:49 PM Reply to Oliver
Sounds sweet, too bad I can't have it cause I have a PS3. :(

I'd like to know how the expansion works... Like can you switch between being Niko and the new guy as you please or do you have to exit and then reload the game then choose? And do the new things such as tweaked bikes work when playing with Niko or what?
Hey Oliver - you download it from Live, then when you put the disc in, you have the option to play the full game or Lost & Damned. It plays like an entirely separate game, and although Niko pops up in a couple of cameos, you don't have the option to play as him. It's Johnny's story all the way.
Posted by Lisa3x3x3
On Thursday 26 Feb 2009 12:14 PM
y no ps3???
Posted by twisterjamz
On Sunday 8 Mar 2009 9:28 AM
Whats this is this a new game or something or can you just download it on to the normal gta iv?
Posted by superdazza24
On Monday 23 Dec 2013 5:15 PM
its one of my fav gta by far its cool being a big bad biker haha they should allow you to get the jacket in gta 5. the thing i found annoying bout this game was that you couldnt change the jacket and johnny was wearing differnt stuff to what he was in the cutscene of gta 4