the ballad of gay tony
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grand theft auto

Wherein we discuss Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony

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Let me preface this by saying that I could be the worst GTA player on Planet Earth. I don’t know if my thumbs just can’t twiddle like they used to when I was a spry 16-year-old. I don’t know if the sandbox “oh my god everything is happening all at once~!” style of gameplay is exacting its revenge on me for some previous offense I committed in a past life. I simply don’t know what’s up. The bottom line is: I completely stink on ice when it comes to all things GTA.

And yet I still had a very fine time playing The Ballad of Gay Tony. Well, “very fine time” inasmuch as I can experience the emotion known as “joy” anymore.

The tale of the tape: when you go to the store and buy Episodes From Liberty City, you’re buying a stand-alone (that is, you don’t need to have GTA IV for it to work), $40 disc for your Xbox 360 that contains both The Ballad of Gay Tony and the previously released The Lost and Damned. Since biker culture doesn’t appeal to me in the least I skipped out on buying The Lost and Damned, so hooray for me that I get both DLCs on the one disc.

But only The Ballad of Gay Tony concerns us right now. If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to buy the retail copy of Episodes From Liberty City know that you can download it from Xbox Live, like any other DLC, provided you already have GTA IV.

Hopefully that clears up any misconceptions you may have.

Moving on.

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You play as Luís Lopez, a thuggish but well-meaning Dominican gentlemen with a sharp haircut who’s the business partner (read: hired goon) of Gay Tony. Gay Tony runs Liberty City’s nightlife, which means Luís has to deal with all of the associated nonsense. You know, the mob loans Tony some money for a club and now wants to kill everyone he holds dear because he’s a little late in his payments. So you going around GTA-ing the city in order to protect Tony from enemies that are largely of his own creation. Tragedy.

Being that it’s a GTA game, I’m going to assume that you’re familiar with the basic mechanics. Run and drive about, shoot and blow up some stuff, watch tremendously written and directed cutscene, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary, but you do wonder how long Rockstar can keep selling us the same concept. In that sense, if you’ve played, say, Vice City for the PS2 then you’ve played The Ballad of Gay Tony.

Then again, EA keeps pumping out Madden after Madden, and sales there don’t seem to be suffering. Plus, Rockstar releases GTA games so infrequently that maybe my initial concern, that people could tire of the formula, may be overstated. Rockstar hasn’t Guitar Hero‘d the series quite yet.

The overall atmosphere is the biggest change to the game, so much so that you might even consider a character unto itself. If the original GTA IV was too serious (which it was), then The Ballad can be seen as an appeal to the PS2 era’s better angels. It’s fun again. The game still oozes violence, and you still confront adult subject matter (best not to play the game with children about), but the mere fact that you conclude a mission by parachuting off one of Liberty City’s skyscrapers speaks volumes.

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Or didn’t you notice the name of the game is The Ballad of Gay Tony?

You’re also knee-deep in the city’s club culture, which is to say you’re knee-deep in one of the circles of hell, the fun one with coke and progressive house music. You walk into a club in the game and it’s just like walking into one of those Meat Packing District hellholes in New York City: it’s dank, there’s guidos everywhere (no disrespect, but come on, cut it out with the wife beaters and hair gel already), the DJ is playing a song you yourself downloaded from Beatport that very week, and the women, despite the fact that it’s 30 degrees outside, are covered up in enough cloth to fill a thimble. Not that I mind, but to relay a Louis CK story I heard some time ago, you just want to go up to these girls and take them home to their parents, and explain to them that there’s more to life than popping bottles with deadbeats in the “VIP section” of a club, then doing the walk of shame at 7am the next morning. Go to night school, clean yourself up, do something with your life for God’s sake!

The mere fact that I was able to work a Louis CK reference into this post pleases me greatly.

The song selection gets many, many stars, and that’s something fierce considering I only listen to three stations in the game: Integrity, Beats 102.7, and Electro-choc. Integrity is still the most entertaining station in the game, Beats has no shame in playing “Arab Money” (thank you, Rockstar) every 10 minutes, and Deadmau5 himself would do well to work the “Electro-choc” playlist into his next set. (As I write this, I’m listening to a Deadmau5 live set from the Amsterdam Dance Event where he mixes in the Zelda overworld song.)

“Pjanoo,” the song featured in the trailer, is nowhere to be found in the game. Sad clowns, all of us.

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I dabbled in the multi-player, but only just. It’s largely the same—mayhem everywhere, always—but there are new weapons, parachutes, Halo-like kill streaks, and so on.

Rockstar has improved the replay mission feature. If you fail a mission, and I’m pretty sure I failed all of ‘em at least once, you’re sent a text message that gives you the option to replay said mission. This time, however, many of the missions are broken into segments, and each segment serves as a checkpoint for any subsequent replays. For example, in one multi-part mission you have to go around and blow up various items (a construction crane, a subway train, and a plane, to be exact). So if you succeed in blowing up the crane but then fail in your attempt to blow up the subway, you resume the mission from right after blowing up the crane; you don’t have to start the mission all the way from Step One.

Such a time saver, believe me.

You’re also given the option to upload your mission score (the game ranks how well you complete missions this time around, taking into account time taken and damage received) to the Rockstar Social Club. I’d be lying if I said I had any real idea what the Rockstar Social Club is, but I’m sure it’s swell.

OK, this is already twice as long as I originally intended for it to be, so I’ll finish with this: The Ballad of Gay Tony concludes the GTA IV saga quite nicely, finally bringing some levity to a series that desperately needed it.

Oh, and Ron Bennington lends his voice to the game. That’s a Good Thing.

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