The Ballad Of Gay Tony is a very different beast.We don’t mean it’s a different game: you’ll still be driving to waypoints, and you’ll still have 25 side missions called Gang Wars. But the tone is bolder, the pace is faster, the music is camper, and the characters are bigger. Gay Tony isn’t even the star of the show, which shows considerable restraint: it’d be all too easy for Rockstar to pander to their target audience and turn him into a comedy flamer, so kudos for filling out his character. Admittedly, he’s pill and coke-addled, a lousy businessman and no role model, but if you come to GTA for your role models, you need taking out of society right now.
Like its titular hero, The Ballad of Gay Tony is a tackier, unsubtle and more fun affair. You’ll take down a helicopter with a rocket launcher in an introductory mission, and the parachutes are a flat rejection of The Lost’s grenade-launching grittiness, in favour of a colourful Just Cause-style attitude to reality. In a lovely touch, the relationship between player character Luis and Tony is one of genuine warmth.
Luis’ story is a new take on the GTA classic theme of a doomed new start – Tony sponsored Luis’ release from jail and offered him a job. Of course, Luis is dragged back into his old ways – with a mother in debt to a loan shark, hopeless friends trying to carve themselves a drug empire, and a boss whose business methods involve selling his clubs simultaneously to two different (and equally violent) gangs. There’s comedy here – for example, the escape from a golfing range in a caddy, but it rarely comes from Tony or Luis. They’re just friends in a world that tends to crazy levels of bat-shit.
Gay Tony has a loveable, hypermanic comedy figure from the Brucie’s school of self-regard – Yusuf Amir. He’s the kind of guy that wants a subway train to boost his social standing, and Tony’s the kind of guy who dangles bloggers from helicopters. Between them, Luis is the classic bemused observer, helping out because he doesn’t have a choice. And again, his is a story you’ll care about, and it’s pleasing to see that the openly homophobic characters are also the least intelligent.
The same issues that were annoying in GTA IV remain present in the Episodes. The double sign-in to the Rockstar Social Club and Games for Windows – LIVE still feels needless, and despite some optimization since the first PC release, this is still a punishingly demanding game that’ll swallow 17GB of hard disk and dip to ruinously stuttering framerates if you’re not on a relatively new PC.
Taking a corner is still frustrating on a keyboard – it’s like trying to control a suitcase full of kangaroos with a bit of dowel rod. Combined with cover-and-shoot segments of the game – clearly designed for consoles too – you might prefer to play this on a gamepad.
Episodes from Liberty City adds mature and expertly written stories and entertainingly unacceptable characters to the rapidly aging Liberty City. They’re punchier stories, and the imagination poured into GTA’s restrictive framework manages, on many occasions, to break out of the familiarity of Niko Bellic’s journey.
May 10, 2010