It’s been a long time coming, but the first part of the infamous Grand Theft Auto IV DLC is finally upon us in all its glory. Microsoft paid a lot of money to get this content exclusively for the Xbox 360, and I’m here to tell you whether or not their money was money well spent. But, before we start, I must point out that this review is all based on the single player aspect game; let’s be honest, that’s all almost anyone cares about.
The DLC takes place in the original setting of GTA IV, Liberty City. This time, you play as Johnny Klebitz, who was temporally in charge of the motorcycle gang “The Lost” while their leader, Billy, was in jail. The game starts as Billy gets released from jail, and his first breath of freedom results in a spectacular fireworks display going off. While Billy was incarcerated, Johnny agreed to truces with rival gangs so that they could focus more on the business side of things; drug deals and what-not. One big gang a truce was formed with was the “Angels of Death,” and upon his release Billy isn’t appreciative of the effort. You see, while Johnny is all about bucks, Billy is all about mayhem, and right from the start friction between the two “brothers” starts to show.
The very first thing I noticed when loading up the DLC was this sheet of grain over everything; something Rockstar has implemented to give it a distinct look that differentiates it from the main game. Unfortunately, it ended up more of a hindrance than Rockstar (hopefully) intended. During night missions — or just walking around at night — it becomes very hard to see, and little details you would have otherwise noticed go unnoticed, which is a real shame. Luckily Rockstar allow for this to be turned off within the game’s options. Apart from that, Lost and Damned plays the same as GTA IV with only a few notable differences, including slightly better character animations, better team AI and of course, improved bike handling. Since the focus of this DLC is on biker gangs, Rockstar made sure the driving was improved upon from the original. Driving the bike actually feels like it would in real life, with much better handling, grip and a better sense of gravity while driving. And that’s a good thing, since you’ll be spending most of your time on a bike.
Even from the introductory mission, you can see that this is a far bloodier, more brutal, ballsier, and darker affair than before. If you hadn’t already noticed that Billy is a nut case by the very first cut scene, you will by the end of the first mission. Let’s say that there’s a certain hammer and someone’s face. I think you can work out the rest. I got the feeling that Rockstar attempted to create a darker experience with Johnny than they did with Niko, and it shows in the dialogue and settings that surround him. Take the clubhouse, for example. Your place of sanctuary — this run down bar — has a very edgy, gritty vibe to it. Minigames, arm wrestling, pole dancers, and more just make it feel edgier than the original GTA IV.
Rockstar didn’t exaggerate when they said the game will take 10-15 hours to beat depending on the player. There is tons of stuff to keep you busy throughout the game; the 25-odd main story missions will keep you entertained while the abundance of side missions and races will keep you busy in between. The only problem is, like every other GTA game, the missions don’t tend to vary that much. There’s the usual “go there, pick something up, bring it back to the go there shoot up the place and come back.” Although it may feel the same, its Rockstar’s narrative and pure genius in its scripting and cutscenes that make it all the more enjoyable and you soon forget that you may have already done this kind of mission before. Another neat feature, and one much welcomed, is the ability to phone members of your gang to come help you out, whether for back up or to bring you weapons or a vehicle when need. All this makes the whole sense of being in a gang more real like.
Speaking of teamwork and gang friendship, Rockstar has implemented a new gang stats system, and because of this new system it’s in your best interest to make sure your crew survives a shoot out. While with your boys on a mission, pressing down on the d-pad will bring up the hardness of your crew. This allows you to see the current state of your crew, and the bar represents how well they react to a situation, how good their shooting is, and how likely they will save your ass from being blown off. By completing missions with them still intact, initiating conversions with them during bike convoy sequences boosts their abilities.
As well as new missions there are new weapons, including a sawed off shotgun, an auto shotgun, pipe bombs, and burst pistols to name a few. Add in the fact you get new radio stations with new music and also new TV channels to watch, and there is plenty of depth in this DLC. You will revisit places in Liberty City you never knew existed while also visiting other locations in a different light, which goes to show how big the original game actually was.
For 1600 MS points you’re practically getting a fully fletched game, hours upon hours of new gameplay, dark, gritty and ballsy new characters to follow, enhanced and new implemented features that give extra depth to the game and that same fantastic Rockstar narrative and cutscenes. It is by far the best piece of downloadable content ever, without a shadow of a doubt. This is what DLC is meant to be, and for $20 it’s a bloody steal. It doesn’t reinvent the GTA formula nor adds any different kind of missions, but what you do get is GTA IV expanded, and it has been well worth the wait. I can’t wait to see what they do for the second piece later this year.