It’s been a few months since we’ve walked the mean streets of Liberty City (on consoles at least) and with Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony it sure as hell feels good to be home. The game marks the second and final DLC expansion to hit the 360 exclusively, does it live up to the previous DLC or even more importantly GTA: IV? You bet our your ass It does. The only way you can get more for $20, is probably in massage parlor in Thailand doing something incredibly illegal. Read on to see what I mean.
TBOGT like The Lost and The Damned before it isn’t a follow up to the original story line and events from GTA IV. It is a true expansion that takes place in parallel to the story lines found in the original title from 2008. You play a Luis Fernando Lopez, a Dominican American from Northwood Heights. After serving a 2 year bid in Jail, Luis then get’s a job working security at high profile Liberty City hot spots. The nightclubs are owned by hotshot promoter Tony “Gay Tony” Prince. The two establish a friendship, which in turn becomes a business partnership as Luis becomes Tony’s muscle. Whenever Tony has a problem, Luis is there to fix it (at any means necessary).
One thing you’ll quickly notice when starting the game is the speed in which the shit hits the fan. Unlike in GTA IV where you start off on small, not-so-dangerous missions in the beginning and slowly easing your way into the chaos, TBOGT throws you right into it. One awesome story feature to point out (without spoiling anything) is how the main story in TBOGT revolves around another major conflict found in GTA IV, but from a different perspective altogether; with a new different character with alternative motivations. I wonder if this was done purposely to parallel real big city life. For example, I live in New York City (you know the real Liberty City) and in this city of 8.5 million people you somehow manage to always run into the same 100 or so. And not to sound too cliché but it seems as though we’re always crashing into one another. Ok sorry for getting so deep but there are many undertones found in GTA games, but back to the review.
One of the biggest things for me during this review was how I was able to relate to the main protagonist. I may have never been a hired gun or worked as the muscle for a Club Czar but I am a Dominican American, and can relate directly to Luis. Let me be the first to say that Rockstar really hit the nail on the head with the way Luis interacts with his boys Armando and Henrique and most importantly his mother. There is no pleasing a Dominican mother, and it’s something the game touches on which I found to be very charming.
The best way to describe the winning formula found in every GTA game (since III at least) is its use of social satire and commentary. Lazlo is back on the radio, which is always a plus, and the other talk radio stations (both Liberal and Conservative) will have you pissing yourself with the things that they have to say. The coolest thing about being an expansion, is that it gives Rockstar an artistic license to keep themselves relevant with what’s been going on in 2009, a whole year after the launch of IV. One of my favorite missions was when Tony needs Luis to scare the pants off of this guy known as the “celebrinator,” a guy who makes a living stalking celebrities and gossiping on his blog about it whilst drawing ridiculous stuff on pictures of them (*cough* Perez Hilton *cough*). Even a twitter equivalent has made it’s way into the game, just to show how much the world and city life has changed in just one year.
Although you will be re-visiting many popular locales from the original as the story lines are intertwined, you will also get to visit new areas. Most of which were able to be explored in IV, but just never had any significance to the story.
If you ever wanted to know what the nightlife in New York City was like, all you have to do is pop in TBOGT. When you hit the velvet-rope-A-list clubs in the game and listen to the various NPC’s around, you will discover exactly what you would in its real life counterparts. The same shallow, vain, coke-abusing simpletons that make up big city club life.
Graphically the game is right in-line with what we’ve seen in GTA IV. The pop-in issues are still quite prevalent, and I’m sure this occurs only because the game had to be designed to run on systems that may not have hard drives included (a la 360 Arcade SKUS). Again, this is an open world game, so don’t expect it to look like Crysis, but for what it is, it’s still incredible and you will definitely appreciate it when you look at the city from high above the clouds, during the game’s various helicopter missions. The game’s cut scenes are top notch as all of the characters mannerisms make everything seem more like a movie than a game.
As far as sound goes, no one does it better than Rockstar. The directional surround sound in the game (for those with the right setup) will keep you deeply immersed through out every car chase, mid-air dogfight, and even cut scenes. The Radio Stations have all been updated with new tracks to keep things fresh. The talk radio as I said earlier is as outlandish as ever, and might even make you want to park the car just to listen to it all.
The multiplayer has also seen some welcome additions in the form of kill streaks that have been added as well as a few new weapons. Is it enough to get my friends and myself back into liberty city on multiplayer all night? Probably not, although I’m sure the additions do come highly welcomed by the GTA faithful who were still online playing IV.
In closing I have to say that going back to Liberty City for the 3rd time in 2 years, quickly reminded me why I put so many hours into IV when it originally came out. Open world games are soon becoming “the new FPS” as it seems like a new game is churned out every day. As many games that are released though, no one does it quite like Rockstar and they’ve shown that time and time again. By far, the best DLC I’ve ever seen and the best $20 (for 15+ hours of gameplay) you can spend on a game without shopping in the used bargain bin at Gamestop. I <3 Liberty City.