In 2008, we visited Liberty City alongside Niko and his friends. Earlier this year, we returned for a quick tour of the city together with The Lost. Now, Rockstar is taking us on a third trip to Liberty City to check out the local nightlife.
The Ballad of Gay Tony, as the second downloadable expansion to Grand Theft Auto IV, sets the player in the shoes of Luis Lopez, the right hand man and business partner of nightclub owner Tony Prince. Unfortunately for the both of them, business isn’t what it used to be and Tony will soon be forced to close down his last two remaining night clubs. In an act of desperation, Tony enters into a loan with the mafia to save his night clubs. What follows is a continuing downward spiral through more debt that intertwines with the story from GTA IV and The Lost and Damned. It is up to Luis to make sure Tony gets out alive.
Despite the fact that Luis and Tony only engage in crime to save their own skin, rather than pursuing an overall career like Niko, the missions you’ll be carrying out are rather similar to those found in the overall GTA IV story. Where The Lost and Damned changed gameplay significantly by introducing the gang-element and switching to motorcycles as the preferred mode of transportation, The Ballad of Gay Tony stays much closer to the original. Sure, the game adds several new side-activities, but the overall mission structure is generally similar to what we have seen before. There is still plenty to be done, yet it is striking that The Ballad of Gay Tony seems to add less relevant features than an earlier expansion.
Yet what the game is missing in terms of gameplay-innovation or originality, is more than made up for by the level of quality Rockstar has infused in this second expansion. First of all, both cutscenes and the missions themselves appear much more cinematic than either the original or The Lost and Damned. Secondly, several of the new characters, such as Tony and Brucie’s brother Maurie, are of the highest level of quality we have seen from Rockstar over the years. Yet it is Yusuf Amir (voiced by comedian / actor Omid Djalili) who takes top-prize as a crazed Arab project developer. Some (minor) characters from the previous games, such as Ray Bulgarin and Brucie make their reappearance, with others such as Roman, Niko and Johnny making their occasional appearance during cutscenes.
Over the course of the game, which will last you anywhere between ten or fourteen hours, you will spend most of the time doing favors for those whom Tony owes money. These favors often appear a little unrelated to the overall problem Tony and Luis are facing, making you spend most of your attention on ‘not getting killed’ instead of ‘getting some money to get these guys off our backs’. The story is a little less complex than that of GTA IV and previous games but the writing is nevertheless phenomenal, making The Ballad of Gay Tony an experience that will remembered for a long time.
Besides the main story missions, there are a few activities to take part in. Notable additions to the already extensive range of activities include cage fighting, base jumping, golfing, dancing, club management, fighting drug wars and a new take on the racing activity. While these are only marginally relevant to the storyline, the club management activities and drug wars are interesting enough to play from beginning to end. The other activities are entertaining at the very least, but players will most likely ignore these until all other missions in the game have been completed.
New additions in terms of hardware include a P90 sub-machine gun, a new pistol, a heavy machine gun, a new sniper rifle, satchel charges, a (incredibly overpowered) shotgun firing explosive rounds and a gold-plated Uzi. On occasion, Luis will take control over a attack helicopter outfitted with machine guns and missiles.
The game still has its share of problems however, most notably with respect to the controls. With a significant amount of combat taking place in buildings or other enclosed environments, the cover system can be problematic. It is hard to get Luis to take cover at the exact location you wish him to be when there are multiple objects in the vicinity to which he can ‘stick’. This problem was also apparent in GTA IV and The Lost and Damned, making it a little surprising that this feature has not been improved upon. Rather than finding cover behind a solid object, Luis is equally willing to place himself in the direct line of fire by taking up position on the exposed side of an object. This, combined with the somewhat clunky in-cover controls, will result in either death or at the very least loss of health. Furthermore, some of the new vehicles introduced in The Ballad of Gay Tony are almost impossible to control at either very low or very high speeds.
Though the game runs on an engine that has been in use since 2008, the visuals are still on a par with most of the games released this holiday season. At some points, small objects drawn in the distance (such as fences) appear a little distorted, but anybody complaining about this is surely nitpicking.
Overall, The Ballad of Gay Tony is a worthy expansion to Grand Theft Auto IV. Available at 1600 Microsoft point (twenty dollars) and bringing more content than many full-priced games, the game is definitely worth a purchase. However, those who are looking for something ‘above and beyond’ GTA IV might still be a little disappointed, as The Ballad of Gay Tony can best be described as ‘GTA IV Light’. Those who wish to extend their GTA IV experience but only have enough Microsoft points for a single DLC episode, might still be better off purchasing The Lost and Damned as it is somewhat more unique than The Ballad of Gay Tony. Regardless, those who have been to Liberty City before, will wish to return to the city at least one more time to hear The Ballad of Gay Tony.
Rockstar has also launched a stand-alone expansion disc for the 360, containing both The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned. Retailing around 40 dollars, it is almost entirely the same deal, aside from the fact that this stand-alone, known as Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, includes three new radio stations. While this is by no means a bad deal, those who are entirely new to Grand Theft Auto IV might still be better off purchasing the original. Not only is this cheaper than the combined DLC episodes, but it also includes more content than both addons combined.
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Published by: Rockstar Games
Developed by: Rockstar North
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: October 29, 2009
Genre: Sandbox Third-Person Action / Adventure