In April of 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV captured my imagination with a great story and fun open-world gameplay. Prior to GTA IV, my only open-world gaming experience was with The Godfather on the Wii. While many may have grown accustomed to (or weary of) the Grand Theft Auto formula by this point, I was completely caught up in the life of Niko Bellic, trying to find my way in Liberty City.
Almost two years removed from that experience (and almost one year since the release of The Lost and Damned), I have begun playing Episodes From Liberty City, which I received as a Christmas present from my girlfriend. Will this GTA IV add-on experience grab me like GTA IV did? Will it stand out on its own terms? Does the GTA IV style of play hold up even after I’ve played other fantastic open-world style games like Assassin’s Creed II and Borderlands?
Before I get into this, I must preface my writing by saying that I’ve only played The Lost and Damned so far and that I’m not very far into it. I’m definitely in no position to pass any sort of final judgment on the game. I just wanted to take a bit of time to write about my initial feelings towards this episode.
Right off the bat, the tone of this game is very different from IV. Rockstar did a great job of re-purposing the world of Liberty City to better tell the story of Johnny and The Lost biker gang. All of the graphics have this gritty filter over it, which does make the world look and feel different from the Liberty City of old even though its the same place. New music, radio stations and television shows have been added to spice up the media content lineup. Motorcycle handling was one of the things I hated about GTA IV, but it feels a lot better in this one.
What stands out to me the most though so far is the story. The tale of a brotherhood biker gang taking on a rival gang while facing internal strife feels really well done. The tension between Johnny and Billy is palpable and believable. I’m very interested in seeing where this goes. Even in game, the brotherhood aspect of the story matters. You have meters that monitor your relationships with other members of your gang. The longer they stay alive, the better they will perform when you’re out on missions with them. If certain members die, others will fill their place, but their meters will be reset.
The one thing that has really hampered the experience for me so far are the controls. Historically, the GTA series has been known for not having the most intuitive control setups. When I first jumped into IV, I had nothing else to base it on, so the transition wasn’t that painful. After playing a number of other games since then, it has been tough getting re-accustomed to the controls and how the game responds to my commands. I most recently played the mission where you travel with Niko and Playboy X to the drug deal, and a combination of the controls and the game logic lead me to die about a dozen times before I finally beat it.
Maybe I’ll be able to get comfortable with or overcome the controls. There’s still a lot of motivation on my end to play it, so we’ll see how the rest of The Lost and Damned plays out.