What surprised me the most about The Ballad of Gay Tony wasn't how many new elements were added to the mix, but rather how they handled the old stuff. In a lot of ways this game goes a long way to completely wrapping up the Grand Theft Auto IV storyline. The events in this game coincide with many of the most pivotal moments from the first two installments. At long last you will see the other side of the diamond heist, one of the biggest storylines of the first game. You'll discover where they went and why they were taken in the first place. You'll also find out what went down at the museum, how everybody is connected and much, much more. This is one of those games that will make you want to go back and revisit the Grand Theft Auto IV storyline, if for no other reason than to see how everything fits together. This is something I plan on doing once the busy holiday season winds down and I finally have enough free time to take on Niko Bellic's adventure.
Much to my surprise (and delight), The Ballad of Gay Tony is the funniest Grand Theft Auto game yet. The series has always had a great sense of humor, but the writers worked overtime to write witty and clever dialog for each and every character found in this installment. You know you're in for a good time when a good chunk of the story involves Brucie and his insufferable brother. And Yusuf's incredibly offensive (yet completely clueless) dialogue is hilarious. Heck, even Luis Lopez's deadpan delivery cracked me up. Sure, he's out there killing people and having random sexual encounters, but he also seems to be the only one with his head on straight. He often has sage advice ... it's a shame nobody actually takes it.
As with all other Grand Theft Auto games, the single-player campaign is only half of the fun. The Ballad of Gay Tony introduces a bunch of brand new mini-games to the mix, all while retaining many of the activities you loved from the other two installments. This time around you get to manage clubs, go on drug war outings, dance, golf and more. One of the most compelling modes involves base jumping off of tall objects and trying to hit a small target. It's a little tricky, but once you perfect your parachuting skills it can be a lot of fun. And did I mention that you are finally given the opportunity to compete in a one-on-one cage fight? It's true. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, you can also call up friends and go to the club, or better yet, call up one of your hot girlfriends for a booty call. There's really a lot to do when you're not playing through missions, enough to keep you playing long after you've beaten the 10+ hour quest.
On top of the crazy single-player content, you'll also find a number of improvements to the online mode. New weapons and game modes are to be expected, but I had a lot of fun fighting it out on a number of new locations around the city. Best of all, base jumping and multi-vehicle races have been added to the online modes. Chances are you've moved on to other online action games, but I have a hunch that the content in The Ballad of Gay Tony may be enough to bring you back into the fold.
As you would expect from an expansion pack, much of the core mechanics and gameplay remain the same. The graphics and sound is about what you would expect, so if you didn't care for the controls and the visuals in either of the other two installments you likely won't have a change of heart here. The problem with keeping everything the same is that it shows how outdated the graphics are. What was state of the art a year and a half ago is now showing its age. Not enough to where it bothered me, but compared to some of the big games coming out this fall this Grand Theft Auto expansion pack comes up a little short. Then again, you're paying $20 to continue the story; it's hard to judge the game too harshly.
No matter how you look at it, The Ballad of Gay Tony is a fantastic value. This $20 download offers more character, story, gameplay and modes than most full-price titles. Even if you rush through the story, it's still going to take you around ten hours, and that's without touching any of the extra content or going online. And best of all, this title offers a satisfying ending to one of the Xbox 360's very best games. After putting this much time into Liberty City, I think it's about time to move on to the next location. I heart Liberty City, but it's about time for Grand Theft Auto V!
The Ballad of Gay Tony is not only an over-the-top action game with tons of great missions, it's also the perfect way to conclude the Grand Theft Auto IV storyline. If you had a good time playing through Niko's storyline, then you owe it to yourself to see how it all wraps up. At $20 there's no excuse not to pick up The Ballad of Gay Tony for the Xbox 360!
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