It has been said that 2009 is the year of the downloadable content. Burnout Paradise, Tomb Raider: Underworld and even Scene It? Box Office Smash are just a few of the titles that new content has already been released for and there’s a lot more on its way. But arguably the most anticipated downloadable content was for Grand Theft Auto IV. Microsoft and Rockstar went to great lengths in order to guarantee Xbox 360 owners would still be playing the game a year on from release, and after a few delays, Lost & Damned has arrived on the shores of Liberty City.
In the opening cutscene, players are introduced to each of the members of Liberty City biker gang, The Lost, including the gang’s Vice President and the game’s new protagonist, Johnny Klebitz. There’s even a vague appearance from fan’s favourite, Niko Bellic. Players soon learn that after providing business opportunities for the biker gang, Johnny is forced to take a step down when The Lost President, Billy Grey, returns from a fifteen-year stretch in prison and rehab. Upon Billy’s arrival, Johnny finds himself in the middle of turf wars with rival gangs for control over Liberty City.
This change of character also brings a change in gameplay. Niko was very much a lone wolf and would often complete missions on his own, whilst Johnny is more-or-less the total opposite as he is very rarely seen without a gang of bikers offering him a helping hand.
The introduction of gangs, whilst not a new game element, is very much improved from previous games in the series; when driving about in a pack, The Lost badge appears on the ground behind the leader. Driving onto this badge lets Johnny hear what his fellow bikers are talking about, as well as earning him health and armour. Each member of the gang has a toughness rating portrayed by a white bar. After every mission, the toughness of The Lost gang increases and so, the higher the bar, the tougher your gang member is. Unfortunately, gang members can decease and therefore new lower-experienced members are brought in so the game doesn’t inevitably become easier as the game progresses. One of the nicest features of Lost & Damned is the ability for Johnny to call for back-up at almost any point. These new elements brilliantly capture the realism of Liberty City biker gangs and the sense of ‘sticking together’ is nicely represented.
Lost & Damned is one of the most extensive downloadable content packs I’ve ever seen. In fact, it probably is the largest as it offers a bit of everything, including the addition of new guns and vehicles. The two new guns are the sawed-off shotgun and the grenade launcher; both of which have been incorporated well into the game and prove vital within the storyline. The new vehicles are heavily bike-based though by far my favourite addition is the heavy-duty chopper, a helicopter which will take more than a few hits and bullets to destruct. It just makes free-roaming that little bit more fun.
Lost & Damned also brings a slight change to the gameplay as the handling of vehicles, more noticeably bikes, is now more efficient. This was a major complaint and, at times, a problem when the Grand Theft Auto IV first released but now some may even go as far as saying the handling is as good as the handling in some of the top racing games.
I’m sure many Grand Theft Auto IV players spent a good hour or two listening to some of Liberty City’s radio stations, tuning into some of the fine television programmes or searching for Little Lacy Surprise Pageant in Internet cafes. In fact, for Lost & Damned, Rockstar have added more in-game entertainment for Johnny to keep himself occupied with. Driving through Liberty City with Deep Purple’s Highway Star and Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills blasting out - improves the overall game experience. There’s even some hilarious new television programmes to watch and websites to browse.
Not only does The Lost & Damned improve on the single player experience, but the online aspect too. This has been done with the addition of new multiplayer modes. The new modes can only be accessed whilst playing as Johnny via his mobile phone. The likes of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch make a welcome return, whilst some of the older modes receive a Lost & Damned makeover and there are even some brand new game modes in the mix.
The Race mode is identical to the one seen previously, though as “bikers don’t play fair”, players are given a baseball bat which can be used to attack other racers in reach with a press of the X and B buttons. Whilst it’s a welcome addition, it does take quite a few hits (about three or four) to knock rivals off their bikes. This means that knocking rivals to the floor could prove to be a bit of a challenge. Another mode which has been altered from the original is Lone Wolf Biker which plays very similarly to ‘Kill the Carrier’. One player is the lone wolf and it is their goal to reach the checkpoints while evading the pursuers. The pursuer to kill the lone wolf switches roles and the game continues. Like the Race mode, the inclusion of bikes is good and ties in with the biker theme of the content.
There are four new multiplayer game modes, each one very different from the other. The first, Club Business, doesn’t require much of an explanation though for the purpose of this review: players work as a team (or gang) in order to complete tasks provided by Angus. Completing tasks gains players’ money and a higher standing in the Club. In my few experiences with this game mode, I found that some players will ‘betray’ you which became a slight annoyance in what played as a pretty good game mode. Next up is Own the City, territories with the addition of defenders who are positioned on each. Killing all of the territory’s defenders makes it yours. In doing so, members of your club will appear to help defend it. This is probably the weakest of the new modes though that doesn’t necessarily make it bad.
Now onto my two favourite multiplayer game modes from Lost & Damned: Witness Protection and Chopper vs. Chopper. Witness Protection sees the N.O.O.S.E. having to escort witnesses to police stations around the city, while The Lost try to destroy the transport bus and take out the snitches before they talk. This is true gang war-esque and great fun to play. Finally, there’s Chopper vs. Chopper, consisting of one vs. one play which sees a biker trying to get to a checkpoint with a pursuer, piloting an attack helicopter, hunting them down. When the biker is defeated, the roles are reversed. What’s so fun to play about Chopper vs. Chopper is that when playing the role of the biker, dodging the pursuer’s bullet shots is such a relief and builds up a rush of excitement.
Rockstar have always been known for their audio and the voice acting in Lost & Damned is up to the same standard it was in Grand Theft Auto IV. The only fault I discovered is that at times the background music level is too high so the audio of the characters becomes a struggle to understand. Other than that, Rockstar have hit the nail on the head.
Graphically, Lost & Damned seems slightly saturated and less colourful compared to the retail game. This is evident through the on-screen text, the radar and even the general surroundings of Liberty City. Other than that, there are little differences to the original; the characters and the beautiful city of Liberty City, match the principles of those witnessed before.
What struck me most about the downloadable content was the sheer size of it. To put it simply, it is huge. The 2GB download may take a while but compared to the 12 hours it will take to finish the story and the addition of new multiplayer modes, boy is it worth it.
If you take into consideration the hours it will take to complete Lost & Damned, you could end up playing it longer than you would most retail games and at 1600 Microsoft Points, the downloadable content is a steal; a worthy purchase by Microsoft, which will definitely prove to be a worthy purchase for any Grand Theft Auto IV fan.
+ The size of the downloadable content
+ The approx. 12 hour story
+ Vehicle handling improved
- Character audio sometimes become hard to understand due to background music.
- The long downloading time
Monster Final Score: 93%
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