Review: You'll shake your groove thing, baby, yeah yeah.
The Ballad of Gay Tony (TBOGT) marks the second and final expansion pack to GTA IV, and most likely the last we'll see of Liberty City for a while. But wow, what a way to end things with a bang.
It was eight months ago that Rockstar redefined premium downloadable content with the outstanding The Lost and Damned (TLAD) expansion pack. While TLAD was ridiculously fun and added a ton of content, it was all really more of the same. TBOGT goes in a different direction and ratchets up the fun factor, making TLAD pale in comparison.
This is all thanks to Rockstar returning to the silly, over-the-top craziness we all loved in GTA: San Andreas. GTA IV took a more grounded, realistic turn and while it was a nice change, the wild insanity of the previous games was certainly missed. If TBOGT marks a trend with the franchise, things are definitely looking up indeed.
The gameplay is still classic GTA, where you go to a location, kill bad guys or deliver/pickup a package and then escape. However, you'll do crazy things straight out of a B-grade action movie like steal a helicopter, subway train and NOOSE APC tank for the spoiled son of a billionaire, Yusuf Amir, who may go down as one of the funniest and most frenetic characters in GTA history.
Despite what the title suggests, you play as Luis Lopez, the business partner and strong arm of Gay Tony, the troubled owner of the hottest straight and gay nightclubs in town. Unlike Niko Bellic and Johnny Klebitz, Luis has made it to the top and is enjoying success. However, questionable decisions by Tony threaten the viability of the clubs and so Luis must do whatever is necessary to save the business and Tony as well.
Like Johnny, Luis is one of those ?blink and you'll miss him? incidental characters in GTA IV. However, his story closely intertwines with both Niko's and Johnny's, most notably during the ?Impossible Trinity? museum shootout during the diamond exchange. You finally get to ?complete the trinity? from Luis' perspective, and later find out the ultimate fate of the elusive diamonds. The story is funny, engaging and features several guest appearances from GTA IV.
As expected, you will have new weapons to blow through your enemies, including a P90 submachinegun, a solid gold Uzi, a light machinegun, a high-tech sniper rifle, a ridiculously powerful .44 pistol, and my personal favorite, a shotgun that fires explosive rounds. Two shots from this baby will turn cars and helicopters into smoking balls of fire ? sweet! Unfortunately, like TLAD, the weapons in TBOGT are not available in GTA IV.
The same goes for the new vehicles, including a Rolls Royce, Swift corporate helicopter and Smuggler cigarette speedboat. The aforementioned NOOSE APC isn't a true tank but still packs a huge punch with its mounted cannon and can take a ton of damage. In fact, you can cause so much mayhem with it that the police will eventually give up and retreat rather than continue in a futile attempt to take you down. Nice!
The new Buzzard attack helicopter is a deadly addition armed with machineguns and missiles, but the horrible controls make it more frustrating than fun. While TLAD tweaked the motorcycle physics for an easier, more arcade-like feel, the same was not applied to the helicopter physics. Rockstar chose to maintain the more realistic control scheme and didn't bother to add an aiming reticle for the weapons. This latter omission is especially frustrating in missions where you have to shoot at speeding boats and engage in an aerial dogfight, where hitting your target is more a result of luck than anything. Fortunately, the helicopter missions are only a tiny part of the package but must be completed in order to progress through the campaign. Patience is the key.
Fortunately, a new check point replay system takes a LOT of the frustration out of the game. Building upon the system introduced in GTA: Chinatown Wars, TBOGT allows you to replay a mission from where the action starts, so there's no need to repeat the tedious drive back to the starting point. Also, each mission features several check points so you can actually restart a mission mid-way from the last check point, again avoiding the frustration of having to redo the same portions over and over again. It's a great addition that has been long overdue, and will hopefully stay for all future releases.
However, the coolest new toy is not a weapon or vehicle, but the return of an old favorite. The parachute is back! Remember the fun of jumping and gliding over San Andreas? Now you can do the same over Liberty City as you leap from helicopters and skyscrapers, both in missions and in base jumping challenges. It's a relatively simple addition to the gameplay but really adds to the fun, challenge and replayability.
Even more new goodies are new tunes on K109, Electrochoc and Vladivostok FM; a new series of ?triathalon? races where you base jump and then race in boats, helicopters and cars; new dancing, drinking and club management minigames; and new TV shows including The Men's Room and Princess Robot Bubblegum (finally!).
The only thing that hasn't benefited from a refresh is multiplayer, which features Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Race, GTA Race and Free Mode only. You can use the new weapons but otherwise the online game modes haven't changed. What is new are kill streak bonuses that pay out extra cash, health and armor but that's about it.
You can perform base jumps in multiplayer but they're not actually part of the gameplay; it's just something you can do if you want. That's a missed opportunity, as I'm sure you can think of several base jumping game modes Rockstar could have added.
Oh, and for those of you who are wondering: unlike TLAD, the amount of free-swinging wang is dramatically reduced. This may or may not be good news, depending on your CGI wang preferences.