859th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned was the first “expansion” of Grand Theft Auto IV, a game set in the same city/world with a different set of protagonists and missions. The Ballad of Gay Tony does the same, with quite a different set up – rather than the world of dive bars and bikers, this sets you up as a bouncer and business associate of the titular gay Tony.

I can’t say that the GTA series always has the best track record of dealing with more subtle social issues, so I’m hoping the gay jokes don’t get taken too far – I know a decade is a long time for this, but it still feels tricky.

Our Thoughts

The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn’t really have that much change in the gameplay – it’s truly the same game idea set in the same world as the others in the series. You get scored for missions now, there are some more side jobs – most notably club management, which ties into the story more heavily – and there are some different weapons and such, but if you’ve played the other games this will be more than familiar to you.

But that’s fine. As much as you have to play the game, shoot your enemies and so on, it’s the story that becomes much more important. More important, even, it’s the characters that I feel really make an impact in this game. The titular Gay Tony is the one I’d point out. In other games – Rockstar games from a few years earlier or plenty of games even at that time, he would have been a flamboyant stereotype with a lisp and specific mannerisms. He might even try to be the tough guy to hide who he is. Instead, while still clearly a GTA character, he’s a gay man, happy and proud to be out and tease those around him with it, but he’s also a tough businessman when the time calls for it. He’s not the male thug many characters in the series are, but while he’s partially the mafia type, he’s also his own unique character.

You still play the straight male enforcer, but it’s less important and again, while there are some gay jokes in there, he doesn’t participate. It was, to be honest, surprising and refreshing how well they handled it and while I’m sure you could dig in and find fault, it’s a game that tries and created something that, at least for me, worked better. It added a lot to my own enjoyment of the game.

Other side characters similarly get more depth. The two main sidekicks, Armando and Henrique, feel like they gain more depth than others would and there’s a bit more to explore. I enjoyed hanging out with them and from all of that, it feels like at least to a point, the game tries to be about relationships with people, keeping and balancing loyalties and seeing where it goes from there. It’s quite effective, all in all.

Final Thoughts

While I’ve been more of a Saints Row fan (which, with Saints Row IV, has its own positive LGBT portrayal), this feels like it might be the GTA version closest to taking its throne. I connected with the characters more and the story telling works better to me because of that. So far, it’s probably my favourite – I would have loved to spend more time in this specific story and I hope to get deeper into it again.