GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony Review
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Available on: Xbox 360 only (PlayStation 3 version due soon)
GTA IV was a massive critical and commercial success, but when the dust settled a few months after its launch many negative points started to filter through from the gaming community. The biggest “complaint” was that the game was too serious and lacking in the “fun” department. Many people felt it had strayed too far from its original over the top roots; something that was ever so apparent in the PS2 games. The first downloadable episode, The Lost and Damned, hoped to correct some of these negatives, but to be honest it didn’t really differentiate itself (barring one or two scenarios) from the tone that was set in GTA IV.
Enter the Ballad of Gay Tony (the second downloadable episode), emerging from the gaming horizon and looking to bring some trademark “wackyness” back to the Liberty City and GTA in general. All the pre-release media suggested a return to the “old skool” GTA style and it was 100% correct. The Ballad of Gay Tony is loud, in your face and very much over the top. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the San Andreas jetpack shenanigans but it almost gets there. For anyone who has played a GTA game before the “sandbox” structure is still the same, but the quality of the missions is the standout factor here. The main story missions include content such as stealing a train carriage, parachuting from a skyscraper onto a moving truck and hitting a guy in the nuts with golf balls (no, we’re not kidding). As if all that wasn’t wacky enough, the game also includes some rather hilarious and fun side missions. You can partake in some parachute jumps, go to one of Gay Tony’s clubs to dance the night away (nice little DDR type mini-game included) or, if you wish, you can down shot after shot and get totally wasted!
As crazy and zany as some of the missions are, it is the story and characters that resonate the “old skool” GTA feeling. The story is a simple one, you work for Gay Tony, a well known club owner, whose businesses are spiraling out of control due to some shady dealings with the wrong people. You (Luis Lopez) have to help him deal with the “issues” that arise and boy there are many of them! Luis Lopez isn’t the most charismatic or likeable of chaps, however, the characters around him are fantastic and they are the ones that make the story so enjoyable. The highlight of the game has to be meeting the crazy Arab “playboy” Yusuf Amir (voiced by the comedian Omid Djalili), the missions you receive from him are just pure genius. Just like The Lost and Damned, throughout the story you also come across characters from the previous games such as Niko, Jonny, Roman and Packie. This is a great inclusion because it projects the illusion of being part of a living breathing city. You get the feeling that you are not the only relevant person in the game and there are so many other things going on in Liberty City.
The city itself hasn’t had a visual overhaul, this is still the same Liberty City from GTA IV. Saying that though, the greyish brown tones of GTA IV (and The Lost and Damned) seem to have been replaced by a slightly more brighter colour palette. A minor alteration in the scheme of things, but something that does make a difference to the overall experience and, more importantly, suits the style of Gay Tony down to a tee.
On the surface The Ballad of Gay Tony might look exactly the same as GTA IV (or The Lost and Damned), but delve a little deeper and this is much more like the PlayStation 2 GTA games. The over the top missions, the outlandish characters and even the title of the game are evidence to this claim. As an addition to the GTA IV family this is fantastic and much like The Lost and Damned it sets a benchmark for what we should expect from downloadable game content. If this is indeed the last we see of Liberty City then Rockstar have given the infamous city a fitting finale and farewell. Now, shall we begin the GTA V speculation?!
The Ballad of Gay Tony is available to download now via Xbox Live for 1600 Microsoft points (copy of GTA IV is needed) and as part of the Episodes from Liberty City package (which includes The Lost and Damned) on disc for around £29.99.