At the heart of The Lost and Damned, the upcoming downloadable expansion for Grand Theft Auto IV, is the idea of being part of a gang. The protagonist of the expansion, which will be available on February 17 on the Xbox 360, is Johnny Klebitz, who is the vice president of his biker gang, The Lost, and is mixed up in a life-and-death struggle with his gang's archrivals, The Angels of Death. The single-player game's focus on gang warfare is enhanced by The Lost and Damned's extensive 16-player multiplayer modes, which we had a chance to try out last week, courtesy of Rockstar.
The most noticeable change in The Lost and Damned is the new multiplayer character models themselves. As in GTAIV proper, you have customization options for your character in multiplayer, and the various visual enhancements we saw included new outfits (like leather biker jackets and vests) and new face and hairstyle choices. More importantly, however, is the new hardware you'll have at your disposal, including new weapons and new vehicles. New motorcycles--including tricked-out choppers--are a natural fit for the biker gang motif in the game, but you'll also have new vans, trucks, and sport bikes at your disposal. According to Rockstar, the motorcycle handling model has been tweaked, with a higher top speed and an improved turning ratio.
New weapons include two shotguns (one a sawed-off model, the other an assault model), an automatic 9mm pistol, a grenade launcher, and a pipe bomb, each of which have distinct advantages. There's also a new addition for your cell phone in The Lost and Damned--an instant play option that will put you directly in a multiplayer game without having to sit in the lobby and wait for the game to begin. That might be a nice option for those who hate to wait, but for those who like to have a long list of options to choose from, multiplayer in The Lost and Damned looks to have plenty to offer as well.
During our multiplayer session, we got a chance to sample several of the new modes, which cover the gamut from straightforward street racing to more sophisticated mission-based modes. Witness Protection is a fine example of the latter kind of mode. In it, two groups of players are pitted against one another--one team must protect and drop off state's witnesses at various police stations around the city, while the Lost team is tasked with bringing them down any way they can. This mode centers on the armored bus that is transporting the witnesses to their destination; one member of the protection team is in charge of driving the bus and dropping off witnesses at the locales noted on the minimap. The other players must do their best to fend off the Lost gang members as they do whatever they can to blow up the bus and kill the witnesses. While Witness Protection is especially enjoyable when there are lots of players centered on the slow-moving bus, it's easy to get off track and involved in petty one-on-one battles with enemies and forget your overall objective.
Own the City pits two gangs--The Lost and The Angels of Death--against one another as they try to take over various sections of the city. The sections of the city up for grabs are indicated on the minimap, and to conquer a territory, you have to clear it out of all members of the opposing gang, be they actual players or the AI-controlled defenders that are posted in each territory. Of all the game modes we tried, this one had the most surprises--you have to be on your toes, not knowing if you'll find an enemy AI (who are relatively dumb by comparison) or another player looking to take you down.
A couple of the multiplayer modes were heavily vehicle-based. In Lone Wolf Biker, one player is the lone wolf, with the rest of the players looking to take him or her down. Whoever manages to kill the lone wolf then becomes the lone wolf. As with the other modes in the game, dying in multiplayer mode will cause you to respawn elsewhere, and you can respawn manually at any time. The manual respawn is especially important in Lone Wolf Biker, because it's easy to fall behind the action if you crash your bike or car.
Chopper vs. Chopper is an amusing mode that features a one-on-one battle between one player starting out on a bike and the other player starting in an attack helicopter. The goal for the biker is to get from point A to point B without, you know, getting blasted to kingdom come by the attack helicopter. After one round, the roles switch and you get to do the whole thing over again.
The last mode we tried was Race--which is, as it sounds, a straightforward sprint from the start to the finish line. Amusingly, players can swat one another with bats while racing, which keeps things interesting in close quarters. The real challenge, of course, is dealing with the peculiar vehicle physics during the race; liberal use of the hand brake when driving a car makes things easier in this mode.
In addition to the aforementioned modes, The Lost and Damned will include a mode called Club Business, where all players will play as members of The Lost and complete a series of tasks. There's also apparently an added bonus for riding in formation with your friends, but because we didn't get a chance to play the mode for ourselves, we're not sure how that will work. Add in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Free mode, and it's clear that The Lost and Damned's multiplayer is going to have plenty to offer. Look for the GTAIV expansion pack next week on Xbox Live.