Wot I Think: GTA IV: The Lost And Damned

By John Walker on April 29th, 2010 at 6:34 pm.

And splattery.

At either end of 2009, two “episode packs” were released for the 360 version of GTA IV: The Lost And Damned, and The Ballad Of Gay Tony. As of a week or two back, the two have been released together for the PC, not requiring the original game to run. It’s an awful lot of game. I’ve finished the both, and so it’s about time I told you Wot I Think. First up, The Lost And Damned. (Be advised – there’s a picture of a man’s front bottom in this article.)

Perhaps GTA IV’s greatest achievement is the sense of place it created. Liberty City is quite astonishing, the most realistically realised fictional location seen in gaming. Not just its size, but its detail, its variety. Then within that, Rockstar told a story of so much more maturity than anything they’d tried before.

The tale of Niko Bellic, a reluctant centrepiece for a narrative of crime, drugs, prostitution, and all that has come to be associated with the series, was not told with bravado or immature glee. Rather it was a sad story, a demoralising exploration of one man’s descent into a criminal life of murder and exploitation that he had never desired, born of the horror of his past and the lack of opportunity in his present. Perhaps the mistake in the new content (and there are very few mistakes) is trying to do this twice more.

Someone at Rockstar has maybe been watching Sons Of Anarchy. And after playing the biker gang story set within Liberty City, there were a number of (perhaps coincidental) parallels. The FX show features a washed up biker gang, fighting to maintain any control of their town as the modern world hurriedly catches up around them. At its centre is the gang’s Vice President, Jackson Teller, who wants to see change in the club. His step-father, played by a grumpy Ron Perlman, is getting the club deeper into trouble, fixated on vengeance and the ways things used to work. Jax wants to see change, wants SAMCRO to move on. I say all this because if you remove the step-father element, that’s the opening plot of this first GTA episode.

Set in the same city as the previous game, now you primarily navigate the streets on two wheels. (Cars can be stolen and driven as before, but during missions you’re required to be on your own bike). Much as before, a number of people around the city will give you scripted missions, the accompanying cutscenes telling the overall story. Familiar, and still brilliant.

The Lost is headed by Billy Grey, freshly released from court-appointed rehab, and immediately back to his old ways of heroin and revenge. While he was away, VP Johnny Klebitz, your character, formed truces with rivals all around the city, including former enemy motorcycle club, the Angels of Death. Financially ruined after years of Grey’s authority, he was doing all he could to rescue the Lost from complete destruction. Somewhat disrupted by the return of the president, and his immediate restarting of as many rivalries as possible.

The most dramatic difference between TLAD and either GTA IV or The Ballad Of Gay Tony is the squad-based missions. When you head off to do club business, you’re amongst a number of other bikers, riding in formation (peculiarly, doing this builds your shield on the way to and from places). So very often the shoot-outs, and this is primarily about shoot-outs, put you in company. Later, you’re able to choose to call in support from loyal club members on missions that could otherwise be played solo. While their AI is not exactly outstanding, it’s useful back-up. Far too often they’ll use exactly the bit of cover you need, and occasionally they’ll somewhat double-cross you by shooting you in the back. But most of the time they’re useful to have around, especially as the scale builds up toward the end.

The largest issue with TLAD is simply one of comparison. The story is fine and very well acted, if a little predictable, and the missions are all decent, if a little samey. Alone, it is a splendid, lengthy game. But it’s also alongside GTA IV and Gay Tony, and it’s by this standard that it falls slightly short. It lacks the variety, and certainly the silliness, that lets the other two games feel much deeper and more involved.

Your character, Johnny, isn’t exactly the most interesting or complex person. Beyond being fed up with the status quo, there’s little sense of a rounded individual, and certainly a lack of background. He feels a little like a pastiche of Niko, in fact. What made Niko so interesting was his reluctance in a game series that had previously trumpeted its indifference to murder and crime. Johnny wants to see The Lost progress, get out of petty rivalries and instead start to make money once more. But this just seems to be born of common sense, rather than any interesting narrative history. Since I’m comparing with Sons Of Anarchy (you know, both feature major characters called Clay), there Jax is inspired by finding the memoirs of his late father, the former president of the club. His regrets, and desire to see change, inspires the VP in a way that his mother finds terrifying, and others in the gang find threatening. It would have been great to see something like (but other than) this giving Johnny more reason to be.

However, far more interesting is Johnny’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend, a haggard drug addict for whom he feels a conflicted mix of sympathy and disgust. It’s through friendships, in fact, that his character shines.

And for those that couldn’t give a toss what their character is like, and just want to get on with shooting stuff, the issue might be the repetitive nature of the missions. Gay Tony has you running around theme parks, playing golf, stealing trains. The Lost And Damned has you fight rival gangs, shoot rival gangs, and steal bikes from rival gangs. None is bad, by any stretch. In fact, each is great. Just not varied.

Fleshing things out are gang wars, twenty-five of them, which do indeed come down to fighting rival gangs. So, you know, quite familiar. Completing these will make new weapons available to you.

Talking of equipment, another lovely addition unique to this episode is the ability to call people for new gear. Rather than having to pay for weapons and ammo (which you can still do), you can ring a buddy and have things dropped off for you. New bikes, new guns, etc, are a cellphone call away.

Perhaps the most significant change, in common with Gay Tony, is the checkpointing within missions. If you were infuriated with GTA IV’s forcing you to replay vast sections of missions only to die in the same tricky spot a second, third, fourth time, be infuriated no more. An abundance of generous mid-mission checkpoints have been included, letting you pick up the action much nearer to any deathly points. If you don’t want this, you can instead start the whole mission over by travelling back to its starting point.

The bikes also handle better than before, although they’re still twitchy. Far less prone to riding up walls (although this still can happen), they’re easier to steer, and less likely to suddenly rear up on their back wheels. However, as with all three PC GTAs, there’s absolutely loads of graphical glitches that make things often look extremely choppy. At random moments the ground can be replaced by a blank grey sheet, which makes driving extremely difficult. It doesn’t entirely enjoy task-switching, and for reasons I cannot fathom there’s still no option to run the game in a window – surely a default for PC games now?

Oh, and one other thing. After the “hot coffee” controversy of the extra content for GTA: San Andreas, there’s a rather surprising decision to include full-frontal male nudity in this one. It’s an extremely funny moment, and clearly there’s no sensible reason to take issue with it. In fact, mentioning it was my excuse to post a picture of a willy on the site.

If you were forced to pick between the two, I’d recommend The Ballad Of Gay Tony without hesitation. But since you’re getting both in one box, blimey, you should make sure to play through this one too.

The Ballad Of Gay Tony will be Wot I Thinked tomorrow.

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61 Comments »

  1. Sweedums says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed both episodes, though Gay tony was probably better simply for the madness in a lot of the missions. both were very funny though and i would certainly recommend the two to anyone who liked GTA4

  2. Quasar says:

    Gracious! A willy!

    I shall write to the Daily Mail immediately.

  3. Andy says:

    GTA4 does run in a window allbeit with a command switch. In Steam go to the games properties, set launch options, and “-windowed”. There are many many more tweaks which can help, I’ve probably spent more time trying to get GTA4 running properly than I have actually playing it.

  4. Quasar says:

    I never got around to finishing GTA4… Got to the stage where I’d just unlocked the third island, and couldn’t find the motivation to go any further. It’s definitely no Just Cause 2.

  5. Chris says:

    First cyber cock ive ever seen. Funny

  6. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Gosh, reminds me why I don’t play GTA. The lightning is just awful.

  7. westyfield says:

    What are the willy physics like?

  8. Sagan says:

    Yay a willy!

    GTA is a series that I have always wanted to like, but then didn’t. Same for GTA IV: Didn’t like it particularly much. I had no real dislike for it, but it just didn’t grab me. So probably these aren’t for me either, right? I mean I am still looking for that one GTA game that I will like.

    The biggest annoyance for me was actually how I didn’t like a single character in the game. And I thought Niko Belic was very unconvincing, in how he was initially reluctant, but then, once you got off the first island, became just completely untroubled by all the horrible things he does. Like when you meet the Irish guys, he is just like “as long as you pay me, I will do anything.”
    If they ever make another GTA game in which every character isn’t either an asshole or an idiot, I will play it.

  9. DrGonzo says:

    I must be the only person who thought Lost and the Damned knocked the spots off Gay Tony. I actually preferred playing as a biker than as Niko.

  10. Radiant says:

    Message to all men.

    TRIM YOUR SCRUFFY BITS WTF.

  11. DrGonzo says:

    Oh no more soul destroying RPS comments anti GTA4… Just like Modern Warfare.

  12. Robert says:

    #1: I agree with mr Walker.

    #2: Did they make the willy small on purpose, to make us men feel better?

  13. Anthony says:

    Played these on the (gasp) 360 a while back and both are excellent expansions on the original game.

    I love how the..

    [SPOILER]
    diamond heist
    [/SPOILER]

    ..becomes the centrepoint of the narrative through both expansions, given that it’s alluded to very early on in the original, and in subsequent missions.

    In all, I think Rockstar did very well with the $50 million they cashed from Microsoft to make these two. Definitely up to their usual standard.

    (Also, analog sticks have always made these sort of games easier for me to play, beyond the shoostings, which is why I tend to buy them for consoles.)

  14. DMcCool says:

    The problem with The Lost and The Damned is its just too damned depressing. The biker gang you play as on a whole seem to be a bunch of unlikable mid-life crisis violent arseholes, for no reason. They’d be the villains in any other game. I couldn’t play through the game because each mission I was routing for anyone else to kill this violent fucks or at least put them in jail. I couldn’t see anything sympathetic, or even cool in these guys. Give me back Niko Belic, or Gay Tony’s hilarious Loius.

    • Anthony says:

      I tend to think that Lost and Damned makes less sense if you don’t look at it as part of the whole picture.

      The gang isn’t particularly worthy of your respect, but Johnny is sort of a reflection of Niko in my mind, just without so much angst. He’s still in it, fighting through the stuff that Niko has already come to terms with.

      At least, that’s my approximation on the character.

    • Anthony says:

      ..If you *do* look at it as a part of the whole picture, stupid me.

      Johnny is sort of an embryonic Niko, as it were

  15. Fatrat says:

    Got GTA 4 on the PC and the Episodes pack on the 360. I agree with the OP, Ballad of Gay Tony was much better than Lost & The Damned. LatD was still good but felt more shallow and tedious at times.

    If i got this pack i would play LatD before BoGT purely because you will appreciate them both more when done in that order. Kind of like how playing a sequel before the prequel would often be a bad move (though not always of course).

  16. Dan(WR) says:

    I sort of enjoyed The Lost and the Damned, but it reminded me that the real star of GTAIV is Liberty City. It’s a wonderfully crafted, living, breathing geography that I’ve come to know and love in the same way that I might know and love a town or city in the real world.

  17. Vandelay says:

    I actually just finished GTAIV yesterday. I have to disagree with a lot of what John says here and still say that the writing in GTA is pretty atrocious. Niko is certainly a notch above previous protagonists, but they still fail to really convince me of his reluctance to enter a life of crime. The odd moment of doubt doesn’t really compare to umpteen people that Niko has already killed. He is committing crimes right from the very start of the missions, even if the player doesn’t decide to mow down pedestrians during the down time. Just take a look at Mafia to see how really show a character being dragged into a life of crime. It is still clearly a work of satire by Rockstar, but I think they really need to make the game much more mature. The crude humour is just getting stale now (a fish restaurant called ‘Fanny’s Crabs’! Really?) Most of the very pointed digs and American culture are the same ones they have been making in the previous 3 games and they really need to do something to spice things up. Also not really sure when it became okay to have a bike named ‘faggio’ which you specifically use during a mission for one of the overtly (read stereotypical) gay characters.

    I also found it still suffered from the problem that all other GTA suffer from and that is rather dull mission designs. The vast majority are simple go to x location and kill everyone there, or at least boil down to it. The odd chase sequence is interspersed here and there, but the real epic missions don’t come along very often. I would much prefer it if they had half the number of missions (maybe even a quarter of them) and really focused on making each one exciting and varied.

    I also didn’t find Liberty City to be that interesting. The central island was good, but the other two were just very grey and dreary. Would have been better if some of the areas had a bit more colour to them and were a bit more lively, rather than the depressing setting that made up 90% of the city.

    Having said all that, I did enjoy my time with the game. It was certainly a far less frustrating game than the previous ones had been and the actual gameplay was the best the series has done so far. I may complain about the story, but that is only due to the high standards that it promises and just misses out on. It may have gotten a tad predictable in places (particularly the wedding sequence near the end), but it still was better than the vast majority of attempts at telling a story. Although the odd moment of decision never felt particularly game changing, it was nice to actually be given some options too.

    I’m sure I will probably be picking up these add-ons at some point.

  18. panik says:

    Nice of you to ruin everyone else’s “extremely funny moment” by posting that extremely funny pic

  19. Mr_Loon says:

    What really worked for me with my £450 gaming rig was to turn off shadows – huge leap in framerate and not looking much worse IMHO

  20. Rath says:

    @ John Walker
    I think I emailed RPS about this a while back, but I may have been drunk and just thought I did. Kurt Sutter, the writer of SOA (he plays Otto in the show, and is married to Katey Sagal) blogged about his love of violent PC gaming as a “writing meditation tool”. Oh, and NSFW due to some rather blue language.

    http://sutterink.blogspot.com/2009/10/zen-and-art-of-gaming-how-guns-blood_31.html

    Roll on the third season, can’t come soon enough.

  21. linfosoma says:

    You are not alone, while Im enjoying the ballad of Gay Tony I did like the Lost a lot more.
    Both games are totally worth it IMO

  22. Alexander Norris says:

    Phill Cameron’s obsession with dicks is spreading to the Hivemind. Uh-oh.

  23. Rath says:

    On a GTA related note, Vice City is currently only £1.50 on Steam, but only for the next few hours.

  24. Clovis says:

    An abundance of generous mid-mission checkpoints have been included, letting you pick up the action much nearer to any deathly points.

    Sold!

    That was the one thing that almost made me ragequit GTAIV. Those long missions at the end should have been fun, but they were just torturous because I was worried the whole time that I’d not time my jump right, or hit the helicopter with a rocket or whatever. Just awful.

  25. oceanclub says:

    I rage quit TBoGT, after that bloody helicopter mission. Trying to steer _and_ shoot with a helicopter without ditching in the water seems a futile effort. Ironically, I’m now playing Vice City (Steam sale pickup) and had no problem with the copter mission even though it wasn’t designed to be played with an XBox 360 gamepad.

    P.

  26. ascagnel says:

    I liked TLAD for one reason: my school is directly across the street from the bar you start at. See also: my college, in real life.

  27. Earl_of_Josh says:

    I’ll second that NSFW would have been a very good tag.

  28. Chiablo says:

    My impressions of the Liberty City stories:

    1. Lost and the Damned:
    More interesting than the original GTA4, but you pretty much use the same vehicle throughout the entire game and it nearly punishes you for driving a car (“you must be riding a bike” whenever you do half the missions.) The story is lackluster at best and honestly I could not understand the lead character’s motives. Johnny seems to be the most apathetic bad ass biker in existence.

    2. The Ballad of Gay Tony:
    Story wise it’s the best of the three games, I think. I love the characters and the locations you go to. But they insisted on putting the worst helicopter controls in video game history into this game. This wouldn’t be bad except for the fact that a good fourth of the storyline missions require you to pilot a chopper. I honestly could not finish this game because of the terrible controls. Frustration != fun.

  29. mickiscoole says:

    If you really want EFLC to be windowed:
    1. Go to the directory with the TLAD executable
    2. Create a text file called ‘commandline.txt’
    3. Put the command ‘-windowed’ in it
    4. Save and run EFLC.

    Alternatively, you could just add ‘-windowed’ to the shortcut you use most often, but the txt file version works no matter which way you start the game

  30. poop says:

    honestly I like johnny a lot more because his motivation of just trying to save his club no matter what is a lot more consistant than nikos JUST NEEDING MAHNEY FOR ROMAN , which stops making sense and makes niko seem like a bit of an asshole after he robs a bank and starts hanging out with the most generic mafia in the universe for some more mahney

    • Rath says:

      Once you’re carrying around $50,000 in cash I suppose it does start to befuddle you as to why the hell Niko and Roman don’t just use it for something constructive.

    • poop says:

      also roman is abled to buy an apartment in manhattan and restart the cab business with cash that niko presumably gives him behind the scenes so you would think that nikos desire for mahney had been satisfied

  31. jockey says:

    Are those episodes patched out of the box, with the new performanceshadows and what-nots?

  32. Rob Lang says:

    Please mark posts with full frontal (even digital) nudity with NSFW! Thank you.

    It’s testimony to modern graphics that, from a distance, you can’t tell if I am looking at a video game site or a gay porn one at work! (It’s not going to stop me looking at gay/goat/alien porn at work, I just need to know if I should look over my shoulder first)

  33. MD says:

    That’s a lazily modeled penis if ever I saw one. It’s just a featureless sausage-shaped lump.

  34. Ian says:

    Willies? On MY internet?

  35. adam says:

    I thought lost and the damned was more interesting. All of the gang dynamics made it more interesting than the standard run around picking up missions thing.

    Although on the 360 version, the most frustrating thing:
    There are AMAZING fun multiplayer modes… and nobody plays them. The whole gang territory takeover thing is an amazing game mode, and nobody seems to know about it. (Where you can optionally grab an arms truck and ride around upgrading your gangs patrolling your zones)

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