'GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony' Hands-on Preview - Parachutes, Helicopters And Lots Of Pink

The next and (presumably) final piece of add-on content for "Grand Theft Auto 4" is coming at the end of October. "Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony" gives players a widely different point of view on Liberty City, revealing the glitzy high life, as opposed to the grime of "GTA 4" and "The Lost and the Damned." The episode will be available as downloadable content over Xbox Live, or folks can buy "GTA: Episodes from Liberty City" as a disc, which includes the content from "The Ballad of Gay Tony" and "The Lost and the Damned" (but not the content from "Grand Theft Auto 4").

The Basics

"The Ballad of Gay Tony" places you in the role of Luis Lopez, someone who has appeared as a relatively minor character in "GTA 4" and "Lost and the Damned." If you were looking out for him, you'd recall that he was heavily involved in the botched diamond exchange that sets up the climax of those two games, and his machine gun intervention during the museum hand-off brought all three protagonists together in one place.

Luis is the second-hand man to Anthony "Gay Tony" Prince, a successful night club owner. It's through "Gay Tony" that the game takes its tone, with a rainbow aesthetic for the menus and an outlandish storyline. Many of the characters that Luis interacts with are Liberty City's elite, so you're dealing with insane billionaires…often a dangerous and entertaining combo.

What It's Doing Right

Embracing the Unreal

In a lot of ways, "The Ballad of Gay Tony" returns GTA to the heady days of "San Andreas," when players weren't fettered by reality. In that game, hopping into a harrier jet, blasting apart a battleship and then escaping on a jetpack was almost run-of-the-mill. "Gay Tony" doesn't take things that far, but there are a lot of consolations to the previously grounded world of Liberty City.

Parachutes

One of the biggest consolations: the return of parachutes. You can now get in a helicopter, fly to the tops of skyscrapers, and bail out. You'll freefall for a while, but at any time you can pull the cord on your chute and glide safely to the ground. There are actually a bunch of "Pilotwings"-esque challenges to complete, using the parachute, where you'll have to glide through rings or land in specific locations. Rockstar also increased the vertical height from "GTA 4," so you can now fly even higher, giving yourself more time before you go splat.

New Vehicles

"The Lost and the Damned" added a bunch of new motorcycles. For "Gay Tony" the focus seems to have been on sports cars and helicopters. Super high end sports cars play into the ritzy lifestyle of Gay Tony's associates, while the helicopters add new, destructive means to the game. One chopper in particular is a lighter, more maneuverable attack helicopter, loaded with missiles and machine guns. It definitely outdoes the Blackhawk-styled attack chopper in "GTA 4."

What It's Doing Wrong

Color Blind Issues

This is something I'm really hoping will be fixed in the final release. The game's new color scheme, which runs throughout the menus and UI, is heavy on pinks and purples. The circular GPS radar on the lower left of the screen, for example, uses pink as the direction line to show you where you should drive. I'm color blind (see if you are too!), and the line was just about invisible to me.

Seriously, when I was demoing the game I had no idea where to go on a mission, as the GPS just blended into itself. I realize that I'm in the minority, but with 10% of all males suffering from color blindness, I'm really hoping it'll be something that gets fixed for the final release. All that would be required is an option to use the original "GTA 4" palate for the GPS.

Final Impressions

"Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony" appears to be on par with "The Lost and the Damned" from a quality standpoint, with the usual Rockstar attention paid to story and presentation. The new vehicles, addition of parachutes and lighter tone definitely give the game its own vibe, though, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing out the Liberty City epic wraps up. Emphasis on seeing. Ahem, I'm color blind. Fix that, please.