Downloadable content on the Xbox 360 has run the gamut from nickel-and-dime items such as themes and gamer pics to more substantial items like track packs for Rock Band and Guitar Hero, or multiplayer weapon and map packs for your favorite first-person shooter. Out of all of it, Bethesda’s Shivering Isles expansion pack for Oblivion is arguably the only DLC of the same magnitude as Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned. Just as Shivering Isles introduced a new plane for adventurers to explore, The Lost and Damned introduces a new story arc for fans to delve into. And what a ride it is.
That storyline revolves around The Lost, one of Liberty City’s biker gangs. You may recall running into The Lost once or twice in Grand Theft Auto IV, and surely meeting Johnny Klebitz, into who’s boots you’ll step as the new protagonist. Johnny is Vice President of The Lost. As the story of The Lost and Damned opens, Billy Grey, the President of The Lost, is released from rehab and immediately takes back the reigns of the Liberty City chapter. It’s evident from the word go that Billy and Johnny don’t see eye to eye on a number of gang-related issues, and it’s not long before Billy’s indisciplinable ways leads to an all-out gang war with their biker rivals, The Angels of Death. Loyalty, honor and brotherhood are tested as Billy, Johnny and the rest of The Lost crew deal with the ensuing chaos.
Part of what makes this tale so interesting is how it’s interwoven in the lore of Grand Theft Auto IV. Although they share criminal tendencies, Niko Bellic and Johnny Klebitz are in very different places in their lives. As Niko works his way to the American dream, Johnny is on a mission to protect his from crumbling. Their paths cross multiple times during the course of their narratives and in The Lost and Damned, we get to see a couple of memorable GTA IV moments – the botched heroin deal with the undercover Feds and the diamond fiasco at the Libertonian – from an entirely different perspective. In addition we get scenes with Elizabeth, Roman and Ray Boccino that help fill in some of the gaps of Niko’s story. And while the story of Johnny Klebitz and The Lost might not be as in-depth as the tale of Niko Bellic, it’s still compelling, fulfilling and brimming with seedy characters.
I must admit I was a little apprehensive when Rockstar first announced that the story of The Lost and Damned would focus on a biker gang. After all, the bikes in GTA IV handled terribly. Thankfully that’s not the case anymore. Rockstar has made significant adjustments to the handling of these machines and rightfully so. After all, Johnny and his crew have long been bikers and therefore should be more adept at riding motorcycles than the likes of Niko Bellic. That’s not the only difference when comparing these two protagonists. Johnny walks with a noticeable limp and runs at a much slower pace than Niko. These subtle character traits help create a unique feel for The Lost and Damned.
Gunfights in The Lost and Damned are considerably more intense. There are a number of large-scale firefights with rival gangs and police officers in which you’ll likely need assistance from your fellow gang members. This is where gang support kicks into play. Johnny can call for backup and each gang member that shows up and survives the gunfight will become "battle hardened," which is to say they’ll be more effective in combat the next time you call upon them. Think of it as an experience points system. Unfortunately the whole dynamic is kind of irrelevant. Allow me to explain. When gang members critical to the advancement of the plot are killed in combat, the mission is considered a failure and you’ll have to restart it. So the system doesn’t really apply to those characters. That leaves the lackeys, if you will, but the gang AI doesn't make use of cover that well and so it’s a miracle if they survive longer than a single firefight. If certain gang members aren’t allowed to perish and the remainder act like cannon fodder then the system isn't serviceable, and that’s pretty much the case here.
The Lost and Damned is packed with new features, perhaps none better than mid-mission save points. Gone are the days of failing a mission, restarting it, and learning that you have to drive to some far off destination just to trigger the mission all over again. Instead you’ll be able to pick up right as the action begins or even better, partway through. Other offerings include a handful of new weapons, such as a pair of shotguns, an automatic pistol, a grenade launcher and pipe bombs. There are also a slew of new vehicles, mostly of the motorcycle variety. There are dozens of new tunes on the radio, sites on the Internet, TV shows, a new theatre act, new mini-games like arm wrestling and a hi/lo card game, new races to enter, gang wars to partake in, as well as a bunch of bikes to steal. The Lost and Damned even looks a little different. The sun doesn’t quite shine as bright when The Lost are around. The colors are generally grainier.
The new additions extend to multiplayer as well. The Lost and Damned introduces six new multiplayer modes and while most are simply variations of existing modes, it’s no less fun to join up with your friends for the co-op mode Club Business, or race head-to-head with a baseball bat in your hand in the Road Rash-like Race mode, or play a game of cat and mouse with a motorcycle and a helicopter in the aptly named Chopper vs. Chopper mode.
The Lost and Damned takes about 8-10 hours to complete, and that’s if you forego all the side activities (did I mention there are no ‘bromances” in The Lost and Damned? It must be an Eastern European thing). That’s roughly a third of the length of Grand Theft Auto IV at a third of the price. Sound about right? Well, consider that most retail games offer a similar amount of gameplay for $60 and you’ll quickly realize that The Lost and Damned is a steal at $20. It’s one of the most impressive and purposeful pieces of DLC to date, and I for one can’t wait to see what the guys at Rockstar have in store for us in the next episode.