Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
From April 2008 to October 2009 our time in Liberty City is finally over. Weíve led the life of an Eastern European immigrant in search of the American Dream and a chance at revenge, to the rough and tumble biker just trying to keep his gang - or should I say Ďfamilyí - from the brink of annihilation. Weíve experienced the seedy underworld of this sprawling city, and now itís time to hit the high life; full of expensive clubs, fast cars and lots and lots of gold. The Ballad of Gay Tony is the third and final chapter in this incredible journey, finally completing The Holy Trinity and ending our time in one of the best, most realised open-world environments in video game history. Does it go out in style, or on a whimper?
With a little help from my friends
16-player online multiplayer is still here, stripped down to Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Race, GTA Race and Free Mode. The new weapons Ė including the P90, auto-shotgun with exploding rounds and stick bombs Ė are all available to use, along with nitrous in races and, of course, the parachuting. Disappointingly, though, thereís no basejumping-centric mode, so itís the luck of the draw whether it crops up or not. Itís still enjoyable but it would have been nice to see a few more modes thrown in.
The style is definitely here in abundance. The aptly named Gay Tony is the owner of two of the biggest gay and straight clubs in the city, so all the big money, dance music and club life harkens back to the old days of the ever-popular Vice City. However, it may surprise some that you donít actually play as Gay Tony; heís just your boss. You take control of his bodyguard and business partner Luis Lopez, who you may remember from the bank heist mission and diamond storyline from GTAIV and TLAD. The Ballad of Gay Tony does an excellent job combining each chapter of this trilogy together, so youíll constantly find yourself in similar situations from an alternate point of view; and tons of characters from this universe regularly crop up, often times showing a different side to their personality. The dialogue is fantastic as always and the majority of new characters add even more personality to this city, especially the hilarious Yusif Amir - voiced by Omid Djalili.
Sadly the story isnít quite as good. The title should give you some indication that Luis isnít a particularly endearing main character. TBOGT occasionally dips into the troubles of his past but never ventures further than that, so it feels like there are a lot of loose ends that could have been explored to flesh him out a bit more. Although the biggest problem is that the stakes are never against Luis, heís always just doing work for Tony, trying to keep him out of danger. Luis ends up feeling like a secondary character in his own game so itís hard to feel involved in what is a fairly basic story to begin with.
Itís not all bad for Luis, though. Heíll be remembered for the crazy shenanigans he gets up to in TBOGT. GTAIV was often criticized for taking the series in a more serious direction, throwing out the ridiculousness of the early GTA games; but TBOGT is bringing it all back. Youíll be stealing helicopters and using them to blow up yachts; then youíll skydive from said chopper, parachute onto a building before killing its inhabitants and parachuting out of the window to land on a moving truck below; until you eventually make your way along the roof of a moving train, taking out Police attack choppers with the stupidly powerful automatic shotgun with explosive rounds, until another helicopter picks up the carriage and flies it away. The craziness rarely ever lets up, so fans of the GTA of old will feel right at home here and itís certainly a change of pace from what weíve seen before.
However, GTAIV is beginning to show its age. With recent games like Uncharted 2 upping the ante on player movement and cover, TBOGT feels dated and clunky. Itís not too bad, but it can hinder the experience when in hectic firefights, trying to manoeuvre between cover without being blown to pieces. Itís just too slow and awkward to fiddle around with.
Going for 100%
Upon completion of the game youíll have the ability to go back and retry any mission in the game. This isnít just for fun, though, because after each mission youíre giving a score based on completing specific objectives; be it time taken, number of headshots, damage sustained and so on. Having a replay function is already a welcome new feature but adding the scoring system on top of it Ė and Achievements for completing them all above a certain percentage Ėand it turns into a brilliant move that adds a whole lot more replayability to the game.
So itís a good thing there are plenty of new things to do in Liberty City this time around. As you can probably tell from the mission descriptions, thereís a big emphasis on basejumping in TBOGT. The skyís the limit, as they say, as the heights you can soar to have been extended allowing helicopters to fly high above the clouds before you eventually jump out like a madman. Packing a parachute you can glide to safety, and there are even 15 basejumping missions to take part in. These have a degree of variety, normally depending on the height of the drop. If itís from the top of a building then youíll usually be asked to land in the back of a moving truck, but if itís from a helicopter high above the city there will normally be rings to glide through before landing on a circular target on the ground. The basejumping is an excellent distraction from the main story and waiting till the last second to open a chute is an exhilarating thrill ride.
There are also some drug wars to tackle Ė much like the gang wars in TLAD Ė and new races, as well as a fairly basic golf mini-game and some cage fighting. The fighting mechanics aren’t great but there’s some challenge to be had reaching the last rounds so it can be quite enjoyable. If you want to take it down a notch another new feature is club management; although this isnít particularly exciting. Luis just stands around the club, looking tough, occasionally throwing out potential trouble makers. Itís pretty boring and will probably only be attempted once. Luckily there are plenty more enjoyable things to try in the clubs, like getting drunk or even dancing. Dancingís simple, pushing the joystick in time with the music, but completing it can unlock a pleasant surprise from your lady friends or go into a big dance routine with everyone on the dancefloor. Itís not something youíre going to spend hours with, but itís funny and a nice little way to spend some time.
Particularly when the musicís so great. There are new tracks to fit with the club setting Ė so plenty of funky, dance music Ė although the new Vice City FM is exclusive to the disc based Episodes of Liberty City. A disappointment for all you downloaders.
Besides this, The Ballad of Gay Tony is a great way to say goodbye to Liberty City. The story isnít as strong as the other chapters in the series but some of the new characters are fantastic and the writing is still as good as ever. What sets it apart is the return to the craziness of old, with a large emphasis on extreme helicopter stunts and basejumping from immense heights. Itís an eight hour thrill ride with only a few poor missions and GTAIVís dated gameplay holding it back. For the relatively cheap price it should be a must buy for any GTA fans, particularly those with a fondness for either Vice City or San Andreas.
Eight out of ten