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Mon, 23 Aug 2010

Game review: The Lost and Damned

Lost and Damned

This game was the first episodic expansion of Grand Theft Auto 4. It has you back in Liberty City as Johnny "The Jew" Klebtiz, second in command of The Lost motorcycle gang. This is a much darker game than GTA4 - Rockstar have gone adults-only on us, rather the the cartoon violence of the previous ones. Continuous swearing, even more violence, and some fairly adult stories are on offer here.

Quick story summary: Johnny has been running the Lost while the club president, Billy Grey, has been serving time in drug rehab instead of jail. Johnny K has things running well, money coming in, peace between the gangs and other syndicates. The action kicks off with Billy coming out of rehab, resuming the leadership and immediately going on a drug-fuelled bender of violence that sets every other criminal gang against The Lost. You play as Johnny, trying to salvage what can out of this chaos and keep his club together.

The dialogue and writing is as strong as always in a Rockstar game. The supporting characters are the real stars, especially the character of Billy. He has the best lines, and actor delivering them is just superb. He absolutely nails Billy as a socialpathic, charismatic, ultra-alpha personality. Sadly the main character is much weaker and kind of fails to make an impact, probably because eveyone else is so over-the-top. The friction between Johnny and Billy is done really well, however, and makes for some tense cutscenes.

One big problem I had with The Lost and Damned is that the character you play (Johnny) is just not that likeable. Niko Bellic (from the first GTA4) was trying to find a better life in a new place. He ends up being pulled against his will into the world of organised crime partly through the actions of those around him as well as his own (sometimes misplaced) loyalty and sense of honour. On the other hand, Johnny is a career thug and criminal that has carved his own place out with deliberate forethought. He's partly influenced by the actions of those around him (especially Billy), but also by the fact that he's a bit of a thung and an asshole. I want to be inspired by the role I play in a game, not to be turned off by it!

Johnny is portrayed as a (sort of) diplomat and consensus-builder between the gangs, but the peace he's built is simply so that everyone can get on with making money through crime. In the case of Niko Bellic, his spiral into the criminal life led to a top-notch final tragic climax with a huge punch. For Johnny, the ending is more of a damp firecracker without much of an emotional payoff. Despite his best effort he loses out, but in the end we don't really care all that much.

There is some attempt at character-building through the subplots involving his drug-addicted ex-girlfriend Ashley. These seem a little like an afterthought though, consisting mainly of a seque into the next mission. Their troubled relationship or past is never really explored in any detail, leaving us to fill in the blanks. It is interesting flavour, sadly underdone.

Techincal improvements have been made since GTA4. Motorbikes handle a whole lot better in this game, as you'd hope. Instead of spinning out on every corner and flipping the second you touch a kerb, they now drive beautifully. There are a bunch of new weapons to use, which is nice. There is a reasonable amount of variety in the missions and side-quests, however I wasn't as compelled to complete every single one, as in the first game. One excellent chase mission stands out, with you as the passenger on a bike fleeing at breakneck speed from a thousand police cars, vans and helicopters. Being the passenger allows you to concentrate on shooting stuff and watching the explosions. It is chock-full of spectacular set-pieces and sequences, and is worth the price of admission alone. The main game finishes with an over-the-top action movie, giving you full access to all of the weapons at no cost, plus the licence to use them all in one glorious orgy of violence. Brilliant stuff!

Despite its faults, Lost and Damned is great fun to play. It is more of the same as GTA4, pumped up with extra guns, bikes and an adult storyline. Returning to Liberty City for another outing is well and truly worthwhile. Recommended.

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