Grand Theft Auto IV was one of the most critically and commercially successful games of 2008, and it continues to live on well into this year thanks to Rockstar’s Episodes From Liberty City series of downloadable content. The first installment came this past February when Rockstar released The Lost and Damned, which was a grim story about an underground biker gang that introduced a new storyline and protagonist, as well as new vehicles and weapons. In October, Rockstar will release the second entry in the Episodes series with The Ballad of Gay Tony. Like The Lost and Damned before it, The Ballad of Gay Tony will also add a significant amount of new content to go alongside a new collection of characters and missions. Rockstar recently guided us through a hands-on demo to see how the second DLC will differ from the first.
If there’s one major change from The Lost and Damned to The Ballad of Gay Tony, it’s the overall tone. TLAD told a dark story about a biker caught up in a power struggle amidst a cast of seedy characters, but The Ballad of Gay Tony will take on a much more lighthearted and over-the-top feel. The star this time around is Luis Lopez, a Dominican immigrant looking to make a life for himself in America much like the original game’s hero Niko Bellic. Luis works for Tony Prince (aka Gay Tony), a successful businessman who carries the distinction of owning the most popular straight and gay dance clubs in all of Liberty City. Problem is, Gay Tony has hit a rough patch and the shady investors he’s made deals with in the past are now coming for him in full force. As Luis, it’s your job to help out Gay Tony and make sure that the clubs--which you’ve worked your way up to part-ownership in--remain in his hands.
Throughout the course of the story, you’ll find yourself working for a number of bizarre characters, such as the wealthy eccentric Yusuf Amir. Thanks to the connections of these partners in crime, Luis has access to far more exotic weaponry than the sawed-off shotguns and pipe bombs that made up your arsenal in The Lost and Damned. Among the new weapons at your disposal are an assault rifle designed after the P90, a light machine gun that very much resembles an M249 SAW, and sticky bombs that you can attach to anything and detonate remotely. There’s also a golden UZI, a new sniper rifle, and a powerful new handgun. But the real gem of Luis’ arsenal is the AA-12 auto-shotgun that fires explosive rounds. With just one shot from this gun, we were able to make a police car look like it had just been struck by a meteor.
The first mission we saw quickly introduced us to the new parachute feature. Luis has agreed to help out members of the Russian mafia, who are trying to buy the Liberty City Rampage hockey team from the team’s reluctant owner. Negotiations have failed, so naturally Luis has been sent in to deal with the owner by force. To do so, Luis has to parachute onto the top of the building and make his way down staircases filled with guards before arriving in the team offices and blasting the owner out of the window of this skyscraper. Problem solved...sort of. With all the heat after him, Luis has to BASE jump from the window of the tower and land on a moving flatbed truck down on the streets below.
The parachuting system found in missions like these is actually pretty simple. You leap from a ledge (or helicopter) and use the analog stick to contort your body to adjust how much of an angle you fall at and how quickly you plummet. When you hit the A button, you’ll release your chute. With the chute open, you can lean left or right to steer, hit either trigger to do a more severe twisting motion, use an analog stick to raise your legs and fall at more of a forward angle, and pull both triggers at once to fall straight down. The DLC will also introduce new side missions that allow you to jump from skyscrapers and land on either stationary or moving targets to gather cash. Besides just hitting the target, you’ll also get more cash for free-falling for a longer period of time before releasing your chute.
After that first mission, Rockstar handed us the controller and let us try a few missions of our own. The next one had a thoroughly ridiculous premise: Yusuf wants to steal a Liberty City subway car and ship it off to the Middle East to build a theme park modeled after the city. To do that, you need to leap from a freeway overpass in Broker (all boroughs are unlocked from the start) and land on a train passing below. Then, you have to slowly make your way to the front of the train while defending yourself from angry police helicopters--we used our trusty auto-shotgun--while also making sure to quickly go prone went the train passes under a low overhang, such as a bridge. We really enjoyed this mission and the thrill of navigating the roof of a speeding train while shooting down choppers and police standing at any of the stations we sped past. At the end of the mission, a cargo helicopter came by and snatched the lead train car off the tracks and whisked it off to its new home. This was definitely a marked departure from the sense of gritty realism that made up the missions in The Lost and Damned, but it was a fun one nonetheless.
The next pair of missions --one played by us, one by Rockstar--showed off a few more new features. In the one we played, we had to take a van due to be raided by a SWAT team and set up a trap. We drove the van into a dimly lit parking garage and then hopped out to plant a series of sticky bombs on the van, as well as every single surrounding car within a good 20-foot radius. Then we took to the shadows and hid behind a car, waiting until the SWAT team arrived to approach the van. You can probably guess what happened next: a massive explosion; a lot of angry cops; and one big, messy firefight.
The other mission required Luis to hop on a boat and sneak his way onto a yacht out at sea. The yacht is owned by illegal arms dealers, and the real prize of the auction taking place is the attack chopper parked neatly on the helipad. Luis has to sneak up to it, take off with the thing, and destroy the yacht, as well as the surrounding guard boats from on high. It’s a tough job because the illegal arms dealers you just stole from are, well, arms dealers and, thus, armed to the teeth. (With rocket launchers!) Thankfully, the stolen chopper is equipped with a minigun and unlimited rockets, so it's much easier to take care of these guys with the chopper than it would be if you were piloting a run-of-the-mill police helicopter.
From the new attack helicopter and parachuting missions to Luis’ cache of high-powered weaponry, The Ballad of Gay Tony looks like it should offer a much more exaggerated style of action than its predecessor. Other gameplay additions include what Rockstar call “procedurally generated missions” that you’ll be offered when hanging out in the new dance clubs. These may include dealing with a drunk patron or delivering a package for someone, as well as the aforementioned parachute side missions. You can also replay any completed mission, which is a feature that's been borrowed from Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Naturally, multiplayer makes a return as well, complete with the new weapons, vehicles, and parachutes.
The Ballad of Gay Tony will be available on October 29 for $20 on Xbox Live. Another purchase option exists in the form of the Episodes From Liberty City retail disc, which bundles The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned on one $40 disc, and you don’t need to own the original GTAIV to play it. Stay tuned for more coverage in the near future.