Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned was evidence that downloadable content for retail games can extend to more than a few extra multiplayer maps and proved to be a big hit, amassing a huge amount of downloads from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. On the back of its success comes the second and final episode for Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony.

Ever since the arrival of its debut trailer featuring the ever-so-catchy Pjanoo song, The Ballad of Gay Tony caused a buzz, with many excited gamers posting their thoughts on websites and forums across the Internet. With the game now available to purchase from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and in stores as part of the Tales from Liberty City bundle, it’s time to head back into Liberty City to discover the city’s nightlife.

The Ballad of Gay Tony begins with the game’s protagonist Luis Lopez fearing for his life as a familiar scene takes place within The Bank of Liberty City. Once outside, Luis can be witnessed strolling down the streets of Liberty City, accompanied by the melodic dance music, as he passes some ever-so-familiar characters as Grand Theft Auto IV embarks on its final adventure.

Yet again, Rockstar have ensured The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn’t feel like a completely separate storyline, This has been achieved by overlapping the new storyline with that of the original Grand Theft Auto IV and The Lost and Damned storylines. This is evident as early as the first mission in which the president of biker crew: Billy Grey makes an appearance. Other characters emerging throughout include Niko, Lost and Damned’s main character: Johnny and Roman (Niko’s cousin).

Luis is the full-time assistant of well-known nightclub owner Tony Prince (better known as Gay Tony), who is in trouble having found himself in debt to two of Liberty City’s dangerous inhabitants, both of whom players will have come across before. Firstly is Mori Kibbutz: a business entrepreneur, fitness enthusiast and the older brother of car dealer: Brucie. Having leant Gay Tony money, Mori instructs Luis to take part in an array of nonsensical missions in repayment. Whilst Mori is quite an energetic character, he is more disturbing than entertaining because he can often be witnessed bullying Brucie.

However, Yusuf Amir, a billionaire property developer who came to Liberty City as an immigrant from Dubai, is (without a doubt) one of the greatest characters to come out of the Grand Theft Auto series. His main goal in life is to please his father, something he tasks Luis to assist him with, presenting him errands ranging from the destruction of luxurious yachts, to the theft of some expensive vehicles. These exciting and thrilling missions are no rarity within The Ballad of Gay Tony. But whilst Yusuf’s missions are to an incredible standard, it’s the sheer bizarreness of his lines that make Yusuf such a loveable character, and he is the main source of laugh out loud moments from the episode.

Throughout the ten hour storyline, there are very few missions that don’t consist of big explosions and huge gun fights, a feature many Grand Theft Auto players will no doubt appreciate. Another element of the episode fans will love is the Mission Ratings, which rate players on specific attributes – including time, headshots and player health, depending on how well they carried out the mission. The feature allows for players to replay certain missions at any point in the game from their mobile phone in order to improve their rating. Once players have experienced Mission Ratings in the game, it’s hard to believe it hadn’t been implemented previously. Even so, it’s better late than never.

Alas, as well as Gay Tony’s problems, Luis faces problems of his own. Having previously served a prison sentence for committing crimes, his family and friends (Armando and Henrique) are attempting to regain his loyalty through a life of drug-dealing and underground fighting.

Grand Theft Auto IV lacked a fair amount of mini-games with players having to settle for bowling, pool, darts and even arcades, though The Lost and Damned reassured fans with the likes of arm wrestling. Rockstar have gone another step forward with The Ballad of Gay Tony and introduced even more. Possibly the biggest of the mini-games is underground fighting, which consists of two fighters battling it out within a square cage, using punches, kicks and the ‘environment’ in order to defeat their opponents. Surpassing the required amount of opponents defeated results in a cash reward. Whilst early stages of the competition can easily be completed with a bit of button-bashing, the difficulty increase between fights is significant enough to prove a challenge. Regrettably, this is one of the only ways of making money within The Ballad of Gay Tony, though this doesn’t necessarily mean there is a lack of other mini-games.

Liberty City may have featured a driving range though players have been unable to use its facilities, until now. The Ballad of Gay Tony introduces golf as a mini-game, with players having to thump the ball as close to the flag as possible. Points are scored depending on how close the ball lands to the flag. Not only is the golf enjoyable, but it is also easy to set up and strike the ball. Players simply need to aim using the left thumbstick, press A to swing back and press A once again to add the power.

The remainder of the episode’s mini-games take place within the clubs themselves. Players can down shots at the bar, play the drinking game up in the V.I.P. area, patrol the club and throw out any trouble-makers in Club Management, or you can just dance to your hearts content on the dancefloor. Dancing requires players to waggle the thumbsticks to fill up the dance meter. At certain intervals, the player has to hold the thumbsticks, whilst pressing the triggers to the music’s beat. Successfully filling up the dance meter before the song’s end results in the player receiving a reward from their dance partner, often in the form of sexual favours…

Despite the fact that the Ballad of Gay Tony experience can be extended through Xbox LIVE Multiplayer, it appears Rockstar’s focus was clearly on the single player story. The only game modes on offer are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Races and GTA Races, all of which were available prior to the episode’s release. Whilst they allow players to use the new weapons and vehicles in the returning game modes, it still comes as a slight disappointment after the success of some of the newer game modes for the Lost and Damned.

As you would expect, The Ballad of Gay Tony features an array of new weapons and vehicles. The new weapons include the advanced sniper rifle, sticky bombs, automatic shotguns and exploding bullets – all of which are self-explanatory and are used frequently throughout the game’s missions. With The Ballad of Gay Tony highlighting the glitz and glamour of Liberty City, it came as no surprise to see the game’s new vehicles consisting of super cars, each of which handles to a good standard. Nevertheless, quite possibly the highlight of the new additions is the parachutes.

With Liberty City jam-packed full of skyscrapers, parachutes seem like an ideal inclusion. Thankfully, Rockstar have pulled them off to perfection. Once players have obtained the ability to use them, players can fly a helicopter skywards, jump out and execute the parachute, often producing some magnificent views and results.

Graphically, The Ballad of Gay Tony matches those of Grand Theft Auto IV and The Lost and Damned, with the odd improvement in places. However, it’s the game’s lighting and style which particularly stood out. The bright flashing lights of the night club and the bright-coloured rainbow-effect look astonishing, making the most of swanky high definition televisions and effectively capturing the night-life feeling. Disappointingly, there is the odd flaw with the audio. At times the background music appears to be a little too loud; drowning out the more important sound of the character’s voices, though this could also be seen as another element contributing to the realism. Rockstar have once again managed to obtain a great voice cast, who brilliantly perform the excellently written script.

Overall, Rockstar have produced the perfect ending to Grand Theft Auto IV with The Ballad of Gay Tony. Despite a lack of online game modes, the thrilling missions and entertaining mini-games complete one of the best single player experiences to date. Even at 1600 Microsoft Points, this is a must-buy.

David Wriglesworth

David Wriglesworth is a Northern lad with a passion for gaming, who graduated from the University of Lincoln with a BA (Hons) Journalism degree. If you can drag him away from the consoles, you can probably find him Tweeting or watching Coronation Street.

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