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We take a long hard look at The Lost and Damned before coming away with a tyre mark across our forehead...
We don't usually preview downloadable content here at TVG, but the opportunity to get a first look at the DLC that allegedly cost Microsoft $50 million to secure exclusive rights over was just too good to turn down. Additionally, at 1600 Microsoft Points this is by no means a cheap portion of DLC for the average Xbox Live punter. That's £13.60, about a third of the price for a brand new game, so will there enough content to keep gamers going for around 10 hours? Unfortunately, Rockstar wouldn't put a figure to the length of Episode 1: The Lost and Damned compared to GTA IV, so we're somewhat in the dark on that matter, but what we did see of the game certainly ticked all the right DLC boxes.
There are some new weapons and a few new gameplay features to speak of. Additionally, Rockstar told us that there will be some fresh music for Liberty City's airwaves to mirror The Lost's biker gang tastes. What we particularly enjoyed, though, is how the story crosses over with GTA IV's plot. You see, Episode 1's story follows a biker called Johnny Klebitz and runs parallel to GTA IV's. Rockstar has informed us that although there are fewer missions in Episode 1, these missions have been stretched out so that the DLC takes place over the same time frame as the main game. In effect, Johnny and his gang (The Lost and Damned) are tearing up Liberty City's streets at the same time that Niko is reluctantly being sucked back into the lifestyle that he left his home country to avoid.
These crossovers were never more evident in our hands on than during the 'Buyer's Market' mission, which is the 'Blow Your Cover' mission from GTA IV told from Johnny's perspective this time around. In 'Blow Your Cover', Johnny is seen in Niko's storyline for the first time (he later re-appears on a couple of other occasions), while in 'Buyer's Market' you follow Johnny as he goes to Elizabeta Torres and Playboy X's pad in Bohan before Niko turns up. Playboy X, Niko, and Johnny then head out to do a deal on some heroin. The deal ends in disaster as it becomes apparent that the buyer is an undercover cop and, after a firefight with the authorities, Niko and Johnny lose each other in the ensuing chaos.
What our hands on with Episode 1 revealed was a) what happened to Johnny afterwards and, more importantly, b) where the heroin came from in the first place. We'll explain all of this in time, but first let's put it all in context to stop things from getting too confusing: Although Johnny is introduced as the leader of The Lost in GTA IV, Episode 1 clarifies that he's only the acting leader of the group. A guy called Billy, who's been in rehab after managing to get away with a drug possession charge in the courts, is the rightful leader of the group. It seems Billy is a bit of a hothead and will happily start all out war with rival gangs to massage his own drug fuelled ego (drugs, by the way, are the main point of business for The Lost).
The first mission we played through in our hands on (prior to the events of 'Buyer's Market') was 'Action/Reaction'. Here, Billy takes offence at the actions of a rival gang (The Angels of Death, which also appear in Niko's story) and decides to launch a grenade through the window of one of the gang's hideouts. After a fire fight that leads to you exterminating every living thing in the gang's hideout (with the exception of vermin), Billy then spots a couple of bags of heroin that he thinks he's the rightful heir to. Johnny tries to convince him otherwise by pointing out they've already made their point by killing everyone - stealing that much heroin will have every criminal in Liberty City out for their blood.
Being the hothead that he is, Billy opts not to take Johnny's advice on board, hence the heroin deal that Johnny finds himself intertwined in alongside Playboy X and Niko. While GTA IV sees Niko and Playboy X escape via the roof of the building, 'Buyer's Market' reveals that Johnny escapes on the ground floor to a street full of police and SWAT teams. We won't spoil too many of these crossovers for you here though, because they will form a sizable chunk of the DLC's appeal. Episode 1 certainly immerses gamers even deeper into the game world of Liberty City, even if they were already up to the eyebrows in it from GTA IV. By elaborating on the stories of minor characters and extrapolating their tangential plotlines, Rockstar North has made Liberty City seem larger and more alive.
The third mission we played through, 'Shifting Weight', continued the on-rails style of GTA mission that we've seen in both GTA IV and its predecessors. After a drug deal goes awry, Johnny escapes from the scene on the "pussy pad" (this is how he endearingly refers to the passenger seat of a bike) of one of his biker friends' ride. Johnny is tasked with fending off a fleet of cop cars on their tail and, once he opens fire on them, these squad cars disassemble with all the explosive might that was present in the same type of missions in GTA IV. Rockstar North has also added the cinematic, slow-mo camera splices at specific points (such as exploding gas stations) that were present in GTA IV to ensure that things stay tastefully destructive.
What made this all the more appealing was the addition of an automatic shotgun to the action, which is one of five brand new weapons for Episode 1 that we saw during our hands-on. Looking like a gun out of Aliens with the capability to spew out shotgun cartridges more rapidly than our economy is currently falling through the floor, this is one mean piece of machinery. Joining the automatic shotgun as new weapons were an automatic pistol, grenade launcher, pipe bomb, and sawn-off shotgun. These weapons will also be made available in the multiplayer, and that may not be the limit of extra multiplayer features either as Rockstar certainly hinted that there's more to come from Episode 1's online action, although no specific details were revealed.
Brothers In Arms
As far as new gameplay features are concerned, we noticed a couple on our journeys around Liberty City and Rockstar also explained a few others that we didn't get the chance to see firsthand. The two that we saw emphasised the stress that's been put on squad play in Episode 1. With Johnny being part of a biker gang, there's obviously a wider scope for squad gameplay than there was along the lonesome road of Niko Bellic. As a result, features such as riding in formation have been introduced, where you have to keep within a Lost and Damned logo that sits on the road in the middle of your gang whenever they're riding to a destination. Successfully doing this will provide both health perks and a few extra details of the mission you're about to undertake as you ride to it.
In addition to this, you can also increase the experience and skills of your gang members by ensuring that they stay alive during fire fights. We saw just such a fire fight in 'Action/Reaction', where our whole team was out in force to take on the Angels of Death. While there weren't any specific controls for your squad such as 'hold position' or 'move out' (this would obviously be a bit too Tom Clancy), Rockstar assured us that if you protect your gang members at these key points, then you will be rewarded as they level-up in skills throughout the game (their experience levels are accessible by pressing down on the d-pad).
Other new features that Rockstar alluded to include mini-games in Johnny's array of safe-houses across the city. Incidentally, the reason he's got so many pads is because he's been a resident of Liberty City for so long, which is in stark contrast to the Niko Bellics and Carl Johnsons we've become used to over the years. We're told that Hi-lo card games and arm wrestling are but a couple of examples of these mini-games, while you'll also be able to order in guns from Ammu-nation at these locations as well. When you start the game, The Lost Clubhouse is immediately available as a safe-house and you'll also find Johnny's one-of-a-kind bike outside of this location. If you wreck it then there's always the chance to order a new one, but it'll never be quite the same as his original chopper.
It's certainly interesting that Rockstar has chosen the 'Episode 1' moniker for its The Lost and Damned DLC, because gamers may end up comparing this gaming portion to another revered piece of DLC that donned the 'Episode 1' tag. Half-Life 2 is certainly a tough act to follow in anyone's book, but The Lost and Damned has the potential to do what very few pieces of gaming content manage, which is to bring even more life and depth to the game world, characters, and storyline of the original title.