28 Feb

The Ballad of Gay Tony

Filed under: PC Games No Responses

I really liked this particular firefight in a cramped retail complex in Chinatown. It reminded me of those tiny shops in Hong Kong with twisty corridors and signs plastered everywhere.

I only played this because I had bought the Episodes from Liberty City expansion and thought it would be a shame if I didn’t at least try this out. I wasn’t expecting much after being disappointed by The Lost and the Damned, but The Ballad of Gay Tony turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise and Luis Lopez is my favorite protagonist by far from the current generation of Grand Theft Auto games.

Some reasons why:

  • Luis Lopez is largely angst-free and though his relationship with his boss, Gay Tony, has its share of problems, they make for a great duo. It’s actually entertaining to watch them interact in the cutscenes for once. I also liked that he basically has a day job in helping to run his boss’ nightclubs rather than being a full-time career criminal. Running the clubs is one of the new side-activities in the game. It’s mostly busy-work with some titillating sex scenes as the payoff, ending with you needing to help out a celebrity with something. It’s cool that it’s completely non-violent and most of the writing is passably humorous.

  • Amir Yusuf, the crazy Arab billionaire, is one of the best characters in any GTA game. Early on, it looks like his story arc could be going the direction of the usual and boring betrayal and backstab, but Rockstar avoids jumping this particular shark. While he continues being crazy, he also turns out to be a genuinely good and likable guy. His missions are the most colorful in the game, involving heists that are each more outlandish that the last one.

Amir Yusuf lives in a penthouse with arcade machines, superhero statues, a detailed model of Liberty City and the skyscrapers he wants to build there. He also like to tote gold-plated guns while wearing only underwear at home.
  • The Ballad of Gay Tony reinforces the trend towards streamlining gameplay. Cash is almost meaningless as the player is automatically provided with appropriate weapons when the mission calls for it. You don’t even need to buy clothes as Lopez already starts with a decent wardrobe. You rarely need to look hard for a vehicle as the game with automatically spawn an appropriate one when you walk out of buildings or a cutscene ends. As with The Lost and the Damned, you can call up your friends for vehicle delivery or to buy weapons at a discounted rate.
  • The drug running side activity is basically an instant action mode. The races this time around are a triple-part affair. You parachute out of a plane, land on or near boats, drive these boats to the shore and then switch to sports cars until you reach the finish line. It’s a pretty good variation from the usual racing. There’s also a base-jumping activity which has you jump out from pre-determined points and use your parachute to land in the target area.
  • One key marketing point is that this episode finally completes the original story started in the main game. Unless you play them all, you’ll be mystified at what happens at certain points in the main story. While it’s amusing how some people who were perceived in the other episodes as the bad guys are considered allies here, it wasn’t a huge deal for me.

So yeah, this is surprisingly the best version of GTA IV yet. It goes to show how far you can get through the simple expedient of writing main characters that the player can actually sympathize with. Maybe Rockstar is feeling the heat of the competition and is learning how to adapt to it. The fact that the missions now have scores according to how well you do at them speaks volumes.

Parachutes return for the first time since GTA III. It makes for a pretty good way to view the entire city.
Written on February 28 2011 and is filed under PC Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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