88I could have kept this review exceedingly short and simple:

Did you like GTA III? If so, chances are you’ve enjoyed each subsequent entry in the celebrated Grand Theft Auto franchise, up to and including GTA IV. And if you liked GTA IV, boy, does Rockstar ever have the game for you: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned!

I chose not to do that, because it wouldn’t have made for a very interesting read (not to mention the fact that it wouldn’t have been published). But it might have conveyed the necessary information, regardless. The GTA brand has become synonymous with liberating, open-world gameplay, compelling narratives, and mature themes. The Lost and Damned is no exception. If you played GTA IV (and you’ll have to have purchased it in order to play TLAD), you’ll find plenty here to make a return trip to Liberty City worthwhile.

Rockstar Games
Feb. 17, 2009

The Xbox-exclusive TLAD provides significantly more “C” than your average DLC; in fact, Rockstar prefers to call it a DLE (downloadable episode), in recognition of its status as an independent product which stands on its own merits. While this semantic distinction is justified, raising your expectations to too lofty a level might lead to disappointment. At least half the fun of a major GTA release stems from the process of discovering an immersive new metropolis; if you haven’t paid a visit to Liberty City since last summer, you’ll enjoy re-familiarizing yourself with its crime-ridden streets, but you won’t experience the same thrill of discovery that you did while first learning its layout. That certain segment of the GTA-playing population which delights only in causing mayhem, and rarely deigns to participate in any activity as structured as an actual story mission, might find relatively little to appeal to it here, aside from an assortment of new vehicles, weapons, and multiplayer modes.

Of course, faulting TLAD for not being GTA V would be an unfair criticism. Rockstar built an incredible sandbox last time around, and it’s only right that they (and we) should get to play in it a while longer before moving on (a second downloadable episode is on its way). By the standards of prior downloadable efforts, TLAD is truly massive, tipping the scales at 1.78 GB of goodness, and very little of that space is wasted.

As befits a fresh entry in the GTA canon, TLAD features an original protagonist, complete with his own cares, concerns, and surrounding cast of characters. His name is Johnny Klebitz, and you’ll get to know him quite well over the course of the game’s 8-10 hour campaign (your mileage-literally-may vary). Klebitz, voiced by Timothy Olyphant sound-alike Scott Hill, made cameos during two of GTA IV’s most memorable missions (“Blow Your Cover” and “Museum Piece”), but in TLAD, he steps out of Niko Bellic’s shadow and grabs the spotlight for himself. Klebitz is the franchise’s first Jewish leading man, though his religion plays no role in the story. He’s extremely patriotic, eschewing foreign-made vehicles in favor of domestically-manufactured rides. Most importantly, he’s a member of “The Lost MC,” a motorcycle gang based out of Acter, in Alderney. Johnny’s decision-making progress begins and ends with how his actions will affect his “brothers,” a term you’ll be hearing over and over as you progress through the game’s twenty-plus missions.

Johnny’s a likeable sort-for a mass murderer-but his character suffers from the same quandary which has plagued every GTA main character since Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti. In order to forge a bond with the player, Johnny has to behave like a fairly civil human being during cutscenes and exposition. Once the action starts, however, he must check his conscientious objections at the door in order to make possible GTA’s brand of wanton demolition (and I say that with all possible affection). The result is an inconsistent characterization, which only grows more glaring when Johnny’s stated desire for peace is followed by an inevitable, unsanctioned, four-star rampage undertaken by his controller-wielding puppet master.

At least Johnny can claim to be doing things he finds distasteful for the benefit of his brethren; his predecessor could avail himself of the same excuse only rarely. “I don’t want to cause trouble. I just need the money,” Niko Bellic would often insist. “Really?” I’d wonder. “Even after you robbed that bank?” None of these issues interferes with my enjoyment of GTA’s gameplay, but it does lessen my emotional investment in the narrative. If future iterations of the franchise feature irredeemable hard cases or taciturn heavies in leading roles, I won’t complain.

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About The Author

Ben Lindbergh is a Blast Games staff writer

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