Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony Hands-On ImpressionsBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Sep 16, 2009
When Grand Theft Auto IV launched nearly 18 months ago, Rockstar Games promised a revamped Liberty City that was bigger than anyone lurking in it. It was a bold claim to make; after all, the PS2-generation GTAs always ended with you in control of the game world. But at the end of Niko Bellic’s American tale, two words brought that chapter to a close: “you won.” It was an ironic statement, since Niko finished out the game as a small fish in a big ocean. With The Lost and Damned, Johnny Klebitz discovered the sobering limits of loyalty and brotherhood with his biker gang. And with Rockstar’s final chapter of this GTA story arc, The Ballad of Gay Tony, we’ll see the seedy underbelly of the city’s glamorous nightlife. Probably after filling it with buckshot.
In Gay Tony, you'll step into the shoes of Luis Lopez, armed enforcer for "Gay Tony" Prince, a long-time nightlife impresario who runs the hottest clubs in Liberty City, Maisonette 9 and Hercules. As the old adage goes, with more money comes more problems, and Tony's at his wit's end with debt and mobsters attempting to use their invested money to take over his businesses. It's up to Luis to keep the creditors at bay, which most likely involves a variety of odd jobs on the wrong side of the law.
Despite the title, which seems hell-bent on getting your attention, Gay Tony is really focused on GTA4’s “Pulp Fiction”-esque “Museum Piece” mission. If you made it that far in the game, you probably remember the “Impossible Trinity” Achievment/trophy that popped up once you cleared it. If you’ve been playing on 360 and burned through TLAD, you likely recall playing through the mission from Johnny’s perspective. Gay Tony promises to show you Luis’ side of the encounter. If you haven't played TLAD yet, Rockstar also plans to release both that biker adventure and Gay Tony on a single disc titled Episodes from Liberty City on the same day that the latest DLC episode is available on Xbox Live.
Both myself and The Feed's Jake Gaskill got hands-on time with separate missions from Gay Tony. Here are our documented adventures and ongoing dialogue.
Best Escape Plan Ever?
Sterling: In my first hands-on mission, “Dropping In,” Luis must break into the offices of the Liberty City Rampage, a hockey team that Bulgarin, GTA4’s ruthless Russian mobster, wants to purchase. And he won’t take no for an answer. I’ll spare you the details of shooting my way through an office building -- you’ve undoubtedly done that in a Grand Theft Auto game at some point -- and point out the big difference in this expansion pack. Aside from amusing menu color choices (the pause menu is rainbow colored, and your weapon icons have been redone in a lovely lavender), Gay Tony boasts new weapons, including a P-90 that does nasty damage. The biggest takeaway from the mission came at its finale: after shooting through waves of armed guards, Luis takes out the team owner. Unfortunately for the Rampage owner, he topples backwards toward the office window and takes a multi-story dive.
If it were a Niko mission, you’d have to shoot you way back down the fire escape, take a car, and hightail it. Fortunately for Luis, he came prepared. Luis makes a call to Timo, one of Bulgarin’s associates, who’s circling the block in a flatbed truck. Luis leaps from the skyscraper, ejects his parachute, and maneuvers his way to a safe landing on the truck. Gruesome deaths and base-jumping? Indeed. With the mission complete, I discovered another post-GTA4 element that Rockstar has implemented into the new pack: mission scoring and replays. If you were one of the thousands who picked up GTA: Chinatown Wars, you might’ve noticed that you could replay certain missions to get better results on Rockstar Social Club. Gay Tony will allow the same feature for console players. I got to ice a guy, watch him die Hans Gruber-style, then base jump to safety, but still, I’m pretty jealous of Jake’s mission.
Don't Pull the Cord...Yet
Jake Gaskill: My time with Gay Tony was split between several base jumping challenges, and one story mission, entitled “Going Deep” (ah, classic Rockstar). One of the much-discussed aspects of Gay Tony is the return of the parachute, and as you'd expect, it's as thrilling and enjoyable as ever. Best of all, your next jump is never more than a phone call away as you can purchase chutes from a friendly gun runner whom you can summon just like in GTA4 and TLAD.
Now, while you can use the chutes whenever and wherever you want, they’re only good for one jump. When you aren’t randomly and joyously throwing yourself off buildings and bridges, there are also dozens of base jumping challenges scattered all over Liberty City that you can "jump" into whenever you choose. These challenges include activities like passing through a series of rings as you plummet to the ground or locating and landing on specific targets. The skydiving controls are similar to those found in GTA: San Andreas in that they're super easy to get a handle on and they are very satisfying, especially when you're rocketing towards the Liberty City skyline. Plus, gliding through the skies above the metropolis gives you the chance to enjoy the visual splendor of the architecture and design of the city.
For “Going Deep,” Luis is tasked with setting satchel charges in an underground parking garage in order to prevent a cadre of corrupt cops from planting evidence against him and his crew. Needless to say, things got pretty ugly pretty damn fast, as is bound to happen when you set up a gauntlet of massive explosions in a confined area like a parking garage. The ensuing battle gave me a chance to check out a few of the games new weapons including a golden uzi, a new sniper rifle and a new assault rifle. All the weapons pack a devastating punch, and, best of all, the fit in perfectly with Gay Tony's tone and theme of excess and greed.
The Biggest Souvenir Ever
Sterling: The next mission I tried out was “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Yusuf, a wealthy (and completely insane) property developer, is opening a Liberty City-themed resort in the Middle East. What could accentuate the hotel and casino more than an authentic Liberty City subway car? Nothing. That’s why he taps Luis to detach the lead car, at which point he will send in a chopper (normally used to transport military vehicles) to acquire it. The mission starts above the off-ramp of a freeway. Armed with a shotgun bearing explosive rounds, Luis must jump onto the moving subway car from the off-ramp, then work his way to the front of the train. Naturally, LCPD aren’t too keen on the theft, so they’ve planted sniper along the subway route to prevent Luis from getting there.
My time with this mission was probably the most exhilarating part of the demo, if you can believe that shooting down police choppers (and clicking the left stick to duck down as they attempted to swoop in on me) could be more exhilarating than playing as a base-jumping assassin. It’s got the right amount of volatile intensity that I’ve seen in great GTA missions. Hopefully, it’s one of several intense highlights, rather than a climactic point in the overall experience. I'd hate to think that I played the coolest stuff during the demo.
Jake: The cultures and histories of the periods in which Grand Theft Auto games are set aren't just backdrop to Rockstar. They help to inform and influence the virtual societies the developer teams create and the stories they tell. Whether it’s a mute thug freshly sprung from jail looking to make a name for himself on the original streets of Liberty City, or a savvy killer caught up in the drug-fueled chaos of 80s Vice City, or a tough-as-nails gangster climbing the criminal ranks in the urban warzones of San Andreas; each tale brings to life a singular, creative vision of modern crime inspired by the societal and cultural forces surrounding their main characters.
For Gay Tony, that vision is excess, greed and extravagance, which is a brilliant counterbalance to Niko Bellic’s immigrant tale and Johnny Klebitz’s grungy story of betrayal and redemption. Leave it to Rockstar to reintroduce skydiving in the DLC chapter that will provide the most dramatic shift in perspective yet seen in the GTA4 saga.
Sterling: I just hope I can base jump from hundreds of feet in the air and drop grenades. That’s just excessive enough for my taste.