The first of two long awaited Xbox 360 exclusive Grand Theft Auto IV episode packs, GTA IV: The Lost and Damned comes down the digital pipe on February 17th. I got my hands on the upcoming expansion at Rockstar’s downtown New York office and delved into the world of Johnny Klebitz.
GTA IV devotees will remember Klebitz as a biker -- the second-in-command of The Lost motorcycle gang from the "Blow Your Cover" mission. I never got that far, so Klebitz was new to me. Rockstar did its best to make playing the episode a completely new experience for gamers. It re-skinned the user interface to look a little grittier, threw a new filter on the camera to make everything a little darker, and created roughly 20 hours of exclusive new gameplay including new cut scenes, voice work and even new banter on Liberty City’s radio stations. And yes, there are exclusive guns. Rockstar threw in five new weapons reminiscent of the arsenal found in the Terminator flicks (pipe bomb, sawed off shotgun, combat shotgun, machine pistol and grenade launcher).
Rockstar revamped the motorcycle-riding controls, which came in handy for me as I royally sucked at that part of GTA IV. The balance is far more forgiving and collisions with stationary objects create a spinout instead of launching your body 100 feet across the asphalt. While they didn’t expand the boundaries of Liberty City, the developers outfitted existing buildings and structures with accessible interiors.
According to Rockstar PR rep Steve Hahnel, “We wanted the new episodes to live up to the promise of downloadable content. So much of DLC is just a piece of new armor or a map pack. We’re delivering a full narrative, bigger than a lot of standalone games. The Lost and Damned is a serious story -- it’s not just biker gangway and f****** around.”
I got to pilot Klebitz around a few missions, including "Buyer’s Market". It’s basically "Blow Your Cover" reconfigured for Lost and Damned. By refocusing the camera work on Klebitz, the developers made Johnny the star of the show and neatly turned Niko Bellic (GTA IV's protagonist) into a side character. The Lost and Damned story arc intersects Niko’s, but for the most part, this is a whole new ball game. Side missions include selling drugs, fleeing from (and killing) cops, dealing with rival biker gang the Angels of Death, and the growing power struggle between Johnny and Billy, the leader of The Lost.
I dug all the missions I played but did not get a chance to explore the new multiplayer modes. As a gamer that didn’t feel compelled to finish GTA IV, I don’t think I’ll plunk down $20 for the expansion pack. However, if you’re jonesing for new crimes to commit in Liberty City or you’re just into open-world, riding-dirty mayhem, The Lost and Damned was built with you in mind.