canuckeh's The Ballad of Gay Tony (Xbox 360) review

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Lifestyles of the rich and wretched


Bas Rutten is an ever-popular retired mixed martial arts known for his liver kicking, impassioned colour commentary tracks for Pride FC (emphasizing the word “colour”), and his immaculately awesome martial arts instruction videos. A walking onomatopoeia, Bas Rutten has become a Youtube arse-whooping sensation for his love of sound effects to accompany his brand of violence. Fans of El Guapo will be thrilled to know that Bas returns for another fake episode of the fake television show “The Men’s Room” in The Ballad of Gay Tony. More sound effects, more low blows, more of Bas being Bas.

If you have no idea of whom I was talking about, then there are still plenty of other reasons to take a gander at The Ballad of Gay Tony. This is the second downloadable expansion to Grand Theft Auto 4, the second chance for Xbox owners like me to laugh at Playstation 3 owners like my brother.

 Ritualistic suicide
 Ritualistic suicide

While the previous expansion, The Lost and Damned, focused on the suppressed homosexual lifestyle that is the biker gang, this game goes full-blown-gay by having the player run with the owner of the sort-of-hippest gay and straight club in . Tony Prince has amassing financial and drug-related problems and he’s going to be in big trouble if you, the player, do nothing about it. It’s fortunate, then, that you don’t play as Gay Tony. (I can imagine a sizeable percentage of Grand Theft Auto’s audience vehemently rejecting the notion of controlling a homosexual lead.) No, you play as his ally of sorts, Luis Lopez, the Dominican version of the modern Grand Theft Auto protagonist. That is, someone with a criminal past (to justify his marksmanship) who hates the idea of illegal crimes, despite constantly getting involved in them for missions (and despite the ten civilians I ran over on the way to the mission objective) and who accepts orders with Alfred-like obedience. But the odds are you’ll fall for his black humour anyways so Luis is an effective character in that regard.
The Ballad of Gay Tony works because it portrays the Grand Theft Auto 4 world from the perspective of the wealthy and whacked out of their minds. It would break my friend’s Persian heart to reveal the specifics about the new characters that you’ll deal with, but you will deal with a bevy of rich individuals whom idolized Ted Dibiase at an early age. They’ll get frustrated anytime they find someone that doesn’t have a price. As it is, there is a scary sense of believability; the knowledge that yes, someone would pay money for a gold-plated gun. We already know this from the people who pre-ordered Gears of War 2.

 Luis Lopez models for the (screen)shot
 Luis Lopez models for the (screen)shot

So these psychopaths will have you doing their dirty work. They’ll be sure, however, to give you some sweet hook-ups. New firearms like the sticky bomb and the shotgun with exploding shells give you an excess of firepower to really help enact your dark fantasies. You can expect several missions built around piloting the helicopter, and subsequently…parachuting, the most prominent new mechanic. While these new additions may seem paltry, they help flesh out the game’s duck-and-cover gunplay just enough to justify playing Grand Theft Auto 4 again in the midst of more recent duck-and-cover shooter releases. All of which carry forward into the multiplayer mode, to boot. Besides, Uncharted 2 doesn’t have an Arab prancing around in his skivvies.
And if you need a break from opening fire at whomever refuses to sell your friend the military vehicle of his desire, there are a few nice sidequests. The parachuting mechanic is transformed into a series of amusing missions that entail taking some particularly odd leaps of faith. You can test that exploding shotgun of yours in a series of “Drug War” missions built around doing all the dirty work for your thick-skulled friends and their dreams of being Tony Montana without the dying at the end part. There are underground cage fighting events fit for Bas, overground golfing events that might be fit for Bas, and a very demented anime called Robot Princess Bubblegum that will prompt dress code violations if anyone cosplays the cast at the next comic convention.
Being an expansion, The Ballad of Gay Tony makes little to no change to the game’s existing mechanics. If you think the cover system was dodgy before, or that taxi drivers miss your whistle calls too often, then you may be none too pleased with the lack of change found here.
But The Ballad of Gay Tony is worth getting, regardless. 8-10 hours of non-filler gameplay in a downloadable expansion is a whole lot more than what I’d wager most people are used to. The story is entertaining, the dilapidated sense of humor is ever-present, and there’s an exploding shotgun. I call that a winning formula. The jury is out on whether or not this is a better package than, say, The Lost and Damned, but there’s certainly more entertainment value here than in most full-price games.

4 stars

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