The first of two planned downloadable episodes for the Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto IV, The Lost And Damned, will arrive in February, giving players a fresh look at the well-traveled Liberty City.
In The Lost And Damned, you'll step into the biker boots of Johnny Klebitz, vice president of the motorcycle gang The Lost. Things seem to be going pretty well in low-life biker gangland for Johnny and crew until The Lost's leader, Billy, returns from his stint at rehab to resume control.
Control, in Grand Theft Auto storytelling terms, means something along the lines of total anarchy, as Billy quickly escalates the feud between The Lost and rival gang the Angels of Death in a brutal and bloody fashion. Along the way, Johnny and his biker buddies will work together to wreak havoc and take down their rivals, a substantial change from Niko Bellic's mostly solitary journey in Grand Theft Auto IV.
What Did They Show Us?
We took a look at three of the game's missions, "Action/Reaction," "Buyer's Market" and "Shifting Weight." They introduced us to The Lost And Damned's cast, gameplay changes and the return of on-rails shooting missions. The mission "Buyer's Market" illustrated how Johnny's life in Liberty City will intertwine with Niko Bellic, as the two cross paths via Grand Theft Auto IV's Elizabeta. Less obvious connections and crossovers between GTA IV and The Lost And Damned popped up during cut scene dialogue.
What's Unique About It?
Johnny's already established in Liberty City. He won't be building relationships with the burg's low-life. Johnny and The Lost already have reputations, they already have safehouses to squat in. And they already have enemies.
The Lost And Damned's most obvious changes are new bullet point additions like new weapons, new vehicles, new interiors, and new radio, internet and television content. Johnny has access to weaponry previously unavailable to Niko, including an automatic 9 MM pistol, a sawed off shotgun, an assault shotgun, a grenade launcher and pipe bombs. You'll get access to the fun-to-fire grenade launcher in the mission "Action/Reaction," in which Johnny does serious damage to his rival's clubhouse, thanks to a stream of grenades.
Rockstar reps pointed out that some of the game's new music and radio chatter will be tailored to The Lost And Damned experience. That translates to new music for the game's rock, hardcore and metal radio stations and a little less so for the jazzier, more world beat stations. Think more "Ace of Spades" by Motörhead, less Dizzy Gillespie.
There are even new mini-games (arm wrestling!) and still unannounced multiplayer additions on top of the already revealed changes, neither of which we got a chance to play during our hands on time.
Less obvious additions help to differentiate The Lost And Damned from Niko's trip through Liberty City. Menus have a distinct, grungier look, with a new grittier film-grain effect giving Johnny's story a more appropriate visual style. Even his cell phone looks more bad arse. Rockstar has also added more weight to the expansion's motorcycles — all of them, not just the choppers — to make riding a little easier on the player.
What Did We Like Most?
Curiously enough, it was The Lost And Damned's pack riding mechanic that we found most interesting, even if it feels largely superficial. When Johnny's riding with his crew in formation, The Lost's gang insignia will be emblazoned on the pavement. Ride on it and Johnny can get a health boost and spawn new strings of dialogue from fellow Lost members. It's a minor thing, but considering that we're mostly interested in seeing how Johnny's story line plays out, during our hour of gameplay, we thought it pretty cool.
What Are We Concerned About?
After spending fifty hours cruising through the streets of Liberty City, do we really want to spend another ten, but now in biker outfits? Honestly, yeah. Rockstar North appears to have done a respectable job of making the look and feel of Johnny's version of Liberty City somehow unique. They're careful to start and end missions in spots previously under-explored by Niko, giving the player a fresh perspective on the city.
With an expected minimum of ten hours of new gameplay in The Lost And Damned, in addition to the changes, the first downloadable episode looks like a sound investment at just US$20. New gameplay styles and thankful concessions — some missions can be restarted at halfway points, not just from the start — make The Lost And Damned feel less like a tacked on expansion and more of an evolution.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost And Damned will be released on February 17th for the Xbox 360. The downloadable episode retails for US$20/AU$30.