Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Enjoy our spoiler-free verdict on the first of two new episodes of GTA IV. Can a bunch of bikers beat the Bellics?
By Adam Doree
Released tomorrow via Xbox Live, The Lost and Damned is an impressive and ferocious expansion to Grand Theft Auto IV, coming good on its claim to be around one-third the size of GTA IV - it took us 11 hours to complete the main story, which once again only represents about 60-70% of overall completion based on all the other side missions and bonuses that you can get to achieve 100%.
It has its own stylish introduction and credits sequence, and more fantastic acting with brilliant, convincing facial animation we've still not really seen to the same standard anywhere else. One of the story aspects that gives the acting its conviction is the tension between your character, Johnny, and incumbent leader of The Lost gang, Billy. The brooding conflict between the pair structures the story arc for the game, and offers plenty of moments for some TV network-grade acting like you'd expect from Rockstar North.
It would arguably be difficult to make a 'bad' first episode for Lost and Damned, since the gameplay and city from the main game are already in a league of their own, but Rockstar has succeeded in making the new characters and new content compelling enough to stand on their own. The episode's missions and story are designed to really explore in detail parts of the map we'd really hardly scratched the surface of in GTA IV, and in fact we came across quite a few areas, buildings and structures we didn't know existed in Liberty City beforehand - we more fully discovered the game's Chinatown for example, whose places will likely see a degree of crossover in Chinatown Wars next month.
Although it had been suggested to us that players will warm to different members of the gang, really there's no question Johnny's the most likable of the bunch. At the start of the episode, I would say Johnny shares more personality traits with Roman Bellic than Niko, but he's also a very different kind of American citizen. He's intelligent and eloquent, often to great sarcastic effect in a manner the Bellics couldn't claim.
I had my doubts about whether I'd actually like Johnny or not, but when you learn more about him and the people in his life - like his troubled former flame, Ashley - you start to think, "OK I think I understand this guy." However, just as with Niko, there are some acts he commits during the game's story which are utterly inexcusable - the moral code displayed throughout the premise of the final mission comes to mind - but then, it's a Grand Theft Auto game, so what do you expect?
As to the rest of the gang, the emphasis on being "a part of" an entity has been implemented with the right balance. You're not glued to your mostly moronic gang friends the whole time, and the convoy formation mechanic - where you stay close to the other bikers as you go from A to B in order to initiate conversation and recover a bit of health and armour - actually crops up maybe only four or five times during the game. I wasn't sure about the convoy formation thing at first, but it's a fairly decent (and concerning health recovery, appreciated) little mechanic that's quite harmless. Fortunately, the need to 'follow' does not happen often, and frequently the bikers will decide to race to a destination rather than convoy.