GTA IV sits atop Metacritic with a stonking 98% average rating, but curiously Niko Bellic’s immoral adventure proved surprisingly polarising amongst gamers in 2008. Too serious! Too miserable! Too many fat cousins obsessed with picking up 7-10 splits! Rockstar’s return to the Rotten Apple was too downbeat for some, especially those who have fond memories of blasting their way out of Area 69 in San Andreas with a Grove Street gangbanger wearing a jetpack. The good news is that The Ballad of Gay Tony recaptures this fun with ease.
The DLC add-on follows exasperated Latino bodyguard, Luis Lopez and the titular (and refreshingly stereotype-lite) ‘Gay’ Tony Prince. The homicidal odd couple, are an anti-hero heavy tough guy and a pill-popping, club boss trying to stave off loan sharks and mobsters so the pair can run the “the hottest gay and straight club in Liberty City”.
After GTA IV’s serious plot line, Gay Tony’s balls to the wall madness is refreshing like eating a Slush Puppie on the surface of the sun. It swaps Niko downbeat tale of wearily gunning down depressed immigrants for ridiculous mission where you kidnap an acid-tongued blogger, fly him high above the city in a chopper and and then jump out without him wearing a parachute, y’know, just to scare him. The soiled slacks post mission certainly brings a smile to your face.
- The Ballad of Gay Tony’s array of criminal quests are some of the most imaginative, well paced and deliriously stupid in GTA’s history
It’s this wonderfully silly approach to missions that so successfully rekindles the lovable madness that CJ’s Californian-inspired sandbox was so bloody good at. Other examples? Board a speeding train then detach its carriages so Luis’ Dubai-born billionaire pal Yusuf can airlift the locomotive away with a helicopter. Commandeer a tank and reduce the LCPD to distinctly charred bacon rashers. Blow up a luxury liner for no real reason at all. The Ballad of Gay Tony’s array of criminal quests are some of the most imaginative, well paced and deliriously stupid in GTA’s history. In short, they’re a massive hoot.
The DLC’s arsenal is also easily the best the series has ever produced. Advanced sniper rifles, assault SMGs and an automatic shotgun so ferocious it can swat police choppers out of the sky with a few rounds. Lopez’s firearms are so satisfying they mostly distract you from the fact GTA IV’s stiff cover mechanics pale in comparison to the sleek shooty work of Rockstar’s other open-world epic, Red Dead Redemption.
As a total package, though, Gay Tony outguns any other open-world DLC. With snappier, more varied missions than the gritty The Lost & The Damned (GTA IV’s first expansion), excellent side distractions – like base-jumping parachute goals and UFC-style cage fights – and a sparky, well drawn central friendship, GTA has rarely been so likable. The Ballad of Gay Tony lifts the gloom on Liberty City’s straight-laced story and paints it with plenty of neon-streaked happiness. Now, if you’ll excuse us, there’s a heavily armoured Panzer down the street that needs we really need to boost.