At some point during The Ballad of Gay Tony, after you’ve danced with men, hijacked a subway train and reduced the Liberty City skyline to a smoldering floating wasteland, you may find yourself chaperoning a young English girl about the city streets. Then again you may not. That’s the beauty of GTAIV, the stories are subliminal and chances are you may never make her acquaintance.
Regardless, her mother tongue is trained in vulgarisms and she insists on Luis’ (Ballads’ savvy protagonist) help. As a character with a serious case of the inability-to-say-no, the two of you navigate the city in search of a Bleeting (get it?) mystery figure threatening to taint the reputation of the squarking Brit. Your third destination is Star Junction where he’s stood alone staring contently upward.
The two engage in a flurry of racy articulations. And then the camera tilts skyward, halting at the gigantic screen presiding over the notorious triangular hub of New York city.
“Is all you want a wank? We’re not twelve.”
“Oh give me some digits too, three of them.”
It’s so almost pornographic. Save for a firm penis, it’s all there. Even the wrist motions. Socially the young foul-mouthed adulterer has expired. But it’s not even a mission; a transient moment in a city populated with anecdotes and caricatures. GTAIV is still brilliant.
As you might rightly anticipate, The Ballad of Gay Tony is the series at a most coarse but it’s a social commentary unrivalled in its insight and fearlessness to provoke. Where Lost and Damned was content with flaunting flaccid penis, Ballad takes several steps further in prompting a more meaningful response to outdated social views but manages it whilst preserving the painfully acute satire and unequaled hilarity that made GTAIV so damn good.
Gay Tony himself is astute creation. An electric bygone junkie, he’s the victim of constant harassment based on a sexuality never made certain. The voice-acting is as faultless as Niko Belic’s and the writing ever-more incisive. But he’s an anchor for the less enigmatic Luis Lopez who takes centre stage as the immediately likeable protagonist. Luis’ story has heart, he’s a genuinely good guy, a good guy who pushes bloggers from helicopters, plots terrorist attacks and partakes in underground fight clubs. But with all the heart and virtuous intent of a church boy and it all aids in bringing Liberty City and its inhabitants to life again whilst keeping the player absorbed in Luis’ plight.
Which also helps Ballad from slipping into familiarity. Long drives across the previously explored Liberty City are robbed of their monotony by the proverbial brand of satirical quips and riotous characters. But its the constant weaving of previous stories that makes Ballad so rewarding. Remember Ray’s diamonds, the museum firefight, kidnapping verbal-crusader Gracie? That story is wrapped up in Ballad, as are so many others.
But underneath such overwhelming accolade still sits GTAIV and it’s beginning to feel outdated in places. At the heart of that is the combat system which is now unquestionably clumsy. Not to say Rockstar haven’t tried to paint over the cracks, and appease those craving the ludicrousness of San Andreas, by focusing on spectacle. The explosive shotgun remodels battles from previously sedate routines to lightning paced brainlessness, and after so many painstaking battles it’s a canny inclusion. The attack helicopter, equipped with mini-guns and missile capabilities, injects a dose of the lunacy of San Andreas into the skyline, assisted by the raised roof and parachute, and the missions are less drive here, more fly here, skydive here, destroy this private jet and steal this tank.
And The Ballad of Gay Tony benefits from the change of pace because if the social commentary, satire, dramatic irony and shrewd characters weren’t good enough (and they are), the dancing mini-game, additional TV, base jumping, APC tank and obscene missions will appeal to GTA fans unanimously.
And there’s also Yusuf Amir, the unwittingly racist middle eastern billionaire who spends his days retired to his penthouse flaunting AK47’s singing about Arab Money with the cities finest prostitutes and copious quantities of cocaine, and isn’t that what the American Dream is all about?