The expansion of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto is neither lost nor damned. In fact it is bloody brilliant! Jesper reviews the Xbox 360 exclusive.
The sensation of freedom and independence, while the exhaust pipe gently snorts and pushes the chopper into motion. Six crotch rockets slowly form a line along the road, and in front, the leader Billy Grey, makes the cars give way, like Moses parting the Red Sea.
After his release from jail, the chopper gang, The Lost, once again enter the path of war and the intense smell of burnt rubber sends out an eerie warning.
Having stolen every car in Liberty City and turned them all into wrecks during intense car chases through out 2008, it is now time for the two wheeled speed devils to shine in the much awaited expansion pack, The Lost and the Damned, which will again breathe life into the gigantic city of Grand Theft Auto IV. With a new main story and a bunch of side missions, new weapons, vehicles, and multiplayer additions, Rockstar is offering a horn of plenty to all the frothing GTA IV players.
Even though Liberty City still makes up the background for the experience, and thus we are not treated to new and exotic locations, the sheer size of the city and new narrative starting-point mean that you quickly feel as if you are in a whole other universe.
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As vice president of The Lost, Johnny Klebitz, is sent on a rollercoaster of a ride, after the release of Billy Grey. His loyalty is quickly put to the test, while the rest of the criminals in the city keep their eyes on the situation.
The new story is of the same high quality as the one in the original, and voice acting, animations and dialogue are top notch - compared to the industry standard - and contain more political references, satirical comments, and critique than previously. Johnny's meeting with Niko and the rest of their mutual friends ties the universe together and gives extra credibility and value to both stories.
The shift from the lonely Niko to the gang member Johnny ads a new perspective to the gameplay, which may follow the same recipe when it comes to missions and fighting, yet ads a few new ways of thinking here and there. Most mention worthy is the option of driving around the city in formation, which may not have a big effect on the gameplay but does add to the coolness factor. This is also the case with ability to keep your "brothers" alive, to give them extra figting experience during the game. And with an unbalanced artificial intelligence and a constant refilling of group members it is difficult to get too attached to the anonymous brothers of The Lost.
Despite this, the thematic structure of the Lost and the Damned seems to work a lot better than a confused eastern European immigrant, and even though one might think that Rockstar's treatment of biker life could quickly turn into banalities and brain dead action, the story remains intelligent, satirical, and critical, and you constantly feel obligated to make moral decisions. This is also thanks to the new narrative, which offers some freshness to the mix and makes sure the missions don't feel like something you've tried a million times before.
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Another important fact is obviously the bike itself, which as the primary mode of transportation takes Johnny to all the different fights and gun duels. I am still not comfortable with the controls, and am thoroughly annoyed with the fact that it takes a few seconds to regain conscience when you are thrown off. Still, the feeling of riding around the city in formation and not giving a rats ass about anything or anyone, makes up for all small annoyances.
The limited emphasis on the new gameplay elements and missions, which are quickly recognizable from the original story, makes sure The Lost and the Damned is not an expansion that tries to set itself apart from the starting point.
The new weapons and vehicles are fun to play with, and even though the new multiplayer options don't provide massive changes, it all still adds to the value of the game. The expansion costs 1600 MS points which must be considered a bargain that no GTA IV player should be able to resist.
If you, like me, have taken a longer break from Rockstar's latest sandbox, The Lost and Damned makes for an exciting and extensive experience well worth it's price. It may not bring any dramatic changes or alterations to the basics of GTA IV, but still gives you a new story to play through, maintains the high level of quality and sets the bar for future downloadable content. The Lost and Damned is undoubtedly one of the best and least flawed expansions I have ever seen - this despite it is merely more of the same.
9 / 10
Vast and polished expansion, top notch story, great value.