Friday, March 13, 2009

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned — First Impressions

"The Lost and Damned" (not "The Lost and the Damned," as several outlets have been calling it) is the first expansion for Grand Theft Auto IV. It was released as DLC on February 17th exclusively for the Xbox 360 on Xbox Live for 1600 points ($20). While I did stay up for its release (which was an hour-and-a-half late, by the way), I (as usual) have had limited time to play it until recently. I have now played through a couple of hours and maybe 10 missions or so and feel as though I have enough material to give my first impressions.

Let me get this out of the way first: If you loved GTA4, you'll find little to complain about here. If you hated GTA4, this will not convert you. Also, if you are not one of the gamers who played all the way through Niko Bellic's storyline, chances are you are not going to immediately jump onto an entirely new campaign. That said, it does make a few minor, yet perceptible alterations to the overall gameplay. Most prominently, the motorcycle controls and physics have been tweaked, making them easier to control, and harder to fall off of. Helmets, however, no longer exist, so in the event of a crash, your noggin will take the brunt of the force.

Also, much criticism was dealt to Niko's first few hours in Liberty City, specifically the lack of gunplay and overabundance of mundane chauffeur quests. This has been addressed in TLAD. Right from the start you are not only equipped with a sawed-off shotgun, usable while driving, but you'll very quickly be thrown into an old-fashioned GTA4 shootout where you'll pick up your familiar Glock 17 pistol.

There's very little tutorial, as it's safe to assume most, if not all, of this game's audience is already familiar with the nuances of GTA4's controls and gameplay elements. New elements, such as driving your gang-exclusive bike in formation, will be explained when applicable. The driving in formation is a nice way to make getting yourself from point A to point B a little more interesting, but can be annoying if you get separated from the group, or fall too far behind, as you cannot hear your fellow gang members' dialog if you're too far away. Occasionally you'll be given the option to race your partners to the destination, which helps to mix things up a bit more.

Finally we come to the characters. The playable character, Johnny Klebitz, is the vice president of the Lost MC, a motorcycle club based in Alderney, who are at war with rival gang, the Angels of Death. At the opening of the game, the club's president, Billy Grey, has just gotten out of rehab and reassumes his position as leader of the pack. Immediately things start going down hill for Johnny, who seems to be reaching something of a mid-life crisis. He has worked hard to put the Lost on a constructive track, and Billy's wild ways are threatening to unravel Johnny's efforts. Billy's dead set on rekindling the conflict with the Angels of Death, and Johnny tries futilely to dissuade him. Thus far, I find Johnny a less interesting character than Niko, though he does have more interesting things to do from the outset.

Well, that should do it for first impressions. I'll be back with my Extended Play after I've logged in a few more hours.

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