The Ballad of Gay Tony also lives up to previous Grand Theft Auto titles in terms of its cast of characters.  It seems like every time Luis has an encounter with a new person who is wilder and more insane than the previous; and given that the first character you meet is Tony Prince, this is no small gesture.  As Luis continues to move up the food chain, more and more foul-mouthed and eccentric characters emerge.  For a gamer who enjoys good dialogue and voice acting, The Ballad of Gay Tony was a success when it came to the audible and written details.  Almost every cut scene contained some excellent acting, yet I was somewhat disappointed to find out that Luis actually had the worst of the flaws in that department.  Luckily, Luis isn’t as much of a talker as many of the people he deals with, so this doesn’t develop into much of an issue.  For fellow acting-focused gamers such as myself, keep an eye out for the character Yusuf Amir, who is a success in both the acting and writing aspects.  Yusuf, an impossibly wealthy man who is obnoxiously fluent in outdated ebonics and loves himself a m©nage   trois, puts Luis through some of the most entertaining missions in the game.  If you like over-the-top characters (and possibly a helicopter hijacking), you’ll love my “homie” Yusuf.

Now that we’ve covered the single player mode in this episode, let’s take a look at what The Ballad of Gay Tony has to offer in the multiplayer department.  Though initially an innovative concept, Grand Theft Auto’s multiplayer modes felt more like failures than successes in my experiences with the game.  Given this fact, I was very interested to see what lessons the developers at Rockstar learned from their previous blunders.

As a sucker for team deathmatch in all games, I made it a goal to check this mode out first.  The developers of The Ballad of Gay Tony definitely made efforts to make the deathmatch experience distinct from other releases.  The first noticeable change in deathmatch was the significantly smaller game maps, which were a welcome change.  With this new feature, I was able to avoid the lulls of inactivity that the previous version of deathmatch would often bestow.  However, though tighter maps lead to more action, they can also lead to frustration.  Anticipate many spawn kills in your quest to become a deathmatch champion.  Also, The Ballad of Gay Tony incorporates some memorable weapons from the campaign into their multiplayer modes.  Be sure to look for weapons such as the .44 pistol, sticky bombs, advanced sniper and the ever-classy golden SMG.  One thing I’ve noticed in my time with The Ballad of Gay Tony is that small maps + sticky bombs = one good time.  Finally, Rockstar (finally) decided to add new standard features in deathmatch modes: kill streaks and assists.  There is nothing that I hate more in this world than to do all the work and not to get compensated for it.  Thanks for the fix, Rockstar.  Now if only they could fix the clunkiness of the player motion, we might be onto something…

The Ballad of Gay Tony offers a few other multiplayer modes: Race and BASE Jumping.  Because BASE Jumping is really more of a mini game than a multiplayer mode, I’m going to focus on Race.  For those who had the pleasure of playing Race in Grand Theft Auto IV, it was a fun and ridiculous game mode that incorporated elements of high-speed chases and mindless killing into one on simple package.  The Ballad of Gay Tony builds on the excitement and insanity of Race by adding the only thing it was missing: nitrous oxide.  This speed boosting gas adds plenty more mayhem to Race.  Of course, the developers weren’t done there.  The Ballad of Gay Tony also incorporates APC tanks to the mix.  Be careful out there, kids.

All things considered, Episodes from Liberty City is a fun little package.  The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony team up to make two interesting and intertwining storylines worth playing at least twice.  Sure, the multiplayer modes aren’t perfect, but they aren’t unplayable either.  For those who already own Grand Theft Auto IV, it’s not going to make much sense to buy Episodes from Liberty City, especially if you already have purchased The Lost and the Damned via the Xbox Live Marketplace (unless of course you are a super fan or one of those “I prefer tangible records over iTunes downloads” people).

Blast Factor: Episodes from Liberty City is a success.  I was hoping for more, but I wasn’t completely underwhelmed.  Rockstar won me over with the great voice acting, writing and the always over-the-top situations and characters.  I wish they took more steps to improve the multiplayer, but it’s hard to blame the developers, especially given the quality of the other aspects of the game.  For the price, you’re probably not going to find a better amount of gameplay this holiday season.  Whether you purchase Episodes from Liberty City or just download the add-ons separately is entirely dependent on your current situation, but if you don’t own GTA IV or you just haven’t jumped on the downloading bandwagon, I suggest checking this one out.  Consider this one at least rentable and probably a solid purchase heading into the holiday season.

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City is available from Rockstar North for $39.99. A copy of this game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.

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About The Author

Chase Gharrity is a Blast Games correspondent.

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