Rockstar Games' grand epic Grand Theft Auto IV writes its final chapter Oct. 29. And the action is as over-the-top as the title: The Ballad of Gay Tony.
Available via download exclusively for owners of the Xbox 360 version of the game ($20, and like all GTA titles, for mature audiences), this second and last add-on episode focuses on Luis Lopez, Dominican-born second-in-command to nightclub magnate Gay Tony. The drug-addled Tony, losing a grip on his empire, puts Luis in dangerous circumstances in an attempt to retain his power.
"Luis has to do some of these favors and see if he can get them out of debt," says Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games and lead writer of the episode. "The situation with Tony's drug problems gets worse and worse, and Tony gets more and more out of control."
The events happen at the same time as those in GTAIV, which has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide since its release in April 2008 (for Xbox and PS3). It focused on the "coming to America-type story" of former Eastern European soldier Niko Bellic in Liberty City.
The first downloadable episode, The Lost and the Damned, released in February, focused on Johnny Klebitz, a member of biker gang The Lost. It and Gay Tony remain Xbox 360 exclusives. Both also will be out Oct. 29 on a $40 GTA: Episodes From Liberty City disc that can be played without the original game.
"I know, as a consumer, I'm more comfortable buying songs, which are almost like playing a jukebox, than I am buying movies as purely digital items," Houser says. "We all feel that way, so we can surely get more people to experience it if we put it on a disc."
Packed with action set pieces à la films such as Mission: Impossible and Bad Boys, Gay Tony has Luis at one point parachuting from a helicopter onto a glass-windowed skyscraper. Inside he blasts his way to his prey a few floors below and shoots his target, who then topples out of the bullet-ridden window. Luis dives out after him, wearing a parachute that glides him to safety.
In another scene, Luis drops on to the top of a moving subway train from a bridge and unhooks one of the cars for a maniacal high-rolling collector of one-of-a-kind artifacts. A Skyhook chopper airlifts the freed subway car away.
A man of action, Luis is torn between friends and family and his quest for power and riches. But as he climbs higher in Liberty City's social circles, he discovers that the upper crust has some issues.
Gay Tony's cast of out-of-control characters allowed Houser and the game designers to get in touch with their inner Michael Bay. "We definitely wanted it to feel more like the way action films are when they get ridiculous," says Houser.
"Suddenly you're lifting up train cars with helicopters and it looks amazing and ridiculous, and after what you've gone through in the past, you're like, 'wow, this is a really good payoff for completing this journey.' "