Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony

How it fits in

By this point, some of you are probably wondering how The Ballad of Gay Tony meshes with the larger GTA IV narrative. We already know that the game opens in the bank during the Three Leaf Clover mission, and you can probably guess that you’ll eventually play through Luis’ side of the museum mission, which is a hell of a lot easier than what Niko and Johnny had to go through. You’ll also get into a firefight with Johnny’s gang over the series’ ill-fated diamonds, and later head to Charge Island with Tony to exchange those same diamonds for kidnapped Mob brat Gracie Ancelotti.

Above: It’s not because you particularly like her, either 

For fans, though, half the fun will be in seeing the motivations behind these events and coming away with a full picture of what was really happening the whole time. Ballad of Gay Tony also ties up a lot of the loose threads left dangling by GTA IV, such as what happened to Bulgarin and where, ultimately, the diamonds ended up.

It’s also interesting to note that Ballad of Gay Tony holds up a fun-house mirror to GTA IV, in that a lot of its new or expanded characters are what earlier characters aspired to be. Billionaire developer Yusuf Aziz, with his fleet of helicopters, bottomless finances and tacky sensibilities, is what Playboy X (and to some degree, Roman) would have become with more money.

Above: Playboy wishes he could be this rich. Roman wishes he could be this obnoxious 

The same could be said of Bulgarin (who’s insanely wealthy) and the comparatively insignificant Mikhail Faustin and Dmitri Rascalov. But the most blatant example is Mori Kibbutz, a sawed-off little bully who clearly provided the frat-boy template from which Brucie’s been working this whole time, and next to whom poor Brucie looks absolutely pathetic.

And Luis, for his part, represents the best that GTA IV’s other anti-heroes could possibly hope for: even after clawing his way to the top, he’s still just an errand boy for greedy sociopaths.

That just leaves one burning question about the plot:

How ‘gay’ is The Ballad of Gay Tony?

In spite of its neon-lit clubs (one of which is filled with 1970s gay stereotypes), catchy new dance and disco tracks – how do you not like a game that enables you to commit mayhem to “Disco Inferno?” – and sparkly rainbow menus and HUD, The Ballad of Gay Tony isn’t as centered around the gay scene as its presentation might have you believe. In fact, it features roughly 100 percent less onscreen penis than the unquestionably butch Lost and Damned.

Above: ‘Ha haa! Dangly parts!’

Homosexuality is a minor point of controversy in the story, sure – the game’s more oafish criminals routinely refer to Tony with a slur that should be familiar by now to all Xbox Live users– but for the most part, it’s treated as normal. Luis, who’s aggressively heterosexual and frequently gets it on with random women, simply respects Tony as his boss and friend, and doesn’t get angry when people try to insinuate that there’s something more between them. And Tony himself, while a little bitchy, is a fascinating character and a huge improvement, stereotype-wise, over GTA IV’s rubber-wristed Bernie Crane.

In fact, there’s only one person whose sexuality is ever really played for laughs, and that’s GTA IV fan-favorite Brucie. And if we told you how, we'd ruin one of the game's better tragicomic moments.

Above: Oh, Brucie. Will you ever win?

Gang up online

Unlike The Lost and Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn’t really bring any new modes to GTA IV’s 16-player online action. Instead, it simply overhauls what’s already there, littering the playing field with its new weapons and vehicles and introducing new, tighter deathmatch arenas and new features like kill streaks and assisted kills. (And believe us when we say that those kill streaks are a lot easier to maintain with explosive shotgun rounds.) It also adds parachutes, which can make Free Mode particularly interesting; even though you can’t shoot while gliding to earth, there’s something undeniably fun about skydiving with friends.

Is it better than…?

Grand Theft Auto IV? Yes and no. GTA IV is a much bigger game, with a more nuanced story and more three-dimensional characters – this is just the expansion. On the other hand, Gay Tony’s better cars, better weapons, tighter focus and replayable, checkpoint-filled missions with multiple bonus objectives make it, in many ways, a much more enjoyable experience.

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned? Yes. Gay Tony’s upbeat theme, kickass weaponry and goofy side activities make it a hell of a lot more fun than Lost and Damned’s bleak biker odyssey. And while some of TLaD’s innovations are left out – such as gang members you can level up, bikes you won’t fall off of easily and new multiplayer modes – they pale in comparison to being able to leap out of helicopters and survive.

Saints Row 2? Yes – but! While even mentioning it in the same breath as Gay Tony will probably make Rockstar seethe, it’s worth pointing out that Saints Row 2’s main selling point was that it said “yes” to players almost every time GTA IV said “no.” And while Gay Tony features lots of new activities, a fun atmosphere and a partial return to the ridiculous spectacle of San Andreas, it still feels more like a conditional compromise between Rockstar’s original vision for GTA IV and what unhappier fans wanted out of it. Don’t expect any car-surfing, barn-storming or gratuitous nudity here, although you will find plenty of stuff to keep you busy, along with a better story and an overall more interesting experience.

Just for you, Metacritic!

A top-notch expansion that nearly surpasses GTA IV itself for sheer fun and replayability, The Ballad of Gay Tony puts a fittingly explosive, over-the-top coda on the story that Niko Bellic started.

Oct 28, 2009

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  • Vagrant - November 19, 2009 6:34 a.m.

    Much like what I said in the compilatory Episodes from Liberty City review; I dunno if anyone will even see my comment, but there's a few mistakes there. It's Yusuf Amir not Aziz. And Luis' "unseen" booty call is a girl you hooked up with in the club. (whom you obviously saw at the time) Either way, still think Reparez gave these GTAIV expansions some solid reviews. Almost enough to make me forgive him for Assassin's Creed. Almost.
  • loser19 - November 3, 2009 1:30 a.m.

    parachutingggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg aepwirguy sd ew e e e ewew e w q w eartyu yter te4 rhgsetawgd jrheytsj teq43tdj yt
  • loser19 - November 1, 2009 1 p.m.

  • loser19 - November 1, 2009 1:48 a.m.

    looks good gonna get it
  • lovinmyps3 - October 31, 2009 10:02 p.m.

    Can't wait to get this! I have GTAIV for my PS3 so I've been waiting for this and TLaD to come out on a disk.
  • Amatarasu - October 31, 2009 7:37 a.m.

    sticky bombs? boosh it's like....thats so awsome i can't make an "it's like" statement.....dam
  • Demonflare - October 31, 2009 2:26 a.m.

    Can't GTA4 be the final series, really!? I can't believe they titled it The Ballad of Gay Tony. I wouldn't play it nor get it, but nice
  • Spybreak8 - October 30, 2009 6:16 a.m.

    AND I was playing in the computer den, so no not the living room like you'd expect. The TV is always being used anyway.
  • Spybreak8 - October 30, 2009 6:09 a.m.

    @patri0t"I'm lovin this. Downloaded it this morning and i can't put it down! Parachutes, golden Uzis sticky grenades, explosive shotguns, and attack helicopters FTW!!!" My thoughts exactly however I did put it down to play Dirt 2 (my Forza 3) and Borderlands lol. Ohh thanks Rockstar you made me so unconformable today, said club sex scene witnessed while my mom was in the room. Awkwaaarrd
  • Ddz53 - October 30, 2009 3:45 a.m.

    Downloaded it, played it, loved it
  • Scotch - October 30, 2009 2 a.m.

    this read more like a ten review to me, but i still loved the review. i got home today and downloaded immediately , love it so far
  • patri0t - October 30, 2009 1:41 a.m.

    I'm lovin this. Downloaded it this morning and i can't put it down! Parachutes, golden Uzis sticky grenades, explosive shotguns, and attack helicopters FTW!!!
  • FreekinIdiot - October 29, 2009 2:06 p.m.

    @justified_candy Of course you should, gayness aside (dude it's almost 2010...get with the times) need I repeat my above comment?? The game sounds so much FUN and after all, that's the main thing
  • FreekinIdiot - October 29, 2009 2:02 p.m. Parachutes and explosvie shotgun shells make me happy
  • SincualaS - October 29, 2009 5:35 a.m.

    ha haa! dangly parts
  • understudybass - October 29, 2009 4:28 a.m.

    One of the best reviews i've seen at the sight although i am a bit offended about even addressing people that have issues with gay people. if they clicked on the link they would have been smited.
  • Mar27w - October 29, 2009 3:43 a.m.

    how can they say GTA4 is showing its age,it has the most technically impressive city ever concevied in a videogame and has yet to be surpassed,strange
  • iKOemos - October 29, 2009 3:14 a.m.

    C'mon Rockstar, 1 PS3 episode is all I'm asking for.
  • Yeager1122 - October 29, 2009 2:02 a.m.

    Sigh i need more money.
  • Kratos13 - October 29, 2009 1:33 a.m.

    YES! one more day and this game is MINE!!!!!!!

Showing 1-20 of 33 comments

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