Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Grand Theft Auto 4: The Lost and Damned (2009, Xbox 360)

With a roaring introduction to a gang of all-American biker badasses, Rockstar's The Lost and Damned episode serves as an enticing return to Liberty City and all the virtues and vices therein. The Lost and Damned adds a few glittery bits to the GTAFormula (I'm so clever), but nothing here changes the overall mission structure or basic gameplay.

Let me just say this: I fucking love biker gangs. I love Hunter S. Thompson. I love Sons of Anarchy. My family has a history of outlaw bikers that goes back to some of the first days of Harley Davidson. I could not enjoy The Lost and Damned, no matter how hard I tried.

The Lost are an outlaw MC based out of Liberty City with an entirely forgettable cast of "characters". I put that in quotes because the characterization here is so lacking compared to the base game. One of them has a wife, that much I can tell you. Your character, Johnny Klebitz, has a junkie ex girlfriend that he just can't seem to shake. TLAD really shoots itself in the foot with characters pretty early on; the most interesting character, Billy Grey, (President of The Lost MC) falls out of the story just when things are getting rolling. Billy was a total prick, but well-written and well-acted, to the point where he was overshadowing everyone else in the same scenes. I was sad to see him go and even more sad that he doesn't really return much.

"Missed opportunities" seems to be the theme of TLAD. From the character problems I already mentioned to the under-utilized new mechanics introduced, the whole thing reeks of what could have been. Johnny can ride in formation with other bikers, refilling his health, armor, and repairing his bike. It's too bad that the other members of the Lost are such miserable fuckwits! As it stands, their erratic riding behavior and inability to turn corners lead to formations only working on long straight stretches of uninterrupted road. The formation mechanic, much like Billy Grey, also disappears early on in the game, never to return.

I hated the cycle of re-buying health and armor after every mission in GTA4, and formations seemed like a promising way to get out of that. Soon enough, though, I was calling up my body armor dealer every few minutes and eating as many hot dogs as I could. Why, oh why, couldn't I keep up the formation riding? It was pretty fun for the few moments that it lasted.

Despite being firmly planted in the boots of Johnny Klebitz, for all intents and purposes, The Lost and Damned could have been a Nikko Bellic adventure. You perform exactly the same kinds of missions for the same contacts; hell, you even end up doing a few of the same missions from the base game in a different perspective.

Not only will you be re-treading some ground with TLAD, you'll be losing some of the features that make GTA4 fun. I never encountered another outfit for Johnny, despite reading in a few previews that it would be possible to change his look. Lots of the interiors are gone from your map, though you can still frequent a Cluckin' Bell if you manage to find one that's open. You can still do side missions and hang out with your friends, but there's no real reason to anymore.

Though the overall picture is pretty grim, there are some things to like about The Lost and Damned. The new racing mode is gloriously reminiscent of the almighty Road Rash, with every racer armed with a baseball bat. Johnny K rarely travels alone, and you can call for backup from your brothers while out on "club business". The AI is surprisingly competent in a firefight, and it definitely takes some of the sting out of the still-terrible action mechanics.

Changes in the motorcycle physics have also lessened my disappointment in TLAD. No longer do you have to meticulously avoid contact with any other object in Liberty City when on a bike; your chopper has a real feeling of weight now and is far more useful as a vehicle. You'll still get shot at far too easily riding it around, but once you ride the new bikes, you'll feel like a chump climbing into a cage again.

If you're really, really hankering for more GTA4, The Lost and Damned may be right up your alley. It feels very tacked on to the original experience, and if you just can't get enough, you'll be satisfied.

The Lost and Damned is about $20 in MS funbucks. Not a bad price for the 10 or so hours of content, but not a good one either. If you simply must have more Grand Theft Auto, I'd at least recommend waiting until it's on sale. TLAD is very much more of the same, and it falls apart over the course of the game just like it's predecessor did. It's just that much harder to forgive the same flaws twice.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]


autothrall said...

Oh jesus...I haven't yet gotten enough of being a prostitute murdering gangsta...and now I can be a prostitute murdering motorcycle gangsta?

God I hate $&#($@&@ America.

frank austin said...

If you can't get enough of GTA4, seriously, TLAD is perfect for you. I ran out of patience for it near the end of the original campaign, so more of the same just grated on me. I wish TLAD had come out before that happened.

is this your life? said...

It was nice hearing "Dead Embryonic Cells" in a game. Although...I still don't quite get why they chose that one.

frank austin said...

I forgot to mention that Bathory and At The Gates are also on the soundtrack, but with how often you'll hear things repeated on GTA radio stations, you'll probably just turn your own music on anyway.

autothrall said...

Guys...I heard BATHORY and AT THE GATES were Swedish...

Get it....?! SWEDISH

frank austin said...

Don't worry. My Swedish assault is coming. I just had to get this out of the way first.