Grand Theft Auto 4: The Ballad of Gay Tony Preview (Xbox360)

The following preview may sound like the fevered brain-gushings of an over-excited mental patient who has been let out on day release to have a crack at writing for Strategy Informer, but that’s the effect that the latest (and reportedly the last) of the GTA IV DLC episodes has had on us.

What we’ve played thus far is a freewheeling menagerie of incendiary action, harking back to the devoutly anarchic roots of the original games, playing fast and loose with this thing we call reality, throwing a ton of cool stuff into the Rockstar blender to come up with the most riotous dose of GTA action yet.

Ballad of Gay Tony is all about bright lights, glitz and glamour. A stark contrast to the grit and grime of Lost and Damned, innit?
There’s more than ample opportunity to wreak all kinds of havoc all over Liberty City in BOGT. And given the new weapons, it’s never been easier to blow stuff up.

Where Lost and Damned was a sombre, dramatic yarn centred around Johnny Klebitz - the tough, reliable core of a fierce Hell’s Angels gang, all filtered through a grimy lens, Ballad of Gay Tony is a combustible mirrorball, draped in fluorescent colours that swaps Harleys, baseball bats and the motor oil for overly expensive cars, overly excessive glamour and overly sparkly bling.

We recently ambled on over to Rockstar’s London HQ to get some hands-on time with the eagerly awaited forthcoming DLC chapter, and so with the sound system cranked high and the monster-sized telly juiced up, we step into the shoes of the titular crime boss’s personal bodyguard, Luis Lopez, venturing balls deep into Liberty City‘s seamy underbelly once again.

Gay Tony’s protagonist will be familiar to those who remember him lying on the floor during the ‘Four-Leaf Clover’ heist mission in GTA IV, but you can rest assured that Luis can handle himself just as capably as Niko or Klebitz. And he just so happens to be packing the best weapons set to ever feature in a GTA title, more on which in a bit.

First we’re shown a mission where Luis teams up with a tracksuit-garbed heavy named Timur, as the pair infiltrate the offices of the Liberty City Rampage ice hockey team in a bid to raise Tony’s stakes in the franchise which he’s unwisely sold off at too low a price.

Luis and Timur attempt a stealthy entrance, only to be caught on CCTV making the only remaining option to go loud and waste the security guards. Luis can shoot steam pipes to scald unwitting enemies and slide between cover on his knees, which makes firefights feel incredibly dynamic, especially given the power of the new weaponry (we’re getting to it, honest). Eventually, Luis fights his way to the top floor making his escape through an open window using the parachute, finally reinstated from San Andreas due to popular demand. Clearly, BOGT is all about the action.

As far as Tony Prince’s (that’s Gay Tony in case you were wondering) financial problems are concerned however, ice hockey shares are just the tip of the iceberg and raising some extra cash to keep the creditors at bay is pretty much the name of the game. Tony’s part of the old guard - the king (or should that be queen) of Liberty City who is rapidly on his way down, which is why Luis is tasked with running errands to help the floundering kingpin out regain his footing on the crime ladder. As his henchman and business partner, it’s in Luis’ best interests to help Tony get back onto his feet, although a serpentine plot full of double crosses, shady dealings and drama is of course a given, so your motives might shift during the course of the narrative.

Despite your money troubles, you still get to roll around LC in style at the wheel of a Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible-esque ride and you have access to a ludicrous cache of formidable hardware. Given the opportunity to go on a no-holds barred rampage to test out the brand new weapons, we whip out the heavy Assault Shotgun and blast away at the first cop car we set eyes upon, putting a huge dent in the bodywork and setting the engine on fire with a single shot. That’s just for starters.

There’s a P90 inspired assault rifle, a huge SAW machine gun that tears through everything in its path to shreds and remote detonated sticky bombs (that you can also chuck out your car window – press down on the D-pad to detonate) at your disposal, all of which make wreaking total havoc an effortless riot. The burning shells of shot-down helicopters, blown-up SWAT vans and a swathe of cops unlucky enough to catch a consignment of lead litter the streets after our horribly indiscriminate shooting stampede comes to a head. A desperate attempt to escape the scene of the atrocity in a wrecked police car ends in tears as it gets flipped over, leaving us precious little time to crawl out from the smouldering carcass before it goes up in a ball of flame. Still, it was brilliantly raucous fun while it lasted.

Next we’re presented with a mission entitled, ‘For The Man Who Has Everything’ which is a suicidal task that sees Luis leap from a railway bridge onto a moving subway train. You see, Tony wants a subway car, meaning that you have to risk life and limb to run along the speeding carriages, blasting police choppers out of the sky while simultaneously picking off cops waiting for you on the platforms at the stations, to make way for a cargo helicopter to swoop down and pluck the carriage from the tracks. All in a day’s work.

It’s a demanding mission objective that we’d have failed several times over were it not for a debug cheat that replenishes our health whenever it drops to a dangerous level. Bullets zing all around, so you have to be quick and efficient with your aim. The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn’t mess around – the challenges are always buzzing with activity, ensuring that you’re constantly on a knife’s edge as you play.

The next mission we play, ‘Sexy Time’ has you stealing a valuable Attack Chopper from the landing pad on the deck of a luxury yacht, for charismatic criminal Yusuf - brilliantly voiced by comedian Omid Djalili. Nabbing the chopper will win Yusuf the approval of his father you see, so there’s a lot riding on your success. Once you manage to hop into the deadly whirlybird, you get to plough a flurry of missiles into the yacht’s hull before watching it sink in a billowing cloud of flame and smoke. Satisfying. Then you have to chase down the survivors as they try to make a getaway in speedboats.

Your success in BOGT’s tasks is measured with a stats screen at the end of each completed mission, which also allocates a percentage measuring how well you executed the brief. Finishing the game with a full 100% rating involves beating every mission with a perfect score, so once you’ve finished the story, you can return to any section at any time to try and improve your performance.

You’d think that Rockstar would deem all of this enough for a DLC episode, but you’d be dead wrong. Bringing back the parachute is a masterstroke, allowing for a load of compulsive BASE jump challenges scattered around the city for you to complete. Go to the parachute icon and you’ll be instantly transported to the top of the nearest vertiginous building where you can vault from the edge, heading for the target where your aim is to land as accurately as you possibly can. Sometimes you’ll need to drop onto a pink checkpoint or more excitingly, you’ll need to time your descent carefully in order to plant your feet on the back of a moving flatbed truck.

During the ‘Sexy Time’ mission you do for Yusuf, you get to pelt a luxury boat with missiles, sending it to the bottom of the ocean. That’ll teach those rich, boaty snobs!
The new Attack Chopper is one of the best things in BOGT, packing twin missile launchers and miniguns. The screenshot says it all, really.

Add to this the inclusion of a new armoured vehicle, (similar to a tank we’re told although it’s unavailable for our hands-on, so your guess is as good as ours as to what it‘ll actually be like), extra interiors and an involving nightclub management sub-game and you’ve got what will undoubtedly be the most essential download to ever hit Xbox LIVE marketplace. And happily, if you’re not all onlined up, you can buy both BOGT and Lost and Damned on a standalone disc entitled Episodes from Liberty City due out at the same time as the new DLC for about 35 quid. What’s more, you don’t actually need to own the original GTA IV to play the not insubstantial contents of the disc. Score!

Frankly, we can’t wait for The Ballad of Gay Tony and feel sorry for the poor unfortunates that won’t get to play the game on PC or PS3. For Xbox 360 owners however, October 29th can’t come soon enough. Bring it on.

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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 18, 2009
By vednor (SI Newbie) on Sep 21, 2009
sounds fun and not gay at all!
By lichlord (SI Core) on Sep 21, 2009
GTA 4 isn't a good game it gotten me tired faster then san andreas
By fredyzg (SI Core) on Nov 14, 2009
I will not buy gta never again!!!