That’s no terrible thing of course, and the mission structure again strikes a good balance between choice and handholding. It’s also nice to note that a few refinements have been made to the basic gameplay – there seem to be a lot more cabs on the road for one thing, making tedious journeys from one part of the map to a mission trigger point a thing of the past; there are now MUCH fairer mission restart waypoints, removing the associated frustrations in GTA IV. And best of all, on completing a mission, players now have percentage statistics for their performance in that mission, showing player damage, car damage, time taken and other stats, which you can compare to the ‘target’ scores. You can now also repeat missions at your leisure, which is definitely a welcome addition.
The Ballad of Gay Tony is about the same length as The Lost and Damned, and it took me just under ten hours to blast through the story. But as with the previous GTA IV titles, that only represents about sixty per cent of what’s on offer as a singleplayer experience here – there are countless side missions (male and female markers), drug wars, races, seagulls to track down and kill, and the superb addition of fifteen BASE jumping (parachuting) missions to take care of. With no shortage of very high buildings to jump from, BASE jumping is the best way to enjoy the sights of Liberty City, something that felt kind of absent in GTA IV and TLAD, but is now freshly served and a lot of fun.
It comes as no surprise that BASE jumping is also the best addition to multiplayer side of things in Gay Tony. In the all-out Free Mode, players can now BASE jump in groups, aiming to make a clean landing on the ground (with no crashing on the way down and no landing in swimming pools or the sea allowed). This aspect of multiplayer ties into the Rockstar Social Club, which tracks all your jump times.
Where the mode gets intense is in teaming up to improve your overall times – at one landing spot, your pal might be ready with a motorcycle in order to speed to the next jump spot for example; pressing the left thumbstick activates a coloured smoke trail from the jumper’s chute so that he can track your position. Style points are awarded the longer you can leave it before actually opening your chute after jumping, something which becomes a bit of an addictive bragging exercise in its own right.
Combined with airborne bikes and helicopters (it’s even possible to use a helicopter’s blades to take our parachuters!), BASE jumping can get particularly chaotic, especially when you consider that all of this is happening during a regular Free Mode game, and players can simply try and shoot your parachuting ass from the ground if they feel like it. Deathmatch locations and arenas have also been revamped and tightened up. New weapons like the aforementioned Explosive Shotgun and the positively AWESOME Sticky Bombs, plus new vehicles like the APC tank, and finally new stats such as kill streaks and assisted kills – all go to make the multiplayer experience a slightly different and richer one than the last time around.
We gave GTA IV a 10, and if we reviewed it again by today’s standards some 18 months on, it would still be a 10. We gave Lost and Damned a 9 earlier this year. What The Lost and Damned did with grime and grittiness, Gay Tony does with glitz and glamour, and I love the colourful, Algonquin-led carnage in this series finale. The gameplay boasts a little more variety than in Lost and Damned, but it’s in no way revolutionary.
Next to each other, TLAD and BOGT feel about as ‘good’ as each other as standalone games, and whether we’re judging Gay Tony in its own right or as a combination with Lost and Damned in the “Episodes From Liberty City” box, it’s an essential, 9/10 purchase. I would, however, recommend to any players who’ve somehow managed to miss GTA IV altogether so far, to start off with the main GTA IV adventure before moving onto Episodes From Liberty City – and unsurprisingly it also makes sense to play these in the right order – Gay Tony is totally meant to be saved till last!