While Grand Theft Auto IV wasn’t my choice for game of the year for 2008, it was definitely number 2 in my book. With its fantastic story, exceptional open world, tight gameplay, loads of features, and endless replayability, it was definitely one of the best games of 2008, perhaps even all time. Rockstar, however, continued the GTA IV experience exclusively on the Xbox 360 with the announcement of two downloadable episodes. The first of which, The Lost and Damned, was released back in February. Nobody knew what to expect from these episodes, but once the first of these was released it became clear that Rockstar had raised the bar in DLC. The Lost and Damned was well worth its hefty $20 (1600 points) price tag (around twice as much as your average piece of DLC) because it was more feature-rich than many retail games. Hell, it was pretty much a full game experience in the form of a GTA IV add-on. Now, eight months later, Rockstar is releasing the second and final of these DLC episodes, The Ballad of Gay Tony, which aims to send GTA IV out with a bang. But now, around a year and a half later, do we still have room for more Grand Theft Auto?
The story of TBOGT places you in the role of Luis Lopez, the bodyguard and business partner for nightclub tycoon Gay Tony. Gay Tony has certainly enjoyed a life of luxury over the last 20 years, but now his nightclubs aren’t making as much as they used to and he’s, well…a crack addict to say the least. Thus, it’s up to Luis to help Tony rebuild his crumbling empire through a series of jobs for various employers. While it is a rather basic premise, the fact that it is rather similar to that of both the plot of main game and The Lost and Damned, means that the overall idea is a bit more fleshed out once you get into it. TBOGT’s plot is as replete with great writing, fleshed-out characters, and stabs at everything pop-culture as ever, which crafts both a unique and interesting tale that you’ll want to see to the end.
However, while the premise of TBOGT may be similar to that of the main game and The Lost and Damned, the story itself is not. Unlike Niko or Johnny (the other two protagonists in the main game and the other DLC respectively), Luis is not some immigrant with a dark past or an all-American biker gang member in pursuit of the American dream, for Luis has already found it. Luis lives a life of luxury and throughout the entire story, you get to see Liberty City from a new perspective; that of the upper class followed by downfall, instead of slowly moving up the social ladder. It ends up being just as interesting and because of this difference, TBOGT’s plot keeps itself unique. That’s not to say that Luis’s story isn’t intertwined with those of Niko or Johnny. If you paid any attention to the other stories, you’d notice that Luis pops up quite a bit. In fact, you pick up Luis’s story with him being held hostage during the bank robbery mission from the main game. And shortly after, in the opening cinematic, Luis is almost hit by Niko driving the getaway car and sees Johnny rolling down the street on his bike. This theme of intertwinement continues throughout Luis’s story and therefore, you’ll see a lot of cameos from characters from both of the other stories as well as taking part in missions from a third perspective that is very different from what you saw as Niko or Johnny (mostly because Luis isn’t exactly allied with either of those two). For instance, one of the new characters that gives you jobs to do is Mori, the older brother of Brucie Kibbutz, a character from the main game who makes appearances whenever you see Mori, who completely owns Brucie at life (for better or for worse). But anyway, the already strong story, combined with the linkage to the other stories in the world of GTA IV, makes TBOGT’s plot as exceptional as ever.
The missions, on the other hand, are a bit more mixed. Overall, the theme of TBOGT is extremeness, or rather, the less serious style of San Andreas when compared to the serious and dark tones of GTA IV. Thus, the missions in TBOGT are at their best when they involved ludicrous feats. For instance, while Niko and Johnny are involved in the infamous museum shootout, Luis is having a helicopter dogfight in the sky. Speaking of shootouts, how about skydiving onto a building before exchanging in an epic firefight and then parachuting out a window to escape? And if you thought Bruice’s races were insane, just wait until you have a parachuting, boating, and driving with nitro race with Mori. But while there are these and many more extreme missions, there are certainly quite a few dull ones littered about, including blogging (woah, totally epic!) and following a car in a helicopter (as if pursuing vehicles wasn’t done to death already in GTA IV). These missions aren’t that bad, they’re just rather dull, and even some of the more interesting missions aren’t as fun as you’d think. To be fair, the main game had its share of dull missions too, but the thing was the main game also had a plethora of missions, so the large amount of good ones almost completely outweighed the bad. With TBOGT, that’s not the case and thus, fewer missions means that the bad ones are much more noticeable, even if the good ones are a lot of fun. One thing that helps is that after you complete the DLC, you can replay any mission and try to get the highest score possible (you get scored from the onset but still, it’s a good feature regardless).
Besides the missions, TBOGT has quite a lot of new things to do. Probably the most fun of these are Drug Wars and Base-Jumping. Drug Wars casts Luis with his buddies, Armando and Henrique, as they try and build up a drug-dealing empire by taking out other drug dealers and stealing their stuff; it’s traditional GTA IV shootouts at their finest and they are still fun. Base-Jumping, on the other hand, utilizes the new parachute (I’ll get to that in a bit) and lets you either jump off a building and land on a moving truck or jump from a helicopter, parachute through some rings, and land on a designated location. Both are very exhilarating and very fun. Besides those two activities though, Luis can also participate in cage fighting or go to a club and participate in a dancing minigame, a drinking minigame, or club management. Except for club management, all these are pretty fun. Club management though, is pretty boring; it involves you standing there and searching for trouble, kicking out troublemakers (which is done through a cutscene unfortunately) until you have to do some request for some celebrity after a while, which is only mildly fun. But overall, all the new activities are fun and add a lot of value and time you can spend with the game. Multiplayer has also had a tune up too; base-jumping is fully available in racing form, races now have nitro involved, and deathmatch, while now confined to small arenas, is still pretty fun, mostly because of the new weapons and vehicles so these, among other options, keep GTA IV’s already fun multiplayer fresh and more entertaining.
This, of course, leads into a key component of any GTA game, the weapons and vehicles. Just like the rest of the DLC, the new weapons and vehicles in TBOGT are of the more chaotic San Andreas side of the GTA series. The new weapons include more powerful machine guns, submachine guns, and pistols, an advanced sniper rifle, sticky bombs (as in sticking to vehicles, not people as far as I know), a golden Uzi, and an automatic shotgun with explosive rounds. As far as the new vehicles go, there’s a couple of new cars and bikes in addition to the aforementioned parachute, but the most interesting additions are the new helicopter and a tank. The new helicopter, the Buzzard, has a super-powerful machine gun and shoots missiles, pretty much making the Annihilator police helicopter obsolete. And the tank is something that every GTA fan has wanted in GTA IV since its release and while they now have it and it packs quite the punch, it’s not the tank that GTA fans have been wanting. However, as TBOGT says when it pokes fun at this issue during the story, “It’s still a f***ing tank!” so the fact that there is simply a tank in the game is good enough. And overall, between all the powerful new weapons and vehicles, TBOGT provides more than enough new tools to cause many more hours of entertainingly mindless destruction.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the city itself. When GTA IV was released, Liberty City looked fantastic and was a great open world. Even with The Lost and Damned’s ugly gritty filter, the city was still pretty great. Now, around a year and a half later, Liberty City is starting to show its age. Don’t get me wrong, it still looks pretty good in TBOGT (especially since the gritty filter was removed), it still loads nicely (aside from some texture pop in here and there), and the radio stations (with new songs and commercials), TV shows, and just about anything else make Liberty City feel real, but the graphics haven’t been updated and thus, Liberty City isn’t as impressive as it once was. It’s not too bad but it’s noticeable. However, Liberty City remains a fun sandbox that, with the new content, will offer you many more hours of fun.
For those of you considered yourselves done with GTA IV, you may want to rethink that. The Ballad of Gay Tony, like The Lost and Damned before it, has more content stuffed into it than many retail games, but the content in TBOGT makes it wholly better than The Lost and Damned and, in some areas, better than the main game of GTA IV itself. Rockstar’s story and characters are as sharp, clever, and well fleshed out as ever, and the new activities, weapons, vehicles, and multiplayer options only add to the fun. Unfortunately, the aging graphics of Liberty City, coupled with some very boring missions and the rather dull club management activity, detract from the overall experience. However, TBOGT’s positives far outweigh its negatives and fully justify its $20 price tag. This second and final DLC episode aimed to send GTA IV out with a bang and that’s just what it does. And while the book on this epic game may be closing, we can rest assured that these final chapters of it, laid out in TBOGT, are as exhilarating and spectacular as everything else.
+ A great new story with equally great new characters, awesome new weapons and vehicles, some enjoyable new multiplayer options, and fun new activates and missions makes TBOGT a great experience throughout
– Unfortunately, the smaller amount of total missions makes the less-than-stellar ones stand out, of which there are quite a few, the club management activity is boring, and Liberty City’s once wonderful graphics are starting to age.