Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony Review

balladGrand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony (Available on Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 16
Genre: Action
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: October 29th, 2009

Xbox Live – Multiplayer

GTA IV was a monster.  It took the world by storm and sold millions of copies.  When we heard Microsoft scored exclusive downloadable content, assumptions immediately pointed to a nice expansion of sorts.  Instead it amounted to GTA IV: The Lost and Damned, one of the most feature-filled episodes ever released for a home console.  For $19.99, it featured enough new content to be considered a brand-new game.  DLC has become an official goldmine for most developers.  Release a weapon pack for $9.99, and about a million people will download it.  Thus the asking price The Lost and Damned was not only a killer deal, but a very worthwhile download.  Eight months later, Rockstar has released the final expansion with The Ballad of Gay Tony.

Before the proper review begins, please take note of a few things.  If you don’t own GTA IV, snag a copy of GTA: Episodes from Liberty City, because it contains both The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned.  If you do, then just download TBoGT directly from Xbox Live Marketplace.  This option is great for newcomers or those that don’t want to waste valuable hard drive space.  Now to start the show!

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One of the biggest differences between this latest expansion and the last couple GTAs is that you don’t work your way from rags to riches.  Luis Lopez is already a made-man.  He works for Tony Prince, owner of the biggest gay and straight clubs in Liberty City.  Without indulging too many details, several years back Tony and Luis began working together, and now Luis is a somebody.  The Ballad starts during GTA IV’s bank robbery runs straight to the game’s conclusion.  Luis’ story isn’t interesting, but his world is extremely special.  Many GTA IV characters appear, and everybody new has an equal impact.  Because of Luis and Tony’s relationship, you see Tony’s story through the perspective of Luis, thus where the controversial name came from.  The plot is entertaining, but it’s the NPCs that enjoy the spotlight.  Luis is just along for the ride.

The gameplay is also exactly as you remember it.  Missions have you drive from point A to B, killing everyone in your way.  Occasionally things spiral out of control.  The Ballad of Gay Tony features the most ridiculous and over-the-top missions of any GTA from past five years.  That’s a big plus, because they kept my interest when the expansion started to wear thin, and it’s all thanks to the NPCs.  When you meet Yusuf, you’ll understand.  The guy has enough money for ten lifetimes, so he sends you to do the most insane things imaginable.  I won’t spoil the fun, but believe me when I say you take on some of the craziest missions ever.

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Wild and crazy missions come with wild and crazy vehicles.  Helicopters have been in Liberty City for a long time now, but you make full use of them in this expansion.  Prepare for intense aerial combat, insane explosions, parachuting and much more.  The only problem I have with any of this is the controls.  Without an aim-assist, it’s extremely tough to take out incoming enemies.  Why can I have it while on-foot, but not in the air?   There’s also a brand-new tank, and it’s a real winner.  This bad boy can shut up even the biggest mouth in Liberty City.  The new guns are also much louder, meaner and dangerous than any we’ve ever seen in GTA.  I could ramble about all the extras, but you should really experience them for yourself.  After all, playing in the sandbox is what makes GTA so much fun.

I’ll just mention one weapon that I’m obsessing over: the sticky bomb.  It’s like Halo’s sticky, except you manually detonate them.  Imagine the possibilities.  This is GTA after all.  Stick them to cars, helicopters, people and more.  Then run away and set the bad boys off.  Yes, great times.

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The Ballad of Gay Tony also features tons of side missions, from starting a drug cartel to joining the underground fighting circuit.  There’s so much to do that you could play for ages.  You can even take on the daily management of Tony’s two nightclubs.  There are fun dancing mini-games, all the way down to the somewhat boring duties, like walking around a club looking for drunken morons.  Find them, select the correct person and watch a cutscene of their being kicked out.  Whoopee, exciting.

Outside of the expected extras, The Ballad of Gay Tony also adds something extremely useful to the series: leaderboards and mission scores.  Completing a mission nets you a score calculated according to time passed and personal/vehicle damage taken.  Perform really well to show off to your online buddies.  Rockstar even included a target score for each mission, which is helpful.  Most missions are challenging, but the new scoring system alone significantly enhances GTA IV’s replay value.

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Speaking of value, the online multiplayer has stifled a bit.  There’s Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Race, and other modes, but it’s exactly what you played before.  Some new mini-games could have properly expanded the multiplayer portion of the expansion.  If you’ve already played The Lost and Damned to death, I can’t see a reason why you’d want to all over again.  Remember, this is still Liberty City you’re playing in.

Visually, GTA IV is showing some age.  That’s not to say it’s ugly, not at all.  It’s just that Liberty City is getting old now.  We’ve been playing the game over a year and a half, and nothing’s changed.  The buildings, weather, explosion and particle effects all look the same.  Despite any repetition though, compared to other games, GTA IV is still very nice to look at.  I simply hoped for a fresh coat of paint, but obviously Rockstar is saving that for GTA V…or whatever they decide to call the next iteration.

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Audio has always been GTA’s best friend, particularly in respect to an awesome soundtrack.  The same applies here.  Not only is the voice acting brilliant, but the effects are as wicked as ever.  On top of that, the amount of songs that play on the radio is just mind-blowing.  Songs have been added to the existing library, so now it really feels like a radio station given how rarely tracks repeat.

GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony is our final venture into Liberty City, but clearly not the last time we’ll see this series.  TBoGT is a suitable finale to one of the best-selling games this generation.  Everyone has likely had enough of Liberty City by now, and this more offbeat adventure was a perfect way to leave it behind so we can move onto something different.  If you have GTA IV, by all means download this bad boy.  If you don’t, pick up Episodes from Liberty City to experience Liberty City one last time.

Scoreboard:

Story: 7.5/10

Gameplay: 9/10

Controls: 8.5/10

Graphics: 8.5/10

Sound: 10/10

Value: 8/10

Overall (Not an Average): 9/10

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