The great thing about episodic content is that you get to listen to your audience and fine tune your releases to accommodate their wishes.
The final episode in the Grand Theft Auto IV legacy, The Ballad of Gay Tony, does just that. In the original game, Niko's access to Liberty City was somewhat limited based on his meagre lifestyle. Johnny in The Lost And Damned was again firmly below the ranks of the wealthy and influential. Where both former protagonists essentially worked to achieve fame and fortune, Gay Tony places you in the A-list immediately, with access to pretty much anything you want.
You play as Luis Fernando Lopez, bodyguard to the eccentric and wealthy Tony Prince, who just happens to own the best nightclubs in Liberty City. Eagle-eyed viewers will remember Luis from a certain bank robbery mission in the original game.
The core gameplay mechanics remain the same, even if the HUD is now presented with a pink hue, and what Rockstar has made pretty obvious is that this episode is more a focus on increasing your weapons cache and methods of transport, and throwing in a stack of missions that take advantage of both.
So is this a more San Andreas approach to put a bookend on the game? Yes, and no. You still get the verticality of Liberty City (which has now been increased to accommodate parachute drops and better aerial gunfights) as opposed to the wide, open spaces of San Andreas where little actually happened. Gay Tony still is very much a product of the fanatical attention to detail we saw in the original GTA IV.
But the spirit of San Andreas does shine through with weapons such as the .50 cal, and a machine gun that packs so much of a punch that victims literally fly through the air when they're struck. One mission shown to us involved crawling along the top of a moving subway car whilst taking out swarming helicopters (and remembering to duck at the appropriate time) - so yes, if you're after a more insane Liberty City experience, this episode looks like it will satisfy.
The parachute appears to play an integral role this time around; there are fifteen additional parachute jumping challenges on offer from Gay Tony, and we also saw a mission that involved diving out of a skyscraper and landing on the back of a flatbed truck. It's easy to control too, you can adjust the speed and direction to allow a high degree of accuracy, however you will need to replenish them from time to time. The helicopters on offer are far more advanced than anything we've seen in the series so far, many are equipped with serious firepower and impressive aerial manoeuvrability.
Expect about the same story length as The Lost And Damned (approximately twelve hours) when Gay Tony is released on October 29th. You can download it directly from Xbox Live, or pick up Episodes From Liberty City, a disk that includes The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost And Damned, and doesn't require the original GTA IV game to run. We'll bring you a full review closer to the release.