The Ballad of Gay Tony: Brotherly Love and STILL Not In That Way
The Ballad of Gay Tony, Grand Theft Auto IV’s final downloadable content package, dropped this week and I figured I would waste my weekend on it. I loved the previous DLC offering, The Lost and Damned, so I was more than happy to drop the dosh for this one.
I am currently paused halfway through the final “storyline” mission so I think I can talk about it.
The Ballad of Gay Tony is a parachuting simulation game with some side-time spent at Studio 54. I almost wish I were joking about that but I’m not: a rather disturbing percentage of your missions in this game involve parachuting and/or helicopters. Or jumping out of a helicopter with a parachute. The largest mini/side game in TBoGT is actually (wait for it) base jumping.
The guy who sells guns out of the back of his van will also sell you parachutes. Just sayin’. There’s a lot of emphasis on it.
When you’re not parachuting, you’re usually going to be either a) stealing weird shit for some hyper-rich spoiled Arab; b) murderizing people for some Russian gangsters, or c) running errands for the game’s title character, “Gay” Tony Prince, your business partner, with whom you own two nightclubs (one gay, one straight).
So, blah-de-blah. Let’s just get the “gameplay” conversation out of the way.
This is a Grand Theft Auto game. That should be all you need to know about it. I will say that Rockstar has performed admirably and up to par by including a mission that is ri-COCK-ulously difficult, and they did it at the beginning of the game.
(You’ll know it when you hit it; it’s called “Sexy Time” and it seems easy until you have to shoot down some escaping gunboats and then you’ll start crying. My advice: Buy a bunch of rocket launchers. Find out where the boats land. Take the copter there; land early; wait; shoot them with the rocket launcher. Just don’t even try to do it with the helicopter because, for real, you’ll start crying.)
Other than that, the story missions are pretty much a combination of GOTO/KILLALL. The side missions are interesting (club management, for instance), and there are now another 50 birds to kill (I’m soooo not doing that; 250 pigeons was enough kthnxbye).
Are we done with the gameplay conversation? Can we talk about the story and characters? Because that’s the juice.
Despite the game’s title, you do not play Gay Tony. And now, I imagine a whole slew of homophobic and gay-curious-but-denying-it-by-pouring-on-testosterone dudes sighing in relief. No, no. You play Luis Lopez, who is straight (and actually somewhat of a player). Gay Tony is your boss.
Previously, I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the psychology of the protagonists in the previous two games, Niko Bellic and Johnny “The Jew” Klebitz. They are interesting characters and worthy of study: Niko is a clever nihilist; Johnny is a clever optimist.
Luis is a different sort of person.
He’s a man with a flexible moral code, obviously. We wouldn’t have a Grand Theft Auto game without it. He is an Hispanic from the projects, and his past life comes to haunt him from time to time. He spent some time in the pokey and when he got out he hooked up with Tony and became a business man – and a successful one.
Like Niko and Johnny, Luis is a clever. But he’s neither nihilist nor optimist; he is a pragmatist and a realist. He doesn’t really have any preconceived notions about how the world works (like Niko and Johnny); the world just is. He doesn’t believe that it’s out to “get him” nor does he believe that it is his pal.
Luis is a funny guy. He has probably the best dialog out of the three primaries, but that is possibly because there’s no real emotional baggage associated with it. When he dresses someone down, it feels genuine: he’s a “really real” dude. He’s got no bullshit about him whatsoever.
Sadly, this kind of makes him boring.
The most interesting character in the game – and perhaps in all three games – is Gay Tony himself. He steals every scene and every conversation he is involved in. He’s smart, funny, clever, driven, and powerful. He’s not a mincing stereotype; despite his nickname, his sexual orientation has little to do with defining who he is.
The banter between Luis and Tony feels very real. Tony is a surrogate father for Luis, and the two of them have a very real love for one another (but Not In That Way). The previous games have explored “male bonding” (Johnny Klebitz and his crew; Niko and Roman), but hadn’t really stepped into the father/child or mentor/student relationship space. This is what we explore.
Tony is a man with problems. Many of them. A large part of the story’s drama is derived from watching him self-destruct through a series of poor choices. There comes a time when we wonder if we shouldn’t just cut Tony loose and let him rot, but he continues to surprise and delight.
So yes. I’m saying that the most interesting character in a video game that I’ve been exposed to in probably 10 years is a 45 year old, gay nightclub owner with a drug problem who is experiencing a mid-life crisis.
And I never thought I’d write that sentence.
The Ballad of Gay Tony is about a 10-15 hour experience, and worth the money. You should play it. It won’t turn you gay; I swear.