With the release of its second (and probably last) downloadable episode, the story begun in Grand Theft Auto IV is finally complete. So far, we’ve seen the immigrant-disillusionment story of Niko Bellic and the sad bikers-in-decline tale of The Lost and Damned, each more gritty and depressing than the last. The Ballad of Gay Tony, meanwhile, ends the series on a relative high note, delving into Liberty City’s neon-drenched nightclub scene and the lives of its ultra-rich celebrities and power players. It’s bigger than Lost and Damned, more upbeat than GTA IV and delivers the fast cars, awesome weapons and over-the-top side activities that many fans had hoped to see after GTA: San Andreas.
Above: Also, it has tanks!
That said, if GTA IV was a rags-to-slightly-better-rags story, and TLaD was rags-to-slightly-worse-rags, then Gay Tony is riches-that-don’t-get-better-because-it’s-a-struggle-just-to-maintain-them. Starting midway through GTA IV’s story – during the “Three Leaf Clover” bank heist, actually – it centers on Luis Fernando Lopez, a Dominican ex-con who works as a bodyguard, manager and business partner for his mentor, nightclub baron “Gay” Tony Prince. Gay Tony owns two of Liberty City’s hottest clubs – one gay, one straight – but they’re losing money, and so Tony borrows too much from the wrong people, landing him and Luis in serious trouble.
Above: That’s Tony on the left, and Luis on the right. In case there’s still any confusion, you play as the one on the right
To work off some of that trouble, Luis ends up having to do a few favors – nearly all of which fall far, far outside the law – for Tony’s creditors. Some of these guys turn out to be fun, entertaining types, like Mori Kibbutz, big brother to GTA IV’s Brucie, or Yusuf Aziz, an obnoxious but ultimately lovable billionaire playboy from Dubai. Others, like seldom-seen GTA IV villain Ray Bulgarin, are more sinister. No matter who’s pulling the strings, though, you can expect nearly every one of the game’s 26 story missions to involve varying degrees of murder, high-speed driving and theft, with occasional skydiving and explosive mayhem thrown in for good measure.
OK, so what’s new?
Of course, there’s more to Ballad of Gay Tony than just a mission pack and a new story. For starters, almost none of the new missions suck. There are no follow-at-a-distance-without-being-seen missions, no bullshit drive-across-the-city-without-hitting-anything missions, nothing like that. Instead, the tasks here range from beaning a Mafia informant with golf balls at a driving range, to stealing a helicopter gunship and blowing up a giant yacht, to parachuting into the offices of a gangster-owned hockey team and massacring every armed goon in sight.
Above: Oh, and also battling the NOoSE atop the Empire Sta… er, Rotterdam Tower
Also, they all feature multiple bonus objectives for more exacting players to pursue. Finishing the game will earn you the right to replay them all at will, giving you the chance to go back and hit any goals you previously missed. Also, the checkpoint system introduced in TLaD returns, eliminating most of the discouragement that comes from dying midway through a particularly long, multi-stage assignment.
Don’t expect any major changes to the basic action, though. Like Niko and Johnny Klebitz before him, Luis has free rein to explore the city (all of which is unlocked from the start), as well as jack cars, boats and helicopters and unload on hapless thugs with a variety of nasty firearms while ducking behind cover. Aside from the aforementioned skydiving, the biggest additions come in the form of new cars (mostly of the sports and luxury varieties) and a slew of high-end firearms that make Luis dramatically outclass the destructive power of any previous GTA protagonist.
Above: Seriously, this shit will mess anything up
Being relatively wealthy and well-connected, Luis has some serious hardware at his disposal. We’re talking Belgian P-90 assault submachine guns, an M60 machine gun, a new high-tech sniper rifle, a .44 Magnum pistol, an automatic shotgun capable of firing explosive rounds – and, yes, if you play your cards right, a solid-gold Uzi. They’re all tremendously useful in firefights, but probably the most fun addition is the sticky bomb. Using these, you can plaster a vehicle or surface with multiple explosives and – when the time is right – detonate them all at once for massive fireworks.