Review by TheGum
"Perfect start to the holiday season"
Aside from the brilliant Batman: Arkham Asylum, this year's gaming drought was tough, full of nothing but rehashes of the tried and true franchises that did little to progress the world of gaming. The Ballad of Gay Tony not only breaks the ice of homosexuality in mainstream gaming, which is not something to discuss here, the game also kicks off the holiday season for consoles in the right way.
Let's start with the sound design. This game could very well be the best dialogue and voice acting in any game. Not one voice seems phoned in, and when combined with the stunning character models and motion work it's a shame the game is only an episode. And regardless of your opinions, you will find the music is perfect for the game. The radio stations aren't full of tons of music, but it's all new. Of course the same sound effects from the original, flawless, and even a cool little background ambiance to the pause menu.
Briefly, if you didn't catch any of the previous installments of GTA: IV, just know that the graphics are stunning from top to bottom. I still maintain that driving around at night, in the rain, jumps out as one of those rare moments in gaming where you may not be doing anything and still are glad to be playing.
The story has you, Luis Lopez, defending your business partner, Gay Tony, as he gets into hot water with almost all the wrong people in Liberty City. It's standard stuff here: drugs, crime, violence, "helping" random people here and there, and almost anything you've seen before in GTA stories, of course all of it done the right way. The standout from the story of course is the play on your sexuality throughout, both you in subtle ways you may not realize (such as if you REALLY like the music a lot), and in how others question Luis' sexuality.
And finally we have the gameplay. More or less the same stuff as you've done for this title, with the club, a few more minigames, a few new toys, and parachuting thrown in. Of course the pace of the gameplay starts fast and builds from there, so you really do want to keep playing. A bit more flying, on-foot action, and rail-shooting, but the game is and always will be driving and shooting in different scenarios. It'll never get old or boring.
For $40 by itself, or $40 with The Lost and Damned if you buy the disc, the game is well worth the money either way. There's lots of motivation to keep playing after the main story is done: mission scoring for replay-able missions, multiplayer and leaderboard action, tons of side missions that don't interfere with the story, achievements, and any number of things to do in Liberty City that are not driving and shooting.
The quality of production and a story worth playing for the deeper meanings and memorable moments, The Ballad of Gay Tony stands out as the perfect way to handle episodic content. This title would stand out as a single game if we never played the previous installments. The only possible complaint here is that it's the same city, which we've seen other games release completely new content in episodes.
Rockstar put in the extra effort to ensure that not only GTA fans could appreciate this episode. The 9/10 rating isn't in the context of it being an episode or being just part of the GTA: IV family. It's as this game being a $40 gaming experience everyone should play.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/11/09
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony (US, 10/29/09)
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