The Lost & Damned

During the first week of February 2009, we were again contacted by Rockstar Games inviting us back to New York to experience GTA IV's expansion, The Lost and Damned, a week before it was to be released. Despite receiving only a week's advance notice, this time we at least knew ahead of time what hotel we were staying in and where we would be playing the game, but that doesn't mean they didn't have any surprises in store for us.

Day One

We stayed at The Standard, a fairly new luxury hotel in Manhattan's Meat Packing District, built over the High Line. Rockstar was already proving to us that last year's epicness was not a fluke. This place was amazing.

After checking into the hotel and gathering with Adam, Casey, Kyle, Jevon, Blair, Chris, and Simon, we all got into a huge van which took us to Don Hill's bar on Greenwich Street which was closed for our private event for three days. The setup was very similar to the penthouse in Rivington last year: 8 networked consoles connected to 8 plasma televisions, but in an atmosphere that fit in with the theme of The Lost and Damned. We played a little bit of single player, during which time I noticed the missions are much more varied than the missions in Niko's story. We played the new multiplayer modes for the next three hours. Some are similar to the current modes but with a biker twist, and some are completely new.

When 6:00pm came it was time to drop the controllers, and we were told to line up by the back door. Rockstar employees emerged from the darkness of a storage room with a pile of cardboard boxes and began opening them. Inside were Xbox360 Elite consoles, each custom painted glossy black with The Lost and Damned box art on both sides, and serial numbered out of 190 units, one for each of us. We also received a very sturdy Rockstar Games tote bag full of more swag, including a GTA IV pool cue complete with Rockstar Games cue chalk. We piled into the same van we had arrived in, but with half the cubic feet than before thanks to our mound of goodies, and went back to the hotel.

We dropped off the swag in our rooms and met back in the lobby at 7:30 to go to Hill Country Barbecue for dinner. Afterwards we walked a few blocks to the Empire State Building and went up to the observation deck. Thankfully there were no lines since it was late at night. Back on ground level, we needed a way back to the hotel. A limo driver parked across the street noticed us trying to hail four separate cabs, and offered to take us all back in his stretch. Score.

Day Two

Our second trip to New York concluded the following day with a visit inside Rockstar's offices on Broadway. The Americans (myself, Casey, Blair, and Kyle) arrived around noon, just as the others were leaving. We were brought up to the fifth floor and led to a conference room adorned with framed San Andreas artworks on the walls and Nintendo DS-Lites on the table. After being shown a demo of some of the new features in Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars on Rockstar's giant custom-built DS with laptop-sized screens, we were allowed to play a 4-mission build of the game for ourselves to experience how using the stylus is incorporated into the mini-games that you've all read about in reviews. Assembling a sniper rifle and filling glass bottles with gasoline to make molotov cocktails were just two examples, but browsing through the stats screen we knew there were dozens more: planting bombs on car engines, tossing coins into a slot to pay a toll, and hotwiring cars just to name a few. You can even use the DS's Wi-Fi to upload your stats onto the Social Club, and even trade money, weapons, and drugs with other players, essentially becoming a medium for buying and selling in-game equipment outside of the game.

The entire world, though top-down, is in 3-D, ands modeled after GTA4's Liberty City, minus Alderney. The use of the dual screen is very handy, with the GPS and stats on the bottom screen, leaving the entire top screen unobstructed for roaming around the city. The wanted system is completely different than any other GTA game as well. Instead of using the search radius system like in GTA4, you must disable a certain number of chasing police cars in order to remove stars from your wanted level. Disable is not the same as destroy, which would kill the cop inside the car and just add more stars instead. Once you get down to one star you can avoid causing further trouble and it will eventually go away. Our time actually playing Chinatown Wars was slightly limited, and there were only four missions to try, so I can't give a full-blown review, but I will say that this brief experience with Chinatown Wars - a game I initially had no intentions of buying or even covering on the site - has made me purchase a Nintendo DS and eagerly await March 17.

Outside Don Hill's club at Greenwich & Spring Streets.

Probably the most comfortable bed I've ever slept on.

Manhattan skyline as seen from The Standard hotel

Custom-painted Xbox 360 Elite, #5 of 190 limited edition units.

GTA IV and The Lost & Damned merch.

GTA Chinatown Wars swag.