“As if people buy CDs anymore!” This line, spoken by the eponymous Tony Prince in The Ballad of Gay Tony, seems ironic in light of the game’s inevitable release as a physical boxed product in addition to digital download through Xbox Live, and is also a good example of how unashamedly blunt and with-the-times some of the themes in Rockstar’s latest (and final) instalment in the GTA IV series is.
Where Niko’s adventures introduced mobile phones, text messaging and the Internet to the world of Grand Theft Auto, The Ballad of Gay Tony touches on newer trends like social networking and “Bleeting” (Tweeting!), as well as up-to-the-minute perspectives on modern, urban club culture.
For me, the area in which Gay Tony far surpasses The Lost and Damned is in its balls-out extravagance and to-hell-with it premise. This being the final episode in the GTA IV saga, Rockstar has obviously said to itself, “fuck it – let’s give this the send-off it deserves” – and I have no doubt that fans will be in for a real treat.
We’ll start with the themes on offer. Where Lost and Damned was all about bikers, bikes, and low-level gang crime, The Ballad of Gay Tony takes us to the very top of Liberty City’s underworld where money’s no object and our new cast can pretty much do anything they like. Tony himself is a veteran of the clubbing scene, being the first businessman to own the best gay and straight clubs in the city.
We’re introduced to Yusuf, a friend who appears to have literally billions of dollars at his disposal, whose only objectives for players throughout the game are to obtain only the most unobtainable objects of desire – golden helicopters and the like. Yusuf is a fantastically moronic, hilarious character, and a great poster for this episode in the way that the limitless available to him pave the way for some of the most ridiculous, irresponsible and darkly amusing behaviour (and perhaps the foulest language in the series to date) you could really wish for.
We’re also brought closer to one of our favourite characters from GTA IV, Brucie, and also meet his older brother for the first time – a character whose interaction with his sibling shows us an entirely different side to a character we thought we knew so well, and the dynamic between the pair is quite an amusing one.
But by far the best moments come from the friendship between Gay Tony and Luis Lopez – Tony’s right-hand-man and bodyguard, and the protagonist that you take control of as the player. There’s no visible sexual tension between the two and Tony isn’t really your stereotypical, over-top-top gay either. He’s got way too much on his plate to be worrying about his sex life these days – in fact, it’s Luis’ colourful sexual adventures all over town that Tony’s more concerned about – and the effect it has on Luis doing his job properly…
You can tell Rockstar’s writers have had an awful lot of fun penning the script for the Ballad of Gay Tony. Where Yusuf offers the kind of mindless bloke humour which I can just imagine Dan Houser pissed himself at as he scribbled, the subtler comedy is in Tony and Luis’ interactions, and shows that Ballad is not a one trick pony when it comes to putting a smile on your face. There are plenty of moments that’ll make fans laugh, which I won’t spoil in this review. And it’s not just the outrageous script that delivers on the humour; sometimes it’s the silliness of the missions, like one early mission that sees your entourage racing away from attackers — in stupid little golf carts. It’s certainly the funniest GTA to date, no question about it.