With gumption Rockstar Games releases "The Ballad of Gay Tony", the latest, and last offering of episodic content for the award winning Grand Theft Auto IV. In this hymn of mayhem you will hit the streets of Liberty City as Luis Lopez, part-time hoodlum and full-time assistant to Mr. Tony Price.
Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony (GTA: TBOGT) is the second episodic piece of content to come this year for the award winning Grand Theft Auto IV. The first time around Rockstar introduced The Lost and the Damned (TLATD), a story into the world of Johnny Klebitz, a member of the Liberty City biker gang The Lost. Compared to GTAIV or the TLATD. TBOGT couldn’t be further any from the rags-to-riches storyline of Nico Bellic and his cousin, or Johnny's biker politics. The Ballad of Gay Tony comes at us with another lead character Luis Fernando Lopez who plays the supporting role to Anthony “Gay Tony” Price. Like Nico and Roman, Luis and Tony's pairing could be better as they both deliver witty banter that flows like a novel. Into the unseen night-life of Liberty City you will engage in another action packed dramatized tale like only like Rockstar can deliver.
As you might suspect with a title like "Gay Tony", there is bound to be some controversy, and really what would a Grand Theft Auto game be without engaging stereotypes and pushing the envelope? TBOGT doesn’t go out of its way to make issues like racism, violence, and drugs a political statement, but it deals with these elements in a mature way which is something no other company in this medium would touch. The characterization of Luis and Tony is excellent and lives up to our high expectations, the same goes with the other characters you meet along the way. Each new character expands on the richness of the story, bringing a gritty sense of real life into the game. In its own way all three GTAIV stories have their own strengths, so it’s hard to make a direct comparison. However, I found the relationship between Luis (the straight- Hispanic- muscle man) working for Tony (the gay- neurotic- entrepreneur) to one of the strongest out of all three games.
Hey... Wasn't That Nico!?
TBOGT also incorporates more story elements that weave in-and-out of what we have already come to learn about Liberty City. TLATD seemed to skim over the importance of this, however TBOGT embraces Liberty's animated past with style and imagination. Even in the first scene from TBOGT will instantly connection to Niko Bellic as Luis happens to be customer at the bank that is being robbed by Niko and the McReary brothers. This quickly offers up some fan service for all the players who made it that far in GTAIV, and it also brings you directly into the underbelly world of Liberty City with a dash of familiarity. From there you meet “Gay Tony” at his loft as you start to twist and turn down this downward spiral of high crime, sex and drugs.
Now This is How You Do Action
Like TLATD, TBOGT is played as a stand-alone game, and can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of GTA IV; however you’ll feel more in versed if you had. Following in Rockstar’s creative use of episodic content, TBOGT feels more like a standalone game, rather than a tacked on content. You really get your value in both of the episodes and even more so with Tony. Without spoiling any of the missions, TBOGT kicks things up by discharging more action oriented missions similar to the good ol’ Grand Theft Auto days. In the shorter span of the TBOGT you will see more explosions and starred up car chases then in all of GTAIV. TBOGT is defiantly bigger, badder, and more vicious. It’s amazing how this is all accomplished without loosing a sense of the characters, and even though the situations can be absolutely ridiculous they feel human at the same time. The balancing is solid and the up moments are split evenly with the more "story driven" aspects of the game. One minute you'll be running errands and the next you'll be slaughtering a building full of thugs. All in days work.
Checking the List, Checking it Twice
Each mission you play-through in Gay Tony will prompt you with a checklist and the end of the mission showing you a list of criteria of completion. This criteria is unknown to the player as they play the mission and come up at the end to usually a surprised face. Many of the requirements of completing a mission at 100% is your completion speed, the amount of damage you take, and your accuracy. Every mission is slightly different, so there isn’t one formula to stick with. It’s not really important to get 100% on a mission because when it’s done it’s done, however if you are the type of player who inspires perfection then you can revisit these later for a few attached achievements and Social Club bragging rights.
Chillin' GTA Style
Tagged onto the main mission there are also new activities to fool around with while you explore the world of Luis. These include cage fighting in an underground fight club, base jumping off of buildings, managing night clubs and dancing in them, and even enjoying some much need R&R at the golf course. Each new activity is fun, and not too involved that it gets in the way. Actually each activity seems to be exactly what the doctor ordered by offers up a nice diversion from the drama of Tony's life.
We Built This City
Achievements are also attached to some of these activities forcing the "GP" starved players to explore every inch of Liberty City. Keep in mind this is built on top of the excellent foundation that was already layed in GTAIV. So expect to have more random encounters with strangers which can interesting even when they are brief, midnight booty calls, and all the little extras like crashing in your crib and flipping stations on the tele. All these extras aren’t necessary a requirement, and seem like that extra icing of gratification Rockstar likes to put into the GTA series. The world is yours, and it’s up to you how much you want to amuse your self within this grand playground.
What the Lost and the Damned pulled away from, The Ballad of Gay Tony embraces. Going out in a bang TBOGT is a larger than life rollercoaster ride into the dangerous underbelly of Liberty City with Gay Tony as your guide. All this excitement bundled up into one game makes it feel like Rockstar Games wanted to spoil the player by giving the fans one last wild ride with all the cars, sex, guns, and explosions you have been craving. With all that's been said it is obvious that The Ballad of Gay Tony gets our recommendation, I would even go as far as recommending this expansion even if you couldn't get into the original release of Grand Theft Auto IV-- it's that good! Getting right into the thick of things without straining a note, The Ballad of Gay Tony is faster, bigger and badder then the last episode. This is one of the years finest, and should be on the radar for anyone who loves a great story, big explosions, and solid action.
Final Score: 9.4
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 11.09.09
- Excellent balance between the drama and action
- Bigger action then TLAD with a sense of classic GTA
- Some of the best Mature writing ever seen in a game
- Voice actors did a great job finding the perfect timber for each character
- Graphics and animations capture the interstices other games miss
- New optional activities to explore
- Atmosphere is instantly satisfying with its own flavour
- Full expansion pack with hours of gameplay
- A few of the missions can feel repetitive
- Stand alone; Doesn't mix with your current game
- Only out for Xbox 360 owners