Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned
Rated M for Mature
Released Feb. 17
Published by Rockstar Games
If you were to look over my favorite games of 2008, you might be surprised by the absence of Grand Theft Auto IV. True, the internet uni-mind has invariably done five or six about-faces on the game by now, but GTA IV generally racked up in the year-end accolades department. Its not one of my favorites, though, despite some of its more amazing capabilities. The dialogue and voice-acting are some of the best youll find, and Liberty Citys the most immersing virtual urban environment since whatever that town was in Final Fight (New Mechadetroit?). Like previous GTAs, IV excels at presentation, making a good impression even if you dont enjoy the gameplay.
Unfortunately the gameplay is often directly at odds with the presentation, and thoroughly undermines the story. The game tries to incite our sympathy with Bellic's constant anguish over the violence he commits, but then asks us to guide him through the regular and indiscriminate murder of dozens of people. GTA IV eventually tries to deal with the issue, but without much conviction. Its a bummer watching a game gradually tarnish its greatest achievement.
Whats this got to do with GTA IV: The Lost and Damned, though? The recently released downloadable content, exclusive to the Xbox 360, is less a GTA IV expansion pack than a curious side-trip into a new storyline. The Lost and Damneds narrative frequently intersects with GTA IVs, but only briefly. The actions of IVs lead, Niko Bellic, are felt, but rarely seen.
The Lost and Damned focuses on Johnny Klebitz, vice president of the biker gang the Lost. Like Bellic, Klebitz seems wary of the sort of criminal mayhem typical of the GTA series. He knows violence is bad for business, so hes brokered truces with various rivals. When the Losts president Billy Grey is released from court-ordered rehab, he immediately changes direction, driving the Lost into open warfare with other gangs. This doesnt sit well with Johnny.
Heres where those glaring flaws from GTA IV return. Johnny Klebitz complains about Greys ultra-violent tactics while continually engaging in absurd bloodbaths in broad daylight. The story asks us to believe Klebitz is more stable and rational than his fellow bikers, but the gameplay consists primarily of controlling Klebitz through crazed murdering sprees. Sure, those murdering sprees can be pretty damn fun if you can handle GTAs reliably clunky controls but they dont fit the character as defined in the cut-scenes. The game asks us to believe what Klebitz says and not what he does, and I cant really do that. From a narrative perspective, GTA IV: The Lost and Damned is a beautifully produced, thought-provoking failure, much like its parent game. I enjoyed every second of the cut-scenes, and didnt even mind watching some of them multiple times, but they cant be squared away with what the game asks you to do. There has to be a way to unite an even remotely likable character with the rampant, transgressive gameplay expected from the series, but Rockstar has yet to figure it out.
GTA IV: The Lost and Damned might be a narrative failure, but like GTA IV, its still compulsively playable. Its one of the few games where youll actively anticipate the next cut-scene. The action sequences remain somewhat hamstrung by the awkward camera and sluggish controls, but at least now you dont have to restart a failed mission from the very beginning. The real thrills are driving around town, listening to the radio, and experiencing an amazing fake city, though, and any reason to go back and do that again is fine by me.
(Photo courtesy Rockstar Games)
how bout some more pics of the GA delegation?
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