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TVG joins The Lost and Damned as the DLC gets set for release on Xbox LIVE tomorrow - here's the lowdown...
- Tighter integration of primary & secondary goals.
- Unequalled story, dialogue, and production.
- Huge single-player & unlimited multiplayer fun.
- Still room for more 'living, breathing' details.
In this intro paragraph, we could go on about how this Xbox 360 exclusive content supposedly cost Microsoft $50 million to secure, or how The Lost and Damned DLC was originally scheduled for release in the autumn of last year, only to be pushed back into Q1 2009. But we're just going to let Xbox 360 fanboys have their day on this occasion. This is one fine instalment of downloadable content; so much so that we're struggling to think of any DLC on LIVE that even comes close to the amount of content in The Lost and Damned.
Let's consider the two extreme ends of the scale. At the weak end of the scale there's the infamous 'Horse Armor' pack for Oblivion, which will still set you back an offensive 200 Microsoft Points (£1.70). On the other end of the scale (the impressively large end) is, ironically enough, another portion of Oblivion DLC. Shivering Isles is more of an expansion pack than mere DLC, charging gamers 2400 MP (£20.40) for the right to play it and weighing in at a whopping 994 MB.
I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found
The Lost and Damned is right up there with Shivering Isles in terms of content, but is a little easier on your wallet at 1600 MP (£13.60). It may not add any new areas of map to the existing Liberty City, but you'll certainly find a good 10-12 hours of game length to run through here (without including all those side missions and races). That's not to suggest that, if you play The Lost and Damned from start to finish without dying once, then it will take you a dozen hours - that would probably constitute a mere 8 hours of length - but only those with inhuman gaming ability will be able to do this. Make no mistake, The Lost and Damned is rock hard.
Safe in the knowledge that anyone playing TLAD will have taken a sizeable chunk out of GTA IV's main campaign, Rockstar North has the advantage of being able to skip through all of the tutorials, introductions, and housekeeping that you'd find in a full release. As a result, TLAD is jam-packed with hardcore missions of the 'Three Leaf Clover' variety from the very start - the sort of mission where you'll have to take out a veritable army of enemies/police, only to then find out that you were facing the first wave of attacks, and another flock of goons is bearing down on your position as you gasp for breath with a tiny lifeline of health left.
Never in a GTA game have we ever had to be so diligent in our re-stocking of body armour, ammo, and new weapons at the end of each mission. Answering those 'replay mission' text messages from the hospital will be a common occurrence for most gamers who try their hand at TLAD, and so it should be. After all, Rockstar North should be trying to put the elite through their paces in this DLC as more casual players will probably still have a few hours of Niko Belic's mighty 30 hour campaign to play through, even if it is almost a year after GTA IV was released.
This difficulty is well illustrated by Rockstar North's decision to put a strong emphasis on squad play in TLAD. As the protagonist of this DLC, Johnny Klebitz is a member of biker gang The Lost and Damned, which ride around Liberty City indluging in high jinx and generally causing mischief. Being part of this gang allows Johnny certain liberties, such as calling on backup from other gang members during tough missions. Indeed, a majority of the game's missions see you fighting side-by-side with your 'brothers' by default, who's fighting skills will then increase with more experience (although they will die if you don't protect them). Similarly, if you stay in formation when you're riding to a mission with the gang, then you'll receive health perks for your troubles.
There is a downside to this though, which is that the missions can become a touch repetitive at times. Because TLAD is filled with these hardcore fire-fight missions, the DLC is lacking some of the build-up that you'd find in a full release game. What makes GTA so much better than any other sandbox games out there is the way it throws quirky missions into the mix to keep things interesting (e.g. photography reconaissance missions, as seen in San Andreas), while also rationing out a treasure chest full of goodies as you move further through the main campaign (e.g. more destructive weapons and unlocking new areas of the map).
TLAD wasn't completely void of these quirkier missions. A corrupt senator who you'll meet along the way called Thomas Stubbs will throw quite a few interesting missions and side-missions your way. You'll also have quite a novel coming together with Roman Bellic at one point, but these are the exceptions to the rule. Most of the time you'll be going to a location where a drug deal goes wrong and there's a huge fire-fight, or you'll have to track down a series of vehicles filled with armed goons. It's these kinds of missions that are traditionally used as climaxes in the GTA experience, but in TLAD they become a slightly repetitive norm. Because the full Liberty City map and most of the game's weapons are unlocked at the very start of TLAD, Rockstar North has been left with a restricted box of tricks to add variation and freshness to the gameplay, which is where this problem arises.
It's actually a problem that opens up quite a large plot-hole in TLAD: why are Johnny and his biker gang free to ride across the whole of Liberty City from the very start of TLAD while Niko is being locked out of Algonquin due to apparent terrorism fears? TLAD's storyline is parallel to Niko Belic's, which is why the lack of continuity is confusing, but thankfully it's the only lack of continuity you'll notice throughout the whole game. The best thing about this DLC is its parallel story-arc, which throws up some familiar faces at times and picks-up on even the minutest of details from the main GTA IV game.
One of TLAD's missions even sends you back to the port where Niko first touches down on Liberty City soil. Here, Johnny and the gang are trying to heist a diamonds deal - the implication being that these are the same diamonds we saw being hidden in food as part of GTA IV's original intro sequence. As you might remember from GTA IV, Johnny's story overlaps directly with Niko's at two keep points (during a botched undercover police operation and at the Libertonian museum), but what's much more interesting in this DLC is how Johnny interacts behind the scenes with other key figures from Niko's story.
Characters such as Elizabeta Torres and Ray Boccino take on a whole new light under TLAD, while the knock-on effects of Dimitri Rascalov's brutality become all too apparent. For a long time now, GTA games have placed you in a city rife with corruption, making your character seem like a drop in the ocean of immorality that's present all around you. For the first time with TLAD, Rockstar North has been able to explore the criminal networks within Liberty City to a greater depth, compounding the illusion of a living, breathing game world and ramping-up the game's immersion to a much greater level as a result. TLAD should be celebrated for this facet of its gameplay more than any other, and it's with great anticipation that we await Episode 2 of the exclusive DLC if it's anything like this one.
Bikers With Attitude
Straight outta Alderney, crazy m***** f***** called Klebitz, from the gang called The Lost and Damned. Incidentally, like Ice Cube, Johnny Klebitz also has a "sawed off". While we noted above that most of the weapons in TLAD are unlocked from the start, Rockstar North has added five new side-arms that manage to spice things up a little. They are all part of the same weapon classes that we've now become used to, but double-up as interesting variations on a theme. For example, a new grenade launcher is an alternate to the rocket launcher, pipe bombs can now be used instead of grenades or Molotovs, and the new automatic pistol is much more preferable to the traditional semi-automatic.
Two new shotguns also come to the fray, with the criminally insane automatic shotgun as well as a sawn-off shotgun, which also has its strong points. Although not as capable as a combat shotgun, the sawn-off's lighter weight means that Johnny can use it while riding his bike, making the weapon particularly useful for shredding the tyres of an enemy's car. All of these weapons will also be available in TLAD's multiplayer, which houses a total of five new modes along with all-new races (featuring baseball bat swinging bikers, Road Rash style). While four of the five modes are more like variants of other modes in GTA IV, 'Chopper vs. Chopper' is fairly original for GTA's multiplayer offerings. As a 2 player take on Cat and Mouse, one player has to chase a biker around Liberty City with a helicopter and take them out by any means possible (i.e. rotor blade decapitations are fair game). Check out our multiplayer preview here for more details.
As if all of this content wasn't enough, TLAD also boasts the usual range of GTA side missions and activities as well as a couple of new ones. Hi-lo card games and arm wrestling have been added on the mini-game front, while the appearance of Mock the Week's Frankie Boyle in the comedy club adds a funny, if not so friendly, face to the proceedings. You'll also find 12 biker races to compete in and 25 gang wars dotted around the city to emerge victorious from. Finally, corrupt senator Thomas Stubbs and a guy called Angus will keep you in the money with some additional side-missions (the Stubbs missions, in particular, are well worth checking out).