Monday, August 26, 2013

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony review

    The Ballad of Gay Tony is the final DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV and finishes up Liberty City's storyline. A story which interconnected the main game and The Lost and the Damned. Throughout the game, there is a question of who owns two million dollars worth of diamonds smuggled in from Russia. Whose after them? There's Russian mobsters, the Italian mafia, a club owner named Tony Prince, the Jewish mob, the Lost biker gang, the McReary family, and GTAIV protagonist Niko Bellic himself. Even a trio of minor mafioso thugs tried to make off with the gemstones. The Ballad of Gay Tony completes this storyline, tying it into the trials and travels of a Dominican club manager named Luis Lopez.

    The club's owner, the titular Gay Tony, hired Luis out of prison as his personal problem solver and given that the latter is a GTA protagonist--this proves to be an astonishing act of foresight. Luis is capable of all the necessary brutality, murder, and terrorism expected of a man needing to extripate Tony from debt to the various criminals. Indeed, it is the main plot of the DLC. Can Luis maintain the lifestyle to which he's become accustomed or will his overspending partner bring them down? I won't spoil the ending but I found it surprisingly satisfying and considerably more upbeat than the previous two GTAIV game endings.

Luis is a middle-of-the-road GTA protagonist. He's not great, like Niko, or awful like Victor Vance.
    The gameplay of TBOGT isn't significantly changed from Grand Theft Auto IV, merely adding base-jumping, dancing, drinking contests, and more helicopter missions to the setting. Honestly, the latter is the biggest flaw for the game as the helicopters are nearly uncontrollable and damn near unplayable. As much as I loved The Ballad of Gay Tony's storyline and characters, the helicopter missions seriously soured my appreciation for the DLC.

     This isn't just a small complaint either as the helicopters play a crucial role in several important missions. You're required to hit insanely small targets, maneuver the vehicles at different altitudes to follow vehicles, and use weapons that are incredibly inaccurate. Grand Theft Auto's history of allowing you multiple ways of solving missions doesn't really apply here as I often found myself frustrated by missions which required literally dozens of plays. Usually, I can power my way through missions but some of these resisted all my attempts to complete them and finish the story. I was actually forced to find out what the ending was from the internet.

The vibrant colors and music which greet successful mission completions are a stark contrast to the other GTAIV games.
    Anyway, the characters are great in this DLC. I really enjoyed the father-and-son relationship between Luis and Tony. In a game series which has not always been known for its sensitivity to homosexuals, tending to treat them (like everyone else) as camp stereotypes, Tony comes off as a good friend and mentor to Luis. Likewise, Tony is a flamboyant socialite prone to excessive whining but he's never weak or stupid. You want these two to succeed and I think it's nice of Rockstar to force some of their more prejudiced players to see gay characters in a friendlier light. Indeed, the only prejudice expressed in the game is by Luis' stupid parasitic friends.

    There's several truly outrageous supporting characters scattered throughout this DLC and watching them interact is a hoot. I'm particularly fond of Yusuf, a Dubai real-estate developer who has taken to Western decadence with a bit too much enthusiasm but represents a possible source of immense wealth to our heroes. I also loved the expanded role of Gracie Ancelotti, the spoiled but likable mafia princess of Grand Theft Auto IV. Not all of the characters are fun, however, with both Luis' childhood friends and his mother being a drag on the narrative.

    If there was an element I really enjoyed about TBOGT, it was a return of Rockstar's trademark humor to the series. One particularly insane mission involved a golf cart chase through a course with gangsters trying to kill you. Throw in Yusuf's insane desire to possess the world's most bizarre cultural treasures and you have a collection of truly outrageous missions. There's even new Laslowe radio show bits, which are a source of great laughs for anyone who isn't easily offended. Of course, people who are easily offended shouldn't be playing Grand Theft Auto.

There's actually a context this makes sense. Seriously.
     For individuals interested in long-term play, The Ballad of Gay Tony offers an exceptionally large number of missions Luis can take on behalf of his loser friends in order to build up their fledging drug empire. While you may not like them personally, they pay well and there's a seemingly never-ending source of henchmen and criminals to murder in order to steal their stash. For players who have an insatiable urge to play around Liberty City, The Ballad of Gay Tony will offer you a good number of hours of extra playtime.

    What are the downsides to TBOGT? Well, the obvious one is the aforementioned helicopter controls are not remotely improved from the original game. Indeed, they're arguably worse. Given how bad helicopters controlled in GTAIV, that's saying something. Next, the game seems designed to be played after the main game and The Lost And The Damned. As a result, there's a significant difficulty spike for those who might want to play it separately.

     Despite my love of Grand Theft Auto IV and TBOGT's characters, I'm not sure this is worth buying. The helicopter missions spoiled my enjoyment of the game and the rise in difficulty was an unwelcome change. While it's impossible to say anything Rockstar puts out is bad, I can't say this isn't going to be more frustration than its worth to many buyers.


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