Released on February 17, Rockstar Games launched the long awaited expansion to Grand Theft Auto IV over XBox Live. The Lost and Damned, an Xbox 360 “exclusive,” brings more that just a few new missions and some extra neat-o cars for Niko Bellic to rampage through the streets of Liberty City. In fact, Niko isn’t even the protagonist this time around. And what’s more, it’s practically a whole new game.      

 

 

johhnyInstead of jumping into the mismatched wardrobe of Niko Bellic, players hop onto the motorcycle of leather-clad motorhead Johnny Klebitz, a minor character who popped up a few times during Niko’s original romp around Liberty City. VP and patch-bearing brother for life of The Lost Motorcycle Club, Johnny lives a life that may possibly be more violent than Niko’s, thanks to “newly rehabilitated” club President, Billy Grey. Johnny managed to keep the peace amongst rival gangs while filling in as acting President, but Billy’s return from prison and longing for the so-called “glory days” quickly takes the gang on a highway to hell.

My Thoughts: 

Wow, to say the least. When I originally heard of this new exclusive content for the 360, I was skeptical that it would be anything to really get excited over. My best guess was maybe a few new cars, some new clothes, a new weapon or two, and perhaps a handful of new missions for existing lead Niko Bellic. Instead, Rockstar dropped an entire new story line on us, complete with a new lead character (well, recycled if anything) and a host of extras. Here are just a few of the things included: 

too-cool1-Over a dozen new bikes (you’re in a biker gang, so go figure), and several new vehicles. 

-New mini-games, such as arm wrestling and high or low card. 

-New weapons, including pipe bombs, an automatic pistol, a grenade launcher, and a sawed-off shotgun (my personal favorite). 

-Updated radio stations and TV programs (including the return of Republican Space Rangers).  

-New and revamped multiplayer modes (including a new personal favorite, the Lone Wolf Biker, a glorified version of tag with motorcycles and helicopters and guns). 

-New achievement points for all you achievement hunters out there. 

The story line is adequate, chalking in at roughly a third the length of the original GTA IV. It’s not quite the epic tale of redemption that Niko went through, but enough to tell a cliché tale of rival biker gangs having it out leading up to a finale not all that unpredictable. Something a kin to biker gang films from the ‘70’s. It’s a tactic Rockstar is all too familiar with, having borrowed ideas from well known Hollywood films to form the basic plotlines of previous entries in the series. (Example: GTA: Vice City borrowed heavily from Scarface). 

winGameplay is excellent. While the missions are mainly a host of “go here and kill them, go there and save them, chase them down and kill them” and fetch missions, Rockstar was nice enough to add little mini-games in the midst of some missions to mix things up a bit. Though these were more often than not friendly races or riding in “gang formation” that have little to no effect on the overall story. Gunfights are more challenging, often far bloodier, more brutal, and resulting in a higher body count than Niko could have ever created.  

For those curious, Niko Bellic does make an appearance. However his role is muted down to a cameo during certain cut scenes and several missions where Johnny and Niko’s own stories intersect. It was interesting to play missions once completed as Niko from Johnny’s perspective, who apparently endures the more difficult firefights.

And of course, how unlike it would be of Rockstar to release a new game without stirring in a little extra controversy than just the basics like excessive cursing, prostitutes, and killing cops. If you hate spoilers, do yourself a favor and skip the next paragraph. Otherwise, read on and appreciate the heads-up if crude surprises are not your thing. 

Shortly after it’s release, I heard news of a particular cut scene involving a character pun-fully named Mr. Stubbs, who is apparently very comfortable with his body. Considering Rockstar’s previous trouble with the ESRB over the “Hot Coffee” incident, I read up on it. Whether to push buttons or just take the medium forward, Rockstar was kind enough to provide us with a shot of full frontal, unapologetic man-wang. I expletively questioned the validity of the shot no further than “Why?!” and concurred with Johnny’s initial reaction. Something a bit more creative and comical would have been greatly appreciated. Perhaps a clever camera angle or a foreground prop gag (a la’ Austin Powers)? But than again, I did see the unrated version of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. 

so-close(If you’re feeling brave, click here to view the clip. While it should go without saying, this is NSFW). 

That aside, my only other real grievance is the one-way upgrade. Unfortunately, all of these new features are only found in Johnny’s world. All the new weapons, cars and locals are only available through the expansion, and any thing new that Johnny experience’s won’t be there should you choose to go back there as Niko. I guess just because both Johnny and Niko live in the same city, doesn’t mean they get to share the same lifestyle.  

So, for those of you who may be wondering if The Lost and Damned is worth the $20 bucks, I answer your query with an emphatic “Yes!” Like I noted earlier, it’s practically a whole new game. And if this is any indicator to the level of seriousness Rockstar is taking this episodic content stuff, I can’t wait for what the next expansion holds. Perhaps a new island to explore? I have my hopes. 

~James B. LaPoint

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