Niko Bellic, anti-hero of "Grand Theft Auto IV," appears in the game's February expansion, "The Lost and Damned." But when I asked Rockstar Games if Niko's voice actor was brought back to contribute new lines, I got a sharp reply.
That was Rockstar Games' vice president of product development, Jeronimo Barrera, answering my question on Wednesday at his company's headquarters. I wanted to know if Niko Bellic was getting any new lines from his "GTA IV" voice actor for the game's Xbox-360 "Lost and Damned" expansion.
It's not surprising that Niko has no new material. He may have been the main man in "GTA IV," but he's a bit player in this episode of an expansion.
Niko shows up in the background, whispered about by another character as a "Slavic motherf----r." He pops up in "Lost and Damned" in a recreation of an early "GTA IV" mission that had served as the introduction of Niko to major supporting character Playboy X. This time, the player is controlling "Lost and Damned" protagonist Johnny Klebitz. Niko's essentially muscle along for a drug deal that, if you played "GTA IV," you know is going to go sour.
Niko's lines in that "Lost and Damned" mission and the unspecified number of others "GTA IV" missions that are played from a different perspective in this episode are repurposed from the original game.
That, of course, is not the reason Barrera's answer was "Hell no" rather than "no." The reason for that kind of response is likely because Niko's voice actor, Michael Hollick, complained to The New York Times last year that his union failed to take the proper steps to get him more than $100,000 dollars for his work on a game that generated more than a half billion dollars in sales in its first two weeks and has sold a few million more copies since then. The impression Rockstar leaves is that they're not eager for Hollick to return.
Whether gamers take Hollick's complaint as a cause or a coincidence for Niko's limited role in "The Lost and Damned," the fact remains that Bellic is nowhere near the center of attention of the new episode. The main character of a "GTA" game is, of course, its city and whether Niko or Johnny takes the lead playable role, they are just another vehicle for learning the life of the metropolis they inhabit.
Niko Bellic? He's a bit player. Rockstar's working with a grand ensemble.