I'm going to miss Johnny Klebitz, the troubled anti-hero of The Lost and Damned. I'm going to miss his weary presence, miss the reassuring outline of his oddly noble nose, and miss his fatherly way with a sawed-off shotgun. New GTA IV DLC means that old friends move back into the shadows while former bit-parts step forward to take centre stage, so Klebitz and his biker gang have ducked out, making way for Liberty City's party class: big-spending, coke-powered low-lifes whose days pass in a neon blur of turbulent excess.
Although the forthcoming episode is called The Ballad of Gay Tony (the comments sections of a handful of American websites already show a certain segment of Rockstar's audience struggling manfully with concerns that their favourite developer might have returned all of its Mickey Spillane paperbacks to the local library and checked out Armistead Maupin's back catalogue instead) you won't be playing as the eponymous night club magnate in this instalment. Instead, the developer has cast you in the more conventional GTA role of Luis Lopez, Gay Tony's trusted assistant and sometime business partner.
Lopez is extremely likeable - he stands in a kind of half-slouch, one foot cockily forward, arms down by his sides like a gunslinger and, compared to Klebitz, he seems distinctly carefree. But it's a bit of a shame, really: if anyone could induce bible belt teens to pick up their controllers and experience the life of a gay disco impresario, it's probably Rockstar, and you can't help but hope the world would be a more understanding place afterwards. I should know: I was deeply prejudiced against anyone with a silly little under-mouth goatee until I picked up Gears of War for the first time. That's the true power of games.
The Lost and Damned came with the kind of content and construction that most developers would be willing to push out the door as a sequel, and there's no reason to believe that won't be the case here, but there are also significant differences between the two episodes. As with Bellic's story, Johnny Klebitz' Liberty City adventure was marked by a rather brooding tone. Sure, you could do a wheelie off the roof of an airport terminal while firing a rocket launcher into the cool blue sky, but the narrative at the game's centre was a tense, often claustrophobic tale of betrayal and madness. Gay Tony, however, seems to be something of a return to the knockabout days of San Andreas: it's loud and cheerfully blood-splattered, and even if Rockstar isn't about to let you loose with a jetpack, you feel it might at least come fairly close this time around. So while the plot itself seems tinged with worldly desperation - Gay Tony's up to his elbows in all kinds of trouble, and needs Lopez to keep the worst of it at bay - the pace and detailing is pure action cinema.