Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Released: 29th October 2009
Other Formats: PS3, PC
The Ballad of Gay Tony gives players the chance to experience Liberty City in an all new light. The opening scenes use of colour and upbeat tones thematically setting this game apart from both GTA IV and The Lost And Damned in immediate fashion. Its blend of visual flair- swaggering, no-nonsense protagonist Luis complemented with its synth, electronic pop music backing track. This is an upmarket, high class, neon-lit Liberty City focused on its night life and in particular, Luis and his boss- past-it, degenerate loser Tony 'Gay Tony' Prince, a nightclub owner.
As ever, Rockstar succeed in delivering a superbly defined cast of outlandish and over-the-top characters, all brought to life with fantastic voice work and Rockstar North's legendary animation modelling that still holds up tremendously well amongst new releases. A brief glimpse of GTA IV's previous characters; Roman, Niko, Billy, Johnny et al. all work well within the context of their position in the story and are complemented with BOGT's superb new additions- from business socio-path Yusif Amir to glitzy socialite bloggers and unstable Russian gangsters. The plot itself remains well structured and driven throughout, towards its thrilling, explosive airborne finale that 007 would be proud of- engaging and positively classic GTA.
The core component to The Ballad of Gay Tony's fulfilling playtime (I stuck over 9 hours into the game, without completing all side missions!) is all about fun. A far cry from the downtrodden Niko and the grittiness of TLAD's campaign, BOGT injects fun by the bucket load with a whole array of new explosive weaponry (sticky bombs, the hugely powerful 'Assault SMG'), new vehicles reserved for the rich and famous (the 'Buzzard' copter, the 'Super-drop diamond') and enough scale and variety in mission design to keep things feeling far from stale. Missions are short and sweet, with the checkpoint system returning to ease any frustration that may have incurred if GTA IV's template were to be repeated. Yes, Rockstar have listened to their doubters and adjusted accordingly in time for the DLC releases and the release is that much stronger for it.
The key distractions from the main missions are generally all well conceived. 'Drug Wars' ensures a smooth and steady flow of cash is amounted throughout the play experience- a luxury TLAD failed to acquire. Thus, weapons and extras are thankfully, always freely available. The brilliant base jumps and 'multiple vehicle races' provide the thrills whilst odd jobs can be completed for citizens over LC for small rewards. The 'Club Management' mini games are, in my opinion, the weakest of TBOGT side mission objectives- a dodgy mix of rhythm action dance routines mixed with socialising at the bar. It doesn't help that the doorman feels the need to constantly keep calling to remind you that your management standards at 'Maisonette 9' are slipping, in an annoying return of GTA IV's pervasive mobile phone distractions.
From the fancy condos and minted cars, The Ballad of Gay Tony is an uplifting change in tone from the previous instalments and all the better for it. Never has Liberty City felt so vibrant and glitzy than here. The frustrating cover and shooting mechanics, texture pop-in and frame rate issues can not detract from what is a package well worth its price tag. Great value and a must buy.