Yet, even if the development team is having trouble escaping from the point-to-point nature of most of the challenges, Rockstar is getting increasingly good at embellishing the framework: while many missions involve following the GPS to a location, shooting it out like a low-down desperado, and then escaping from the police afterwards, there's a fair amount of variation on display, along with some excellent staging which sees you leading dirty cops to an ambush, fighting your way out of a tenement building crawling with N.O.O.S.E. agents, and lying in wait for a drug drop at a rainy toll booth.
And when it can't bring variety, The Lost and Damned simply reaches for the bigger guns, handing over the RPG for an explosive assassination at the airport, and allowing you to smoke out your enemies with the new - and intensely satisfying - grenade launcher. And - finally - there's the merciful addition of mid-mission checkpoints, which transform the game's longer set-pieces from endless restart slogs into a series of discrete challenges that no longer make you so angry.
Alongside the story campaign, there's a generous range of additional treats: the new clubhouse offers gambling and arm-wrestling mini-games, as well as the strangely addictive 3D Tetris variation called QUB3D, and there's a mass of fresh internet sites, radio stations, races, and twenty-five new Gang Wars - brutal territory fights which are waiting to erupt between biker clubs at various spots around the city. Then there's multiplayer, with new modes like Lone Wolf Biker fulfilling your sadistic tendencies as the entire pack descends on a single player, while Turf War variant Own the City enlivens Team Deathmatch with its brutal land-grabbing, and Chopper vs. Chopper pits bike against helicopter for some highly asymmetric battle-racing.
With a fulsome single-player campaign that will soak up somewhere in the region of fifteen hours of your time while threading in a genuinely memorable story, and a pile of new distractions, there's no question that Rockstar has raised the bar on what players should expect from downloadable content. This isn't the short burst of simulated history that Operation: Anchorage offered Fallout 3 fans, or the quirky asides of Fable II's Knothole Island. Instead, it's approaching the kind of package most developers would have few qualms about boxing up and selling to you full-price as an entirely new game.
While the company's talent with stories suggests the day may be approaching when GTA runs up against the inevitable limits of openworld titles - a Scorsese-quality narrative, where characters are happy to spend their time driving around in klutzish dodgem cars - for the moment, the trade-off still works. That's why, for now at least, you'll be more than happy to come along for the ride.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned is out exclusively for Xbox 360 as of 17th February. It costs 1600 Microsoft Points (GBP 13.60 / EUR 19.20) on Xbox Live Marketplace.
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