Queer eve for the gangster guy.
Grand Theft Auto IV seemed complete after the conclusion of Lost and Damned. After all, we got to see the other side of some of the most important events of Niko Bellic's adventures, from the shoes of one of the toughest biker gang-bangers in Liberty City. But things aren't always what they seem when we deal with Rockstar Games. The Ballad of Gay Tony exposes yet another interesting facet of the pseudo-metropolis, as you'll get to experience what the night life has to offer.
[image1]You might expect to play as the titular character, Gay Tony, but it's actually through Luis Lopez, an ex-con and now part-time manager and co-owner of some of the hottest clubs in Liberty City, who you'll spend your time playing. It seems Tony borrowed money from the wrong crowd, and now half of the city wants the guy dead, while the other half just wants to get into his clubs. In the course of Gay Tony's story, you can expect to run into characters you know, either on your side or against you. The constant shift in narrative perspective is a welcome inclusion to the story, even though some of the "I've been there too, looking through the window!" scenarios might seem forced at spots, especially after Lost and Damned.
Far from the drab and monotoned previous DLC, The Ballad of Gay Tony is the more humorous out of the two GTA IV downloadable packs. Tony has a charismatic persona that is sure to catch your attention as soon as you watch the first cutscene he is in. But going against the flow of over-stereotyped homosexual characters in games, even GTA IV, Tony doesn't push the envelope.
Instead, the writing builds the character through well thought-out, funny, and incredibly well-acted dialogue that take place between Luis and him. Luis, on the other hand, plays the Hispanic role to the tee, as yet another "I'd rather not do these horrible things, but I'll do it anyway" heart of gold kind of guy, even going as far as having to visit his "Mami" every now and then, which is sadly a side story that doesn't develop into anything. Rockstar chose to cast the characters in a less than serious light, which without spoiling anything, works to the game's advantage.
[image2]While the series' tone shifted to a more serious note in the main GTA IV campaign, The Ballad of Gay Tony brings some of the more ridiculous elements from the older games through a few new gimmicks. More than once during the campaign mode, you'll parachute from helicopters, and in a series of missions, hijack huge pieces of machinery. At spots, it might seem that Luis spends more of his time on the air than the ground, and thanks to some awkward and hideously annoying aircraft controls, you will wish you never stepped into one.
The parachuting mechanic works well and is refreshing, playing like a modern interpretation of PilotWings, even going as far as including optional challenges, from landing onto moving vehicles, to jumping from a ramp while riding a motorcycle... and then parachuting. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but some of the best moments in The Ballad of Gay Tony occur outside the missions, getting caught in silly situations. Parachutes can be freely bought from Luis' friend Armando from his supply truck and can be used just about anytime you get some air time (assuming you open it in time).
Outside of the main story, Luis can partake in a lot of activities. Club managing comes with a lot of benefits, and can be played in a variety of ways. Dancing is back, in the form of quick-time events that, if done well, end in all-out group dancing. You'll also get to unlock a cage fighting tournament, which acts as both a betting spot and actual fighting pit if you prefer. Due to how stiff melee combat is, though, bare-fisted fights are more of a hassle than anything else, sadly. Yet another San Andreas influence, direct or indirect, are the drug wars, where some of Luis' childhood friends plot to start their own cartel and go around stealing rival gang shipments. These missions extend the already hefty campaign, even though they only vary from intercepting convoys on roads to intercepting convoys on water.
[image3]The bonus activities are shallower than the actual story missions, but are entertaining nonetheless, netting you most of the game's Achievements and bonuses. Other Achievements come from the scoring system tied to the story, which measures individual goals in the form of a percentage at the end of each mission. After the actual story is completed, you can go back and replay those for a better score and Leaderboard bragging rights. It's a weird addition to the GTA series, since the story is such a strong part of the game; playing it too much wears it thin.
You can expect to take about eight hours to complete The Ballad of Gay Tony's story, and considering all of the side content, this DLC is toe-to-toe with even some full-priced retail games. If you are the multiplayer sort of person and can look past GTA IV's unfriendly matchmaking interface, Gay Tony offers an alternate version of what made the core multiplayer game in the original great, giving access to the new mechanics and weapons, like parachutes and nitrous boosting for the races, which sadly only appeared once within the story mode.
Comparing both content packs, The Ballad of Gay Tony is the better of the two, in story and post-story content, and closes the Liberty City GTA IV storyline with a bang. There are two ways of acquiring The Ballad of Gay Tony: It's up on Xbox Live Marketplace as a downloadable content pack for 1600 Microsoft Points (US$20) and in the Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City retail release, which also includes Lost and Damned, for US $35. Whichever way you jump back into Liberty City, this ballad is well worth its price in both dance moves and parachutes.