The Ballad of Gay Tony marks the second and final episode of Liberty City, behind The Lost and Damned. It’s a bittersweet moment to be sure. On the one hand, I can’t wait to see where Rockstar North takes the franchise next. On the other hand, it will likely be quite some before Grand Theft Auto V sees the light of day. In the meantime, The Ballad of Gay Tony is a wild swan song for Liberty City.
Despite its title, you won’t be playing as nightclub owner Tony Prince, but rather his personal bodyguard Luis Lopez. With Tony’s two clubs, Maisonette 9 and Hercules, in dire financial straits, and his personal life in a downward spiral due to drug abuse, it’s up to Luis to set things straight with Tony’s “creditors” and help get him back on his feet. As with the previous Liberty City episode, The Lost and Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony adeptly weaves characters, locations and plot points from the original Grand Theft Auto IV, along with the aforementioned The Lost and Damned, into its own storyline. As far as that plot is concerned, however, I found it be the weakest of the three.
Don’t get me wrong, TBoGT is full of colorful and memorable characters (Yusuf Amir being one of my favorites), and few people in this industry write better dialogue than the team at Rockstar North. The problem starts with Luis Lopez, who for me is the least likeable of the GTA IV protagonists. He’s a one-note character, a cold-blooded killer who seems far too intelligent to be doing Tony’s dirty work. It’s not like there weren’t opportunities to develop his character. There’s a sub-plot involving his Mami that could have gone a long way in showing another side of Luis, but it’s cut short after just a few side missions. I suppose there’s a reason the episode is called The Ballad of Gay Tony rather than The Ballad of Luis Lopez.
The ending also irked me a little. One of the things I enjoyed about the original Grand Theft Auto IV were the morality choices players made at several key points during the story. In TBoGT, one such choice presents itself towards the end of the episode, only players don’t get to make a decision on their own, it’s made for them. I don’t want to give away the details of the scenario, but I believe there was a missed opportunity to present an alternate ending based on how players felt about a particular character. I’m guessing Rockstar wanted to leave the door open for that character to return in a future GTA installment, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
You certainly can’t accuse TBoGT of being unexciting. These are some of the craziest missions spanning the entire GTA IV universe. One moment you’ll be engaged in an intense firefight in an underground garage with Liberty City’s “finest,” the next you’ll be stealing an attack chopper and using it to destroy a yacht and it’s occupants. You’ll hijack a tank and a subway train car (oh that Yusuf), and you’ll even get the chance to off the owner of the Rampage, Liberty City’s hockey team. There is never a dull moment throughout the campaign.
The Ballad of Gay Tony is packed with new features, perhaps none better than the ability to replay previously completed missions. Each mission sports a scoring system based on the completion of the primary objective, as well as secondary objectives such as completion time, player and car damage taken, number of headshots, etc., so there’s reason to revisit prior missions. The arsenal has expanded to include sticky bombs, a shotgun with exploding shells, and a gold-plated SMG. There are new vehicles, including the return of the “Bullet,” along with the aforementioned attack helicopter and tank. The parachute also makes a return appearance, allowing players to participate in base-jumping challenges across the city. There are new racing challenges and a new triathlon, a three-part race that includes skydiving, boating and driving. You can visit a driving range, or one of Tony’s nightclubs where you can partake in drinking and dancing minigames, as well as manage the club’s security. There’s an underground fighting tournament, new TV shows, websites, tunes on the radio (a decidedly club-oriented selection), and new romances and bromances to be made. And like The Lost and Damned episode before it, a new color palette, with an emphasis on pink, gives The Ballad of Gay Tony a distinct look.
Even though it’s only been 18 months since the original Grand Theft Auto IV dropped, the game engine is already starting to feel dated. This is particularly true for the combat and cover systems. The cover system is especially clunky compared to the likes of Uncharted 2, and the combat system, which was never all that precise to begin with, is even more noticeably so. I don’t know if it’s just me but enemies seem to be spongier than ever. When you fire a shotgun with shells that explode on impact, should it really take 4 or 5 shells to take down an enemy?
The Ballad of Gay Tony sends Liberty City off with a bang. Even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Lost and Damned, or the original Grand Theft Auto IV for that matter, I still highly recommend it. Why? Value. Nobody makes DLC like the team at Rockstar and The Ballad of Gay Tony is no exception. Like The Lost and Damned before it, The Ballad of Gay Tony offers up an 8-10 hour campaign for only $20. That is amazing value. The Ballad of Gay Tony is available as both a DLC via Xbox Live Marketplace and alongside The Lost and Damned in a retail offering titled Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City. The latter package does not require the original Grand Theft Auto IV to play, making it ideal for those seeking a bite-sized taste of Liberty City.