Liberty City is a city of characters. The Ballad of Gay Tony gives you an opportunity to meet some new individuals and become reacquainted with some old friends. The GTA series may be famous for its fast cars and brutal killing, but it should also be known for its great character development. This again is evident in TBoGT and just shows that you don't need to reinvent a game to make it just as compelling or entertaining as its predecessor. All you need is a good story, and that's exactly what The Ballad of Gay Tony is.
TBoGT sees you take on the role of Luis Lopez (not Lou as you will quickly find out), business partner, friend and basically body guard to Tony Prince, aka, Gay Tony. Luis and Tony are owners of the two most popular straight and gay clubs in Liberty City. Hard times have struck and Tony has been forced to borrow money from the wrong people. Now questionable characters have their hands in your business and as Luis, the muscles of the operation, you're tasked with repaying the debt. In this town there are always people who could use a hand in taking out the trash, and property that isn't going to blow itself up. As you'd expect, paying back debts with cash in Liberty City likely isn't the norm.
While you play through the roughly eight to twelve hours of gameplay, you'll encounter many larger than life characters as well as running into some familiar faces (Niko, Roman and Brucie to name a few). Rockstar seems to push the envelope in every new game, with more outrageous characters. Yusuf Amir, an Arabic business man you'll meet, is no exception. His over the top speeches and general lack of regard for proper etiquette make him one of the highlights of TBoGT. Its characters like Yusuf that goes to show how unique and colourful characters can be in video games given the opportunity.
Although there is a completely new cast of characters, TBoGT fails to really introduce anything new to the GTA franchise. Even so, the game itself feels like a new experience. The majority of missions are the standard drive from point A to point B and kill target C, along with some races and other familiar mission types. TBoGT does introduce a good amount of aerial gameplay that is far more prominent than any of the previous games. Many missions will see you flying helicopters and freefalling with a parachute. Also included are several base jumps to parachute off and land on moving vehicles or land on specific targets. You can also 'manage' the clubs you own, but this is merely walking around from point to point and making sure nothing inappropriate is going down. Of course, the inclusion of these minor details only goes to reinforce how much detail and effort is put into bringing Liberty City to life and making your experience as a whole more enjoyable and believable.
Content wise, new vehicles have been introduced (such as a N.O.O.S.E. tank) as well as new weapons. Although these are minor details, they do add something new to the game. The fact that there hasn't been much in the way of new content aside from story and characters isn't a problem though. The base gameplay for GTA is as solid as any game and in bringing out these new episodes Rockstar is simply giving players an opportunity to spend more time in Liberty City, meet new characters and more fully flesh out the universe. Rockstar has also refined what works and what doesn't. No longer will you be getting calls from your friends on a frequent basis seeing if you want to go bowling, eliminating one of the most frustrating elements of GTA IV . In the eight plus hours it took to complete the storyline, Luis' friends only called twice to 'hang out' and it was nice not to have to worry about keeping them happy. Of course, should you choose to part take in such activities you'll find a number of familiar mini games in which to enjoy. Being a club manager has its perks as well, examples being a dancing mini-game, and champagne drinking challenge. These little additions can give you a needed break from the typical run and gun gameplay, while keeping you in the GTA world.
Rockstar has never been one to stray away from controversy, and that's no exception in this game. Obviously, when you're dealing with openly gay characters in a world such as Liberty City, people aren't going to tip toe around the subject matter. With this being said, you will be hearing a lot derogatory words and phrases throughout the game. Fortunately, it never seems to be excessively derogatory and although offensive does mostly fit in with the conversation and the person speaking (Russian gangsters aren't the most politically correct people).
Although Liberty City is a huge and fantastic replica of New York City, the visuals are starting to show their age. The colour palette in the game is the same as GTA IV and after several hours of playing you can't help but wish the colours were a bit more vivid. Occasionally there is a slight frame rate hiccup, but aside from this the game flows flawlessly. In TBoGT you will be using helicopters quite frequently to complete missions. For the most part once you get used to the basics of flying, getting around isn't too challenging, until you're required to take out boats or other helicopters. Aside from the helicopters all the other vehicles drive with relative ease. There are still some odd physics such as metal poles snapping like twigs, and trees acting like solid metal poles, but everything overall works very well.
The Ballad of Gay Tony offers up a variety of multiplayer modes, but nothing we haven't really seen before. You'll find the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, normal races, and GTA races which include weapons. The racing isn't as refined as a true racing game, but it's still a blast to have someone jump out of their car and take you out as you attempt to go speeding by. There still is the standard free play mode that can be general mayhem, but in a playground the size of Liberty City players can roam freely and encounters are few and far between.
The Ballad of Gay Tony has enough content and will satisfy you long enough that paying full retail price wouldn't be out of the question. Given that this release is offered for 1600 Microsoft points (roughly twenty dollars) any fan of the series should jump at the chance to extend the life of this fantastic game. An excellent story, great new characters and everything you love about GTA IV help make The Ballad of Gay Tony as good, if not better than its predecessor.