Review by DBean
"A lost cause worth joining!"
When Grand Theft Auto IV was released last year to unprecedented fanfare, the words greatest game, 10, and game of the year were thrown around like they were going out of style. That said, while GTAIV did have a nice atmosphere to it, a sizable portion of people that played the game questioned certain decisions the game made or even excluded altogether. Mission variety was lacking, the story had characters that seemed to serve no purpose other than inflating the game's length, and in-game rewards were replaced by achievement points. The sandbox was a bit more empty than at first glance. It's now been ten months since GTAIV's release, and Rockstar has released its first of two DLC episodes in The Lost & Damned. Let's just say it right now. If you were one of those that thought Rockstar had lost its touch with how IV played out, don't worry. The Lost & Damned has arrived, and it has delivered the GTAIV experience you've been looking for.
You're Johnny Klebitz, one of the Lost, a gang of bikers that was mentioned and encountered off and on throughout GTAIV, going to pick up your former and soon-to-be once again leader, Billy Grey from a stint in the slammer. Even during the introductory cutscene that plays, you know that you're not going to be as isolated as Niko was, and why should you be? Johnny's already an established character with connections and friends. He may be Lost, but he's already found his path, or so he thinks. Over the course of the game, he'll do what's asked of him so he can keep those connections and keep his world from falling down around him. It's a simple premise, but the execution is handled in such a grand fashion.
The game has more personality behind it, from its pre-mission cutscenes that show the increasing tension between Johnny and Billy and their ideas on how the gang should be run to the in-mission dialogue between your other biker buddies. That's another thing. You won't be tackling many missions on your own. You'll have plenty of gang members riding with you, both story related, and a couple of nameless extras. Even better is that if you can keep your friends alive to the end of a mission, their stats will increase to where they'll be able to carry better weapons when they're fighting off whatever you've been put up against. Get their bars filled all the way, and they'll be carrying the best equipment, ensuring your success all the more. The fact that the AI for the most part is decent, very rarely dipping down to incompetence, is a nice touch. You really will want to keep your gang at their strongest just because you know it will help you out in the long run.
Even better, the mission variety that I complained about in the opening has been fixed. I'm not kidding when I say that there's more variety in the game's 23 story missions than there were in all of of the 90+ that GTAIV had. You'll steal some rival gang's bikes in the early going and drive off with them, you'll lure some annoying foes into an ambush, and you'll ride shotgun trying to keep everyone and their mother off your tail. It's fun to play, something that you couldn't always say about GTAIV. Moreover, every one of these missions has a purpose. No longer will you feel like you're playing 10, 20, 30 missions in a row with horribly generic characters just to slowly progress through the story. You always know why you're doing what you're doing, whether it's for Johnny's gang, his friends, or even himself. I brought up GTAIV's atmosphere, but this game has come along and completely smashed that up into pieces.
It's not as though the game just has those 23 missions either. More side missions and minigames such as air hockey have been added to the mix to keep things fresh. Races have been revamped so that they've been changed to bike races complete with Road Rash style rules in that anything goes and you can knock rivals off with a well-placed baseball bat shot midrace. Gang wars allow you to max out your gang's stats faster as well as give you the ability to unlock weapons in your hideout. Oh, that's right. Did I mention that the game actually gives you rewards once again? Bikes for races, weapons for winning gang wars, this is what was missing from the original game. It's basically as though Rockstar heard every one of their fans' complaints and threw this DLC back at them as an apology. Honestly, this is one of the best games I've played in a long time, and it's only $20.
That's why I have to recommend this game to any and all that have played GTAIV. If you loved IV, then you'll wind up most likely enjoying this. If you're one of those that were bored of the original and skeptical of how this would turn out, give it a try. It's only taken ten months, but your GTAIV has finally arrived.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/20/09
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned (US, 02/17/09)
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