GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Spare a moment to consider the poor sods that only own the PC and PS3 versions of Grand Theft Auto IV. Not only have they already missed out on the first Xbox 360 exclusive episode, The Lost and Damned, they're also missing out on its follow up, the curiously titled Ballad of Gay Tony. Mainly revolving around the heart of LC's nightlife in Algonquin amid the glitz and glamour of the city's glitterati, BOGT is a much different prospect to Lost and Damned.
Where Lost and Damned was a taut, 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 colour that swaps motorcycles, baseball bats and the smell of oil for expensive cars, excessive glamour and sparkly bling. This is less a ballad, more a riotous symphony of explosive action and wanton destruction.
Our good friends at Rockstar recently invited us over to their London base to get some hands-on time with the upcoming DLC chapter and with the sound system cranked and the enormous telly fired 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, but rest assured he 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 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 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 the name of the game. Tony's part of the old guard, the king (or should that be queen) of Liberty City who is on his way down, so Luis must run errands to help the floundering kingpin out wherever possible. As his henchman and business partner, it's in Luis' best interests to help Tony get back onto his feet and regain his position on the crime ladder. A serpentine plot full of double crosses, shady dealings and drama is of course a given, natch.
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 hardware. Given the opportunity to go on a no-holds barred rampage to test out the brand new weapons, we whip out the new Assault Shotgun and blast away at a cop car, 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 rifle, a huge machine gun that tears 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. Shot down helicopters, blown up SWAT cars and a swathe of cops unlucky enough to catch a consignment of lead all pepper the streets after our horribly indiscriminate shooting stampede comes to a head. An attempt to escape in a wrecked police car ends in tears as it gets flipped, leaving us precious little time to crawl out from the smouldering carcass. Still, it was 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. All in a day's work.
It's a tough 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 over the place, so you have to be pretty quick and efficient with your aim - 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.
And the following mission, 'Sexy Time', has you stealing a valuable Attack Chopper stationed 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.
Your success in BOGT's tasks is measured with a statistics 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.
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 might be the most essential download to ever hit the 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!
Flamboyant, eccentric and stuffed to the gills with action, all tinted with a rainbow of eye-hurting fluorescent colours, Ballad of Gay Tony is likely to make us feel very festive indeed when it lands on October 29th. Can't. Wait.