Leave it up to Rockstar Games to jump into the downloadable content (DLC) pool headfirst by not just offering up new maps, items, characters or horse armor but an entire new story that takes you back into Liberty City and makes this feel a new game all by itself. Everything you thought you knew about DLC has been completely changed to make this one of the more amazing developments in gaming of late. What Rockstar has essentially done here is to take the normal expectations you have of new game content and turn it into a seven-course meal. It’s not just a new story you get for your $20. It is new characters, weapons, vehicles, music and multiplayer modes. All of it housed within what PC gamers commonly call an “expansion pack.” The whole idea of videogame console DLC in fact is still a fresh one but because developers are taking the time to create it, games get longer life spans and gamers get more out of one game than just the usual play through and replay days. That in essence, is what makes game console DLC of this depth, something we’re going to see a whole lot more of. It offers you a chance to get that disc back into your console (if you’re not still playing it). It also makes you think twice about what games you plan to ship of to the EBay auction block or Gamestop trade bin. We’ve seen it coming, heard about it, and it would appear that this year it’s coming in droves (Fallout 3, Burnout Paradise, Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider: Underworld). What this means for Rockstar though is a thoroughly enjoyable new story, The Lost and the Damned.
The Lost and the What?
Word to the wise, if you’re new to the whole GTA IV thing then stop reading this, and go lose yourself in one of the best games ever. If you are one of the millions who’ve enjoyed the adventures of Niko Bellic and his exploits in Liberty City then here’s something you should keep in mind – it will help greatly if you’ve finished GTA IV first or most of it. Otherwise there’s a chance the game could spoil some of the surprises of the DLC or vice versa. In GTAIV Niko had run ins with the biker gang, the Lost MC (motorcycle club) and at one point even scores on of their jackets but they never interact to any great length. GTAIV is one of those unique games that had a rock solid core story, but it was clear there were many stories in Liberty City that we had yet to discover. The tale of Johnny Klebitz and his gang is one of those stories.
Unlike the immigrant making his way tale of Niko Bellic, what you have in Johnny K is a guy who is part of a group/brotherhood, albeit as criminal brotherhood, but nevertheless a gang of sorts that is dealing with losing control of a city they once ruled. The story kicks off with Johnny picking the Lost MC’s president, Billy, who has just gotten out of jail and is ready to take the reigns back from Billy to regain the supremacy the gang once had in Liberty City. Billy is one of those iconic GTA figures. He’s simultaneously cool and annoying, getting all the good lines, outrageous behavior and un PC dialogue. Johnny K on the other hand is not as morally layered as Niko but has a lot of depth and a lot of issues he has to get through during the course of this storyline (crazy leader/friend, screwed up girlfriend, mixed loyalties with other Lost members). All-in-all you have another quality chapter in this increasingly expansive Grand Theft Auto story book.
But How Does It Play?
It plays like it should and then some. The developers added a gritty shimmer to Liberty City so while it’s the same city there are many places to explore you never spent time in before. Finding yourself riding with a motorcycle gang is quite a different experience than jacking cars all the time and the game even rewards for riding in formation with the other bikers. The missions have a mixture of action and adventure and as with any GTA game there’s side missions and twists as well. Some welcome new tweaks include reloading a mission without having to go all the way back to the beginning (allowing you to skip over some of the dialogue and destination driving every time you redo a mission). You’ll also have some handy backup at your disposal in terms of calling in other bikers as well a handy weapons man that you can call to arm yourself. Realizing that gamers already went through the motions on earning those features in the regular game, they made them accessible within the construct of being in gang and it makes perfect sense. There are also new weapons to play with (the grenade launcher is hella-fun), new vehicles and even fresh music, talk radio, TV and mini games like arm wrestling and air hockey.
On the multiplayer side Lost & The Damned offers you an opportunity to skip the lobby and just jump into a game. There are also new multiplayer modes along with the preexisting ones that provide a fresh dynamic to the already fun multiplayer experience that made GTA IV so successful online.
For 1600 micro points ($20) you couldn’t buy a boxed game this good. The downside for some of us old-school 20-gig folks is that we’ll have to start seriously thinking about upgrading to the 60 gig to make room for future game add-ons. Granted not every game you buy will warrant you spending extra money for new content but it would be fair to say that with games of this caliber there will be an expectation of more to come.
"Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and the Damned (X360)" is on sale February 17, 2009 and is rated M. Action. Developed by Rockstar North. Published by Rockstar Games.