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Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned

A literal struggle with Billy is inevitable, of course. A blatant satire of the Bush administration, he comes tearing out of rehab eager to fight doomed wars against the rival Angels of Death (a clear analogue for the multinational Hell’s Angels) and anyone else who might start breathing down the Lost’s neck. There’s also Johnny’s meth-addled ex-girlfriend Ashley, who helps reveal Johnny’s softer side, but whose ravaged face and pathetic junkie excuses send a more powerful anti-drug message than a thousand lame PSAs.

And then there’s Congressman Stubbs, the obligatory politico in need of a henchman, who makes his debut showing off what might be the first non-user-created dick ever to appear in a console game.

Above: To see Stubbs' full naked glory, download the game

Speaking of Stubbs, we’ve got to hand it to Rockstar for coming up with new ways to make even jaded fans feel uncomfortable with their actions. The game frequently brings up the current recession, and it just so happens some of Stubbs’ biggest contributors might have directly caused it. Because they’re in police custody, he needs Johnny to rescue them and put them on the path to a country without extradition treaties. Yes, it’s only a game, but in this era of mass layoffs and whispers of a depression, that shit hits home. Which is probably the intent.

The story’s consistently compelling, but that doesn’t mean it always makes sense. It’s not always clear why Johnny commits certain crimes or kills certain people, and his ideals (and apparently diplomatic pre-game disposition) often go out the window if it suits a mission’s setup. It’s like Rockstar has mastered the art of creating sympathetic, world-weary criminals, but hasn’t quite figured out how to make that jibe with the mass murder and indiscriminate mayhem that GTA missions call for.

Story and missions and their occasional contradictions aside, The Lost and Damned brings a lot of new stuff to Liberty City. There’s no new island, although there are some new building interiors to explore (like the Lost clubhouse), and you’ll also have a few cool new weapons to play around with, including pipe bombs, a machine pistol, a grenade launcher and the monstrous “street sweeper,” an assault shotgun that fires shells at a rate of about six per second.

Being an American citizen, Johnny has the entirety of Liberty City open to him from the start (regardless of how far you’ve made it in Niko’s story). He also has his own friends, whom he can call up for the usual social activities (eating, bowling, going to see a show), as well as a few new ones (air hockey, arm wrestling and awful hi-lo card games). They almost never call him, though, which is great. Johnny doesn’t date, either, so don’t bother trying to scour Lovemeet or Craplist for new girlfriends.

If socializing with imaginary people isn’t your thing, the optional gang wars (which are really more like turf battles) and Road Rash-inspired races (in which you clobber opponents with a baseball bat) might be more your speed. They’re joined by new TV shows, websites, radio content (with new songs and new DJs, including Funkmaster Flex) and performances by stand-up comic Frankie Boyle. And if you’re still not satisfied, you can hunt down the game’s 50 hidden seagulls, assuming you’re some kind of masochist.