The Lost and the Damned: Brotherly Love But Not In That Way
When The Lost and the Damned the first downloadable expansion for Grand Theft Auto IV dropped on Tuesday, I dutifully threw twenty bones at Microsoft and downloaded it. It’s a big download – 2 gigabytes – so I let it run on its own while I worked.
Later that evening, I went to play it – and I couldn’t find my copy of GTA IV. The disc somehow evaporated and I have no idea where it went. Thus, I couldn’t actually play the damned (literally) game until today, when I snagged a used copy for another twenty bucks. Essentially, I’ve now paid forty bucks for it.
Irritating. Especially since I just know that I’m going to find my original copy. Probably later tonight and probably in plain sight.
Anyways. The game.
The Lost and the Damned is a “side-story” to the epic tale that is Grand Theft Auto IV. In this game, you take control of Johnny “The Jew” Klebitz, a high-ranking member of the Lost Motorcycle Club (the GTA version of Hells Angels). Those of you who have played through GTA IV may remember Johnny, as he was a minor character in the first game: a guy whose deals just never went down clean.
Johnny Klebitz is an alright guy. He’s rough and rude, to be sure, but he genuinely believes in the fellowship his motorcycle brotherhood and he loves and is intensely loyal to his soldiers. He is an interesting character and I like him more than I like our Slavic friend Niko Bellic from GTA IV. Johnny is a man who made some questionable choices in his life and is simply trying to do what is best for himself and, more importantly, those he loves.
(At one point in the game, Johnny gets an email from his biological brother, who is a soldier fighting in the “desert war”. His brother writes to tell him how bad and bloody it is there, and then chastises him for “making poor choices.” Johnny responds with “yeah, looks like we both made some bad choices and now people are shooting at us.”)
As the story starts, Billy Grey, the current president of the Lost MC, is getting out of rehab and takes back control of the gang. This creates a lot of tension among the crew because, frankly, Billy is a bit of a psychopath with the leadership acumen and the self-control of a troubled fourth grader. While Billy was away, Johnny turned the Lost into a smooth running machine, making money, reducing gang violence, and generally looking out for his peeps.
Billy is having none of that. He’s a violent hedonist and pretty much immediately starts a war with a rival motorcycle gang – much to the dismay of Johnny and many of the other riders.
Thus is set the stage for our tale of protecting those we love and taking revenge for those who have fallen. For engaging in the drug trade and watching those same chemicals destroy those around us. For believing in and supporting deep, familial camaraderie and the inevitable, crushing betrayals that are parcel to that kind of love.
It will not be possible to discuss Johnny Klebitz and The Lost and the Damned without also talking about Niko Bellic and Grand Theft Auto IV – if only because the Lost and the Damned made me like Grand Theft Auto IV more (I’m wanting to write more about this but I’ll save it for later).
Both of the stories are emotionally powerful. However, Johnny’s story ends on a more upbeat note than the one connected to our immigrant friend. Niko’s story is an exercise in brutal nihilism: the center cannot hold, everything falls apart, and we are given a denouement comprised of despair. He is a doomed anti-Midas and everything he touches turns to lead and sinks beneath the water, forever out of reach.
Johnny, however, is more proactive. Everything is falling to shit, but, unlike Niko, he doesn’t take the luxury of dwelling on the whys and wherefores of his lot. He doesn’t blame himself and he doesn’t question himself. Instead, he acts. He’s angry – rightly so – and that anger gives him a focus.
But more: Johnny is not alone. He has a network of people that love him with a ferocity that is only matched by the love he feels in return. The game does a wonderful job of driving this home for you: the first time you ride on a chopper leading a formation of seven or eight other gang members you feel it.
It sounds stupid – that simply riding around the city with a crew can make you, the player, feel that you aren’t alone – but it works, and it works well. If you sidle up next to another gang member while cruising around, they’ll start talking to you – cracking jokes, busting balls.
Your gang members will come help you at a moment’s notice, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Are you pinned down behind a wall taking gunfire from a pack of mafia hit men? Call one of your buddies. They’ll either come a runnin’ or (sometimes) set up ambushes and traps. They bring you guns and bikes and sometimes new missions.
Each gang member is unique in some way, with distinct personalities. They all have a “battle hardened” statistic that goes up after every fight they take part in. This means that it is to your advantage to bring them along all the time, further emphasizing that you are not alone in your fight in the grim and gritty underbelly of Liberty City.
Perhaps the best thing about your fellow gang members is that they don’t bug you to go on dates with them. Niko didn’t know anyone when he arrived in Liberty City so he had to develop friendships. Johnny already has them. You can hang out with them if you want to, of course, and the Lost and the Damned adds in several new “mini games” for this (air hockey, poker, arm wrestling, etc.), but it is by no means required.
The missions are standard Grand Theft Auto fare: go to point X; killify some dudes; pick up object Y; killify some more dudes; go to point Z. There is a new racing mode where you smack your opponents with bats and a fun series of “gang war” side missions that are fun but otherwise if you hated GTA IV’s mission types you won’t be doing yourself any favors with this.
There is one mission mechanic that LatD introduces that is simply the fucking bee’s knees: in-mission checkpoints, which eliminates my biggest complaint about IV’s mission cycle. If you get killed or otherwise fail in your goal, you no longer have to repeat everything from scratch. It’s such a common thing in games these days that one wonders why Rockstar didn’t include it in GTA IV in the first place. (Sadly, this mechanic is not retro-actively applied to IV).
Johnny’s missions intertwine with Niko’s at several points. You will “replay” some missions that Johnny was a part of (in GTA IV), only from his point of view. Remember that drug deal you went on with Playboy X that went bad because it was a sting and you escaped from the roof? Well, Johnny escaped from the ground – and you’re playing it this time. The escape from the museum? Same deal.
There’s even a fun little mission involving Roman Bellic. This was possibly the easiest mission in the entire game, and oddly the one I enjoyed the most – mostly because I love Roman as a character. He’s just fun and jolly.
(I do not play these games for the missions; I play for the story, the soundtrack, and for exploration: three things that the GTA series excels at.)
Speaking of the soundtrack, they added a bunch of new songs (mostly death metal) to the mix and a lot of new radio chatter. One bonus for those who played the original GTA IV is that you will end up hearing news reports about Niko Bellic’s exploits as you go, because LatD takes place in the same time frame.
The motorcycle physics have been . . . dramatically improved. This makes sense: Johnny is a biker, after all, while Niko is not. Conversely, Johnny can’t drive cars (he calls them “cages”) very well at all. As a result, you’ll spend 90% of your time on a bike.
If you’re used to GTA IV the visuals of LatD may seem a bit off. Grungier. Grittier. This is because there is “noise” filter that is being applied to the screen. It can be turned off in the settings but I’d recommend leaving it on: it does a great deal for setting the tone.
Also of note, and possibly important to some people: there’s a cut scene that includes full frontal male nudity. If your mental bullet points for why or why not you will buy a game includes the phrase “contains a digital model of a middle-aged man’s penis” you should be aware that it’s there. Watching the cut scene, you think you’re going to be able to escape being confronted by the dude’s johnson but no – you’re trapped. He even thrusts it at the camera.
All told, it looks like The Lost and the Damned can easily eat up 15 hours or so – far more if you attempt 100% completion – and is well worth the twenty dollars in Microsoft Points it takes to download.
I highly recommend it.