GTA IV: The Lost and Damned Hands-On
Well I'll be damned. In-depth, hands-on preview of the first of two huge, episodic follow-ups to Grand Theft Auto IV.
It would've been easy for Rockstar to bring out an expansion pack to Grand Theft Auto IV with a few new guns and vehicles, some new clothes or even an additional area. But The Lost and Damned is a lot more than that. It's a completely new story within Liberty City, and believe it or not, it's one-third the size of GTA IV itself, in terms of number of missions - which is about the same size as a regular standalone game release these days, when you consider how enormous GTA IV is.
The Lost and Damned downloadable content is the first of two exclusive Xbox 360 episodic updates to GTA IV - setting back Microsoft $25 million per episode, according to Take-Two CFO Lainie Goldstein. So as far as DLC goes, we're still talking big time here, and the production values in Lost and Damned are pretty much what you'd expect from Rockstar North - the new characters aren't just recycled assets from the main game. Obviously, players need to have GTA IV inserted for the DLC to work, and after the initial download (there's no word at all on the download size), you have the choice to enter The Lost and Damned from within the main game, Rockstar told us.
But it's not really about the new guns, vehicles, music, animation, or areas. Once again it's about the story, and a completely new narrative arc sits within the timeframe of GTA IV - at some points, intertwining with it. Some of the references to the main game are subtle; others more overt. But the soul and pace of The Lost and Damned is notably different to Niko's adventures in the same city.
It's not meant to be clear where exactly Lost and Damned's storyline kicks off in relation to GTA IV's; we only know that it takes place within the timeframe of the main game, with several crossover points - players certainly don't need to have finished or made any significant progress in GTA IV to be able to get started in The Lost and Damned, so for example, although we meet up with familiar characters in Lost and Damned, these obviously take place before Niko makes certain relevant 'decisions' over on the GTA IV storyline.
While Niko is new to the city and making new contacts as he finds his feet, by contrast, the new protagonist of The Lost and Damned is a lifelong Liberty City veteran: Johnny Klebitz is up and running right from the start. Although we couldn't get a firm sense of it in our one-hour time with the game, Rockstar claims that his familiarity with the people and places of the city results in a different, faster pace in terms of missions and story than we experienced in GTA IV.
Johnny the Jew, as he's referred to by some, is acting president of the gang called The Lost (which popped up a few times in the GTA IV storyline). The group seems pretty dynamic, and over the considerable length of the episode our expectation is to get to know the characters well, perhaps facing the inevitable loss of some, and most importantly, to actually care about them. Johnny has a bit more of a moral compass than the other guys in the gang, and what motivates him is trying to do the right thing (as much as an antihero can), not just business. Everyone will have their favourite members of The Lost, Rockstar promises, and they reckon we'll soon be sucked into caring about these characters as much as Niko and Roman.
Consequently, things are set to be a lot less solitary than in Niko's adventure; there's a sense that Johnny is 'part of something' as he chisels away with his boys. Rockstar's included an interesting feature to this end; when riding as a group, if you stay close enough, 'The Lost' emblem is sort of projected onto the road underneath you as you ride, and dialogue is initiated - sometimes banter, sometimes discussion about the mission ahead - in much the same way Niko would chat away with his passengers about, well, all manner of frivolity. This 'convoy mode' formation will also give you a health boost if you do it properly, and even fix an amount of damage to your bike. The feature wasn't fully functional in this build just yet, so we'll reserve judgement on its place in the game for a later date.