|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Rockstar North||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Rockstar Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 29, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
In the single-player mode, The Ballad of Gay Tony adds a few new features to the already-impressive GTA IV lineup of things to do. GTA IV was already a racing game, a third-person shooter, a mini-game collection, and something of an adventure, but The Ballad of Gay Tony throws one-on-one kickboxing into the mix. We found the movements to be a little slow and clumsy, and thus this facet of the game is unlikely to capture too many players' attention for too long, but with refinements it could help turn the GTA franchise into the one-stop-shop it strives to be.
The adjustments to multiplayer are milder; it's pretty much the online GTA you know and love, with a few tweaks. Whereas Johnny's motorcycle opened up lots of new avenues for Rockstar to run down, Luis is, physically at least, the same thing as Niko: a reasonably in-shape adult male capable of stealing cars and shooting things. The deathmatch modes feature the new weapons, and the races include nitrous. Free mode includes parachute challenges and the new military vehicles. The kickboxing matches don't make their way into the game's online capabilities, which is surprising if not very disappointing (see above).
Of course, The Ballad of Gay Tony also features more of all the little things that make Grand Theft Auto fun, with the exception of the grainy visual filters from The Lost and Damned, which are gone in keeping with the lighter themes. There are new TV shows (most notably the anime satire Princess Robot Bubblegum, though it goes a bit long), new side missions (helping out Luis's childhood friends in a gang war, doing favors for assorted characters, working at a club for Tony, etc.), and new radio programming. These extras aren't as fun as the core content is, but we didn't expect them to be, and they will keep players occupied and entertained long after the credits roll. A rabid completionist could spend days with this game before exhausting his options.
It's easy to see some fans being frustrated at this expansion's direction. The tone of the story is, after all, quite a departure from the franchise's previous two outings. However, the amusing dialogue, fun gameplay, and delightfully absurd missions make this a must-buy for everyone, whether by download (in which case it requires a copy of GTA IV to run) or on disc with The Lost and Damned. The only question remaining is how Grand Theft Auto V and its expansions can top what Rockstar has given us these past two years.
CCC Freelance Writer