Take a ride on wild side in new 'GTA' expansion

Forget everything you know about downloadable content for your video games, be it new songs for Rock Band, an extra level for Tomb Raider: Underworld or bonus multiplayer maps in Gears of War 2. Rockstar Games' The Lost and Damned, the first of two planned downloadable episodes for Microsoft Xbox 360 owners of Grand Theft Auto IV, redefines what's possible for downloadable content with the beefiest game expansion to date.

While not a flawless frolic, there's a lot of bang for your buck here.

Totaling about 10 hours of new single-player game play, and a handful of cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, The Lost and Damned (a 1.78-gigabyte download via Microsoft's Xbox Live online service) adds a ton of new content to the gritty Grand Theft Auto IV (original disc required) — including a new story line, characters, missions, vehicles, weapons, music, minigames and other content (such as watchable TV shows on the in-game television).

This $19.99 episode (1,600 Microsoft Points) doesn't follow the Grand Theft Auto IV protagonist, an Eastern European immigrant named Niko Bellic, though you will run into him in this new narrative. Instead, you will step into the biker boots of Johnny Klebitz, the vice president of a tough motorcycle club known as The Lost. The gang must not only contend with rivals in Liberty City, but also deal with internal power struggles within the organization. Klebitz, who is business-minded, for instance, butts heads with the club's ruthless president, Billy Grey, who gets out of prison at the start of the game. The story isn't one of the game's strengths, but the writing is sharp and believable (and at times, very funny), and serves as a decent backdrop to the action.

As with last year's Grand Theft Auto IV, you roam about the bustling Liberty City (a fictitious New York City), interact with seedy characters, hop in a number of vehicles and tackle dangerous missions. But rather than taking on objectives by yourself, this expansion is all about riding the streets with your pack and partaking in gang wars together. The hogs handle nicely, and you will learn to aim and shoot weapons while riding, too (new weapons include a 9mm automatic, sawed-off shotgun and grenade launchers, to name a few).

On that note, this Mature-rated expansion can get quite violent — right from one of the first scenes when someone's face is pressed against a spinning motorcycle wheel at a bike shop, and then finished off with a sledgehammer to the head. You will also find plenty of foul language, scenes with drinking and driving, and even full-frontal male nudity (with a congressman, no less). Hey, this is Grand Theft Auto, after all.

While The Lost and Damned costs about twice as much as other downloadable content, between the single-player campaign and bevy of new multiplayer modes you're getting nearly enough new content for a standalone $60 game. Xbox 360 owners craving more Grand Theft Auto will find this downloadable episode a wild ride worth taking.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.