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First Look: The Ballad of Gay Tony

Contributor:
Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

This October, Rockstar Games will be releasing their second downloadable episode for Grand Theft Auto IV, The Ballad of Gay Tony. Like The Lost and the Damned before it, Ballad is an example of downloadable content done on a scale much larger than simple mission packs or extra feature, it’s a fully self-contained story that allows players to mash through Liberty City from a wholly new perspective.

Being that this is the last of these additional episodes, Ballad is conceived as a massive, over-the-top, glittery, explosive final bow for the acclaimed GTA IV world. Where Niko Bellick showed us Liberty City from the alien perspective of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free, and Johnny Klebitz took us deep into the underworld of gang life, Ballad’s protagonist Luis Lopez will walk us through the freewheeling lifestyle of excess lived by those who really own that town.

Luis is bodyguard, consigliore, business partner, and all around go-to guy for flamboyant club entrepreneur Tony “Gay Tony” Prince. Tony has been around the block on the nightclub scene and has come to own both the city’s hottest night spot ‘Maisonette 9’ and it’s biggest gay club ‘Hercules’. Despite these hot properties, however, Tony has written himself a fair amount of cheques that his clubs can’t cash, and to some very dangerous people. It’s Luis’ job to make sure that this doesn’t all catch up with Tony, which will be no easy feat, but luckily he has at his disposal all the devastating weapons, tricked out vehicles, and unrestricted access that money can buy.

The handful of missions Rockstar were demonstrating really underlined the over-the-top experience Ballad is aiming for. Think of all the crazy stuff you got up to after finishing with GTA IV’s story, after activating all the cheats, gaining access to all the weapons, loading any vehicle you wanted, all the highly explosive, limit pushing spectacles of carnage you created; that’s the kind of thing Ballad will be asking you to do for real.

 The first mission, Dropping In, had Luis teamed with Timur, henchman to top Russian gangster Bulgarin who is attempting to purchase the Liberty City hockey team, The Rampage. It seems the team manager is opposed to the sale so Luis is asked to head to his penthouse offices and iron out the issue.

Things being done up large as they are, the pair doesn’t simply drive to their destination, instead they fly over in Bulgarin’s helicopter, from which Luis parachutes onto the roof of the high-rise office building. The approach isn’t as stealthy as hoped and our boy finds himself in the gleeful position of having to kill a hell of a lot of hired security. The most hardcore weapons of the game have been saved for Ballad, including the P90, a nightmarish little gun that can fire 900 rounds in a minute. Luis uses this to dispatch the hired goons and the stubborn manager before leaping out a window and parachuting smoothly onto the back of a moving getaway truck, unseen as the cops only begin to react to his mischief. 

High, horribly violent adventure, to be sure, but the game certainly hasn’t emptied its entire clip in that first burst of extravagant action, the next mission, ‘For the Man who has Everything’, sees Luis boosting an entire train car while the vehicle is still thundering around the tracks. The car in question is destined to become an attraction in Billionaire developer Yusef Amir’s planned theme tourist spot.

After rolling up to the Broker Bridge in Yusef’s repulsively decadent yellow luxury car, Luis is simply asked to jump onto the roof of a moving train, blast away at police helicopters with an AA-12 shotgun loaded with explosive rounds, dodge helicopter rotors and low bridges, crawl along the speeding train, separate the car, and hold on for dear life as it’s lifted away in a specially designed cargo chopper. No biggie.

Next up Luis gets the opportunity to vent some frustration at Liberty City’s finest in ‘Going Deep’, as the Ruskie gangsters have learnt of a corrupt plan to plant evidence in one of Bulgarin’s vehicles. Timur, Balgarin and Luis head to the car park ahead of the coppers in order plant a trap before the crooked law can plant their own. Armed with as much remote-activated C4 as his eager arms can carry, Luis is asked to booby-trap the vehicle so that when the boy’s in blue arrive to plant the evidence they get a great big fiery surprise. This, rather naturally, slips into one of the game’s signature shoot-outs and yet another opportunity to sample some of Ballad’s beefy new guns, which include the M249 fully-automatic machine gun, a new high-impact pistol, and a gold uzi.

The final mission pulled out what little stops were left to be pulled by having Luis steal a motorboat, sneak aboard a luxury yacht, highjack a heavily armed attack chopper, and then rain fiery hell on the homing rocket-equipped ship and it’s smaller escape boats, in a minor skirmish called ‘Sexy Time’. The scope and magnitude of Ballad’s missions are an unmistakable step up from anything previously seen, and the level of mayhem the player is asked to inflict for such flippant ad excessive reasons is devilishly fun.

Rockstar Games have really set a new standard for downloadable content with these episodes, at a time when the lifecycle of game relevance seems to be shrinking at an impossible rate they have found an affordable, quality way of extending a title that was the talk of the town almost a year and a half ago through to this very day. That’s an achievement that ought to be applauded and emulated.

I should note, however, that if the downloadable route isn’t really your thing then both The Lost and the Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony will be available as a retail disc known as Episodes from Liberty City, launching alongside Ballad’s online debut at the end of October. You will not require a copy of the original GTA IV game to play Episodes, and the combined playtime of both episodes comes to about 25 – 30 hours, so it’s certainly a complete product in and of itself. Well worth a look if you’ve still yet to dip your toes into the sinful pool of vice and crime that is Liberty City.

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