When it comes to downloadable content, gamers are used to getting screwed. Five or ten bucks will buy you a couple hours of gameplay if you're lucky. Regardless of whether you like Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned, you have to applaud Rockstar for providing downloadable content whose size matches its price tag.
Yes, TLAD costs 1600 Microsoft Points ($20) but you're getting about 10 hours of new content, here. The exact amount of time you spend on it might be lower or higher than that depending on how much you enjoy the repeatable side missions (bike races, turf wars with rival gangs) and the new multiplayer modes. However, the fact remains that LAD is as long as some $60 games.
The expansion adds an all-new single-player campaign starring Johnny Klebitz, second-in-command of the biker gang The Lost. The Lost's leader, Billy, has just returned from a stint in rehab and his reckless, aggressive attitude immediately conflicts with Johnny's desire to keep the gang below the radar and out of trouble. The campaign's about a third of the length of GTA IV's and this shorter length has two advantages. First, LAD avoids the meandering middle act that plagues pretty much every GTA game. You know what I mean - the segment of the game after you leave the first section of the city and you're just bouncing between random crime bosses doing tasks with little to no relevance to the greater story itself. While yes, there's some pretty irrelevant missions here, LAD's campaign just stays on point for a greater percentage of the time.
The other nice thing about LAD's shorter campaign is that it doesn't spend as much time babying you. GTA IV devoted a lot of time to unskippable tutorial missions to teach you the basic mechanics of the game but LAD assumes that you already have a basic proficiency with the game and jumps right into the fun stuff. There's some fairly tough missions here and you might have a hard time if you haven't played the game in months but luckily the campaign's missions have checkpoints. Longer missions mission have about two or three checkpoints so that if you fail it, you won't have to do the whole thing over again. Also, from the very beginning of the expansion, Johnny can call up his fellow gang members to get a new bike or weapons delivered to him as needed.
Checkpoints and ready access to bikes/weapons? Does that make things too easy? Not really. What both of those features do is cut down on the errand work of the game and makes it quicker to jump into the action. The checkpoint system means that you don't need to keep repeating the simple first step in a mission (driving across town to a drug deal, for example) just because you keep dying on the much harder second step (running from the cops or whatever). Additionally, having gang members sell you weapons saves you trips to Ammu-Nation.
Whereas most of the GTA IV missions were solo affairs, Johnny is often accompanied by his gang on jobs. You'll definitely feel cool riding in a pack through the streets of Liberty City but if you've gotten used to taking a taxi to your missions, it's a little tedious to have to drive the entire distance now. Rockstar tries to liven up the commute by having fellow gang members occasionally race you to your next objective but there's no stakes involved in these competitions so they fail to entertain.
The turf war repeatable missions and many of the story missions feature massive shootouts between the Lost and some rival gang or the police. Again, there's some basic excitement from having a whole gang at your side but these large battles are very taxing for GTA IV and on a few occasions there were big drops in the game's frames per second. It's not as though you can direct your gang members in combat either so you'll end up fighting the same way you would if you were alone...except that enemies will probably be too busy fighting your friends to notice you. Your gang members' fighting skills increase after they survive fights but again, you can't control what they do in fights and their survival's a complete roll of the dice so you don't feel very attached to them. I just wish there was more interactivity between you and your leather-clad foot soldiers. That being said, there are some fun battles in this game, such as one especially fun ambush scene on a bridge. There's also four new weapons (machine pistol, grenade launcher, automatic shotgun, pipe bombs) to play around with, which freshen up the somewhat tedious "target and hold down the fire button" combat.
There are six new multiplayer modes in LAD: Witness Protection, Race, Lone Wolf Biker, Own The City, Club Business, and Chopper vs. Chopper. Race, Own The City, and Club Business are basically just GTA IV multiplayer modes with a fresh coat of paint. Race mode, for example, is just normal street racing except that players ride bikes and wield baseball bats (which they can use to hit other players). Chopper vs. Chopper is a head-to-head match in which one player controls a helicopter and must kill another player on a motorcycle who's trying to drive through checkpoints. It sounds good on paper but shooting targets, much less moving targets, with the helicopter has never been particularly easy so it doesn't quite gel. It may have been fun if there were a whole pack of bikers to shoot at, though.
Lone Wolf Biker and Witness Protection are the two strongest multiplayer modes in LAD. Lone Wolf is essentially "kill the carrier" and Witness Protection has a team of police protecting a bus (driven by another player on the team) that must make three stops throughout the city to drop off state witnesses while a team of bikers tries to assassinate the witnesses and/or blow up the boss. They replicate the high-speed chases of the Cops 'n Crooks mode from GTA IV but gives them focus. In Witness Protection, for example, all of the action is centered around the boss while in Lone Wolf, all of the players are converging on whoever is "it." As with GTA IV's standard multiplayer, though, the usual pitfalls exist. They can nosedive pretty quick if people are awful or feel like being smart-asses. For example, all you'd need to do to screw up a Lone Wolf game is jump in the water.
If you didn't like Grand Theft Auto IV, you won't like The Lost and Damned. LAD doesn't make any major revisions to the gameplay mechanics from the original game and whatever annoyed you about GTA IV has probably survived into the expansion. For those of you who aren't looking for a better Grand Theft Auto but simply more of what GTA IV offered up, then LAD is definitely for you. It's consistent with the style and quality of the base game and, perhaps just as importantly, its price matches up with the amount of gameplay it offers. For a third of the price of GTA IV, you're getting an extra third of the game. LAD might not win over GTA IV haters but it definitely raises the bar for downloadable content. It makes other DLC feel like even more of a rip-off.
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games