Ballad? More Like A Limerick...

As I write these words, the credits are rolling on Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony. At this point, I figured I'd write up an analysis of the content similar to what I did with The Lost & Damned. However, after wrapping up the game in a little over a week of on-off playtime, I'm left feeling pretty indifferent about the whole thing, and I'm not sure it warrants such an analysis. Before the hate starts pouring in, I'm not saying the game is bad, not by any means. In some respects, it improves on areas that I wanted to see expanded upon in the main game and the first DLC pack. It's longer than The Lost and Damned by a good couple of hours, as well as boasting more interesting achievements and a more colourful supporting cast, the missions are more varied than the ones in Grand Theft Auto IV, it boasts a hell of a lot of content in the way of side-missions, and the new additions to the game's arsenal are a lot of fun to mess around with (especially the sticky bombs). It also does a pretty good job of tying up all the loose ends left over from the last two games. Yet, in spite of all these improvements, The Ballad of Gay Tony is (in my eyes) the weakest of the trinity by a significant margin.

Vice City was a last-gen masterpiece... 
Before I begin to explain why I feel this way, I think it's important to give you a bit of background information about my relationship with the Grand Theft Auto franchise. I've been playing Grand Theft Auto games since the franchise was confined to two dimensions, and prior to the release of Grand Theft Auto IV last year my favourite game in the series was without doubt Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The primary reason for this was the perfect balance that game managed to strike between story, gameplay and atmosphere. It boasted an extremely well-realised story driven by arguably the series' best protagonist to date, Tommy Vercetti. It took everything that made the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto III so irresistibly fun and cranked it up a notch, crafting some of the series' most memorable missions in the process. Finally, it dropped all of this amazing content into a fully-explorable recreation of 80s Miami, oozing authenticism in everything from the music to the cars and right down to the hawaiian shirts. It may have been a product of pop culture, but Vice City knew it, embraced it, and was brilliant because of it rather than in spite of it. 
 
...San Andreas, not so much 
Two years after Vice City, Rockstar released a sequel in the form of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game that has always struck me as the black sheep of the GTA family. While it was an awesome game with a lot to offer, it seemed to take a step back every time it moved forward. Any potential the game's story had was lost as soon as it was attached to protagonist Carl Johnson, who was incredibly flat and lifeless in comparison to his predecessor. For every logical progression of the series' gameplay (such as the ability to swim), there was an illogical one impairing it (everybody remember the jet pack?). On top of all this, the game had a very schizophrenic atmosphere that seemed to lack focus, particularly after getting out of Los Santos. Carl Johnson doesn't fit in in San Fierro or Las Venturas, because he's never anything more than a boring Los Santos gangster. My experience with San Andreas, while a good one, was definitely harmed by its overambitious scope and lack of focus.

The Ballad of Gay Tony feels like Grand Theft Auto IV's equivalent of an Undo button 
The Ballad of Gay Tony could definitely be described as the 'San Andreas' of the Grand Theft Auto IV trinity in pretty much every aspect, but for slightly different reasons. The story never even reaches the standards of The Lost and Damned, let alone the lofty heights of Grand Theft Auto IV's plot. Luis Lopez is a terrible protagonist, very flatly acted and displaying nothing even remotely resembling a personality. It's only the supporting cast that save the game's main story from flatlining completely, largely thanks to the brilliantly portrayed personas of Tony Prince and Yusuf Amir. The additional gameplay content is an awkward hybrid of stuff that needed to be in Grand Theft Auto IV (drug wars, sticky bombs) and stuff that has no place in the new incarnation of Liberty City (base jumping, triathlon races). The missions start off as diverse and interesting, but from the half-way point onwards every other mission involves parachuting out of a helicopter and it soon gets tiresome. 
 
Ultimately, it's not the atmosphere that's the problem. Liberty City was so well realised and defined in Grand Theft Auto IV and The Lost and Damned that it's impossible to have any complaints about the game's environment not being detailed enough. The primary problem is that most of the new content in The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn't fit in particularly well with the preconceived image of Liberty City. There just isn't a logical place for so much unfocused content in such a focused atmosphere. In the title of this blog I referred to The Ballad of Gay Tony as more of a limerick than a ballad, and I think that analogy stands. It's funny, but it lacks any real substance, and the end result is something that is superficially entertaining, but dramatically hollow.
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony (X360)
7 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by dankempster

As I write these words, the credits are rolling on Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony. At this point, I figured I'd write up an analysis of the content similar to what I did with The Lost & Damned. However, after wrapping up the game in a little over a week of on-off playtime, I'm left feeling pretty indifferent about the whole thing, and I'm not sure it warrants such an analysis. Before the hate starts pouring in, I'm not saying the game is bad, not by any means. In some respects, it improves on areas that I wanted to see expanded upon in the main game and the first DLC pack. It's longer than The Lost and Damned by a good couple of hours, as well as boasting more interesting achievements and a more colourful supporting cast, the missions are more varied than the ones in Grand Theft Auto IV, it boasts a hell of a lot of content in the way of side-missions, and the new additions to the game's arsenal are a lot of fun to mess around with (especially the sticky bombs). It also does a pretty good job of tying up all the loose ends left over from the last two games. Yet, in spite of all these improvements, The Ballad of Gay Tony is (in my eyes) the weakest of the trinity by a significant margin.

Vice City was a last-gen masterpiece... 
Before I begin to explain why I feel this way, I think it's important to give you a bit of background information about my relationship with the Grand Theft Auto franchise. I've been playing Grand Theft Auto games since the franchise was confined to two dimensions, and prior to the release of Grand Theft Auto IV last year my favourite game in the series was without doubt Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The primary reason for this was the perfect balance that game managed to strike between story, gameplay and atmosphere. It boasted an extremely well-realised story driven by arguably the series' best protagonist to date, Tommy Vercetti. It took everything that made the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto III so irresistibly fun and cranked it up a notch, crafting some of the series' most memorable missions in the process. Finally, it dropped all of this amazing content into a fully-explorable recreation of 80s Miami, oozing authenticism in everything from the music to the cars and right down to the hawaiian shirts. It may have been a product of pop culture, but Vice City knew it, embraced it, and was brilliant because of it rather than in spite of it. 
 
...San Andreas, not so much 
Two years after Vice City, Rockstar released a sequel in the form of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game that has always struck me as the black sheep of the GTA family. While it was an awesome game with a lot to offer, it seemed to take a step back every time it moved forward. Any potential the game's story had was lost as soon as it was attached to protagonist Carl Johnson, who was incredibly flat and lifeless in comparison to his predecessor. For every logical progression of the series' gameplay (such as the ability to swim), there was an illogical one impairing it (everybody remember the jet pack?). On top of all this, the game had a very schizophrenic atmosphere that seemed to lack focus, particularly after getting out of Los Santos. Carl Johnson doesn't fit in in San Fierro or Las Venturas, because he's never anything more than a boring Los Santos gangster. My experience with San Andreas, while a good one, was definitely harmed by its overambitious scope and lack of focus.

The Ballad of Gay Tony feels like Grand Theft Auto IV's equivalent of an Undo button 
The Ballad of Gay Tony could definitely be described as the 'San Andreas' of the Grand Theft Auto IV trinity in pretty much every aspect, but for slightly different reasons. The story never even reaches the standards of The Lost and Damned, let alone the lofty heights of Grand Theft Auto IV's plot. Luis Lopez is a terrible protagonist, very flatly acted and displaying nothing even remotely resembling a personality. It's only the supporting cast that save the game's main story from flatlining completely, largely thanks to the brilliantly portrayed personas of Tony Prince and Yusuf Amir. The additional gameplay content is an awkward hybrid of stuff that needed to be in Grand Theft Auto IV (drug wars, sticky bombs) and stuff that has no place in the new incarnation of Liberty City (base jumping, triathlon races). The missions start off as diverse and interesting, but from the half-way point onwards every other mission involves parachuting out of a helicopter and it soon gets tiresome. 
 
Ultimately, it's not the atmosphere that's the problem. Liberty City was so well realised and defined in Grand Theft Auto IV and The Lost and Damned that it's impossible to have any complaints about the game's environment not being detailed enough. The primary problem is that most of the new content in The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn't fit in particularly well with the preconceived image of Liberty City. There just isn't a logical place for so much unfocused content in such a focused atmosphere. In the title of this blog I referred to The Ballad of Gay Tony as more of a limerick than a ballad, and I think that analogy stands. It's funny, but it lacks any real substance, and the end result is something that is superficially entertaining, but dramatically hollow.
 
 
Dan 
 
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Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony (X360)
Posted by Bigandtasty
@dankempster: You have a point about the games' quality story-wise, but gameplay-wise both San Andreas and Gay Tony added a bit of over-the-top ridiculous fun that was entertaining after the main storyline. And Carl isn't as flat as you suggest (Luis is though). 
 
Still, I wouldn't take San Andreas or Gay Tony over original GTAIV. Something about original GTAIV just stands out to me.
Posted by ElectricHaggis

Even if Luis isn't an interesting character in his own right, his relationsip with Tony is entertaining.  If we'd seen those two interact more, it would have been a better game.  I still enjoyed it though. 

Posted by Sweep

For me this expansion is more a last opportunity for Rockstar to squeeze in all the toys that makes the world a bit more crazy. I wasn't particularly impressed with the Lost & Damned either but i was grateful for the opportunity to dive back into liberty city, at the very least giving me some new missions even if they werent held together particularly well. Armored cars and parachutes! New helicopters! Everybody knows that Sweep loves helicopters...

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Posted by Skald

Well done. I too liked Vice City far, far more than San Andreas. 
I have The Lost and Damned, not going to get this though.

Posted by Rowr

Nice blog, I still havent got to playing this yet, and i dont have a full expectation i will. I dont have much to say except i agree with your points on san andreas and enjoyed the read.

Posted by CornontheCobbe

I really enjoyed your Blog. The games really do get gradually more detailed.