The final Xbox 360 exclusive downloadable add on the for sensation that was Grand Theft Auto 4 has arrived, some 18 months after the launch of GTA4. Rather than bringing with it the grim and gritty ‘realism’ of GTA4, The Ballad Of Gay Tony (BOGT from now on) takes a more campy light hearted tone over all. There is none of the serious naval gazing and self pitying that was found in Niko Bellic’s adventure, or the quiet despair of Johnny Klebitz from the previously released add on The Lost and Damned. While Gay Tony often laments his fall from grace he comes across as being pathetic rather than someone that deserves our sympathy, and even in some cases his rants become humorous. This tonal shift will be greeted positively by some, but those who loved GTA4 and The Lost and Damned for their more serious stories may not be so happy.
When you load the game up you are greeted by bright neon colours, and smiling faces armed with phallic champagne bottles, overflowing with white froth. I do not think that anyone could ever accused this game of being subtle. You take on the role of Louis Lopez, business parter of night club magnate Anthony “Gay Tony” Prince and ex con. As Tony’s business partner you effectively handle the rougher side of the nightclub business and protect Tony as he stumbles around in an inebriated state. Upon arriving at one of Tony’s clubs you are told to waste some time until Tony is ready for you. During this time I drank a few shots from the bar – free of charge of course – and danced with some women on the dance floor. A dancing mini game has been added, which revolves around moving the left analogue stick in time to the music, and holding it in position while hammering the left and right triggers. Upon filling up the dance metre your dance partner drags you off the toilets. A few moments later both Luis and his dance partner emerge from their cubical looking very pleased with themselves. Of course sleeping with the guests of the club is just a side activity of Luis’, as Tony’s creditors take up most of your play time. Tony borrows money from Italian gangsters, and rather than have you pay them off they would prefer your services instead. When Luis is not out gunning people down he spends his time helping his childhood friends, now drug dealers on the street corners where they grew up, and paying off his ungrateful mother’s debts.
Helping your friends and family out allows you to access two of the main mini games, drug wars and cage fighting. The drug war missions are simple enough, you and your two friends must steal a rival’s drug stash. You tend to have to chase them across town and kill them all, without destroying the vehicle that contains the drugs. It is a nice enough challenge, and there are plenty of them available across the game’s three main islands. Cage fighting, however, is an absolute mess. Never mind the fact that the controls are incredibly clunky and clumsy, but they clearly state that it is hand to hand combat only, and that you are unable to use your weapons in the tutorial. So why is it exactly during the third round enemies start using knives and baseball bats? It is inconsistent and more than a little frustrating. I lost count of the number of times that I pummelled an enemy in to the corner of the cage, and found myself unable to hit him, as my arm was scraping against the side of the cage. Worse still there were times when I was quite clearly hitting my opponent, but the hit detection in the game was so bad that is refused to register the fact that I just punched my opponent in the face. It would have been nice if there were a button to switch between the regular stance and the fighting stance, because the system as it is – where in you change to a fighting stance when an enemy approaches you, or if you lock on to an enemy with the left trigger – is glitchy and will often not work altogether. Glitchy, inarticulate controls are not exclusive to the cage fighting; releasing this add on almost two years after the game itself came out really highlights how dated, clumsy, cumbersome and all round crappy the controls are.
All of those people that complained to Rockstar about GTA4 not having many ‘fun’ missions in it, claiming they missed being able to fly more types of aircraft and dive off of skyscrapers with parachutes can rejoice. The majority of the missions in BOGT revolve around helicopters and, particularly towards the end, parachuting. As ever the controls for the helicopters are completely and utterly rubbish. In fact they introduce a new type of helicopter that is supposed to be easier to control, but in fact it just flies all over the place on a gigantic turn axis like a demented bumble bee, especially when you try using the weapons. One mission involved me taking this new helicopter and using it to shoot escaping gun smugglers on boats. I lost track of the number of times I almost crashed directly in to the ocean as I tried to aim at the targets. Eventually I got to grips with the controls, but it was not a fun experience. In GTA games the flying missions and the boat missions tend to be my least favourite parts of the game, so imagine my despair when I discovered that most missions take place either at sea or in the air. For the most part I found these missions to be a chore, and at worst incredibly frustrating. Adding fuel to the fire is the inclusion of percentage ratings for each mission you complete, with a set list of things you need to perform, such as X Number of head shots, or gaining no more than X amount of damage. To me one of the greatest things about the GTA games is that you can go about performing the missions any way you want to. Got a target to assassinate? Why not try running him over, or perhaps shoot him with a rocket launcher, or just beat him to death with your bare hands. Including this percentage mode, with the set goals, feels too much like Rockstar are taking away your ability to choose to do the missions in any way you see fit. Sure, you can replay missions once you complete the game in order to improve your score, but the very fact that they’re telling me that my way of doing a mission is wrong, or just plain bad, irritates me.
I do not mean to give the impression that BOGT is a bad game, or not enjoyable at all. The writing and voice acting, as ever, is great, with Omid Djalili stealing the show as the Arab real estate mogul Yusuf Amir, whose obsession with all things American leads to some amusing moments. In fact, Yusuf is responsible for one of the best set pieces in the game, the theft of a moving subway car right under the Liberty City Police’s nose. While the story is not as moving or as touching as the story in GTA4, nor does it create any of the subtle emotional reactions of The Lost and Damned, it is still well written – if somewhat clichéd. Tony himself is a pathetic shell of a man, and his circle of friends equally as vapid and emotionally empty as he is. Luis clearly sees Tony as a father figure, and does his best to look out for him, despite all of the stupid mistakes he makes. Some of the more rewarding moments in the story revolve around seeing characters from the earlier game, including Brucie and Roman, as well as Johnny from The Lost and Damned. This game fills in a lot of the back story surrounding the diamond theft that both GTA4 and The Lost and Damned featured, as well as other memorable missions from GTA4, such as the bank robbery and the kidnapping of the Mafia Don’s daughter Gracie. The only real downside to this game is it’s age. Considering that GTA4 is almost two years old now, and this game is, essentially, GTA4 reskinned, it comes as no surprise that certain elements may seem dated now. I can only hope that with the next GTA game Rockstar rework the controls, which have pretty much remained unchanged since GTA3, and try and clean the gameplay up at least a little bit, or else it will quickly feel as stale as this expansion does.
REVIEW ROUND UP:
GRAPHICS: 4/5 Liberty City itself is beautiful as ever, although some of the character models look a little rough in places. Essentially this game is GTA4 reskinned, so if you have played GTA4 then you know what this game will look like.
SOUND: 5/5 Fantastic voice acting, especially from Omid Djalili. It was nice to hear a few familiar voices, such as Roman and Brucie, even if they were not in it for particularly long. The music on the radio stations is diverse as ever, and the adverts on the radio are hilarious.
GAMEPLAY: 2/5 The shooting and fighting in the game can be frustratingly clumsy at times. There are way too many helicopter and boat missions for my liking, with the new helicopter in particular flying all over the place like a bee on speed. The addition of the option to replay missions once you finish the game is a good idea, but scoring you on your performance on each mission, and giving you set guides on what to do, removes a lot of the freedom to do as you please in the game.
LONGEVITY: 3/5 The single player missions will take up a fair chunk of time – a good 6+ hours – and there are plenty of side missions, such as Drug Wars, base jumping, and cage fighting, although you may find yourself getting bored with them before too long.
OVERALL: 3 Drug Runs out of 5. If you like Helicopters and Boats then add an extra point on to the score. Otherwise, Rockstar have seemingly created this new expansion to cater towards pleasing the people that thought GTA4 lacked ‘fun missions’. If you are one of those people, then I hope you are happy with this, becuase I am not.