GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony Xbox 360

GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony Xbox 360
Game makers have long aspired to be cinematic, but given that most games last upwards of 20 hours, they seem more akin to television. Yet for some reason, most downloadable "episodes" have been treated like old-school expansion packs (see: Oblivion's Shivering Isles or Fable II's Knothole Island) and simply tacked on as new landmasses to explore. If the studio had a really good story idea, they'd save it for a sequel.

But given the sheer effort Rockstar puts into building their living, breathing sandbox cities, it hardly makes sense to construct an all-new metropolis every time they have a new tale to tell ― it's not like TV shows build new sets for each story arc. So now Rockstar can not only boast the best title in gaming with The Ballad of Gay Tony but this final chapter of the GTA IV trilogy can also lay claim to being arguably the best game "episode" ever.

Rockstar kicked off their Xbox-only episodes with last spring's download The Lost and Damned, a gritty, biker gang-based story that exposed an entirely different seedy underbelly than the one we saw from Niko Bellick's perspective in the main game's immigrant saga. Now comes Gay Tony ― available via download (requiring the original game) or paired with TL&D on the standalone Episodes from Liberty City disc.

Despite its overtly violent nature, Ballad is ultimately about brotherhood, about the friendship between titular nightclub impresario "Gay" Tony Prince and you, his business partner/bodyguard Luis Lopez, probably the most likeable GTA protagonist yet. Prince runs the hottest straight and gay clubs in Manhattan, er, Algonquin (you've likely danced in them in earlier iterations) but his funding came from underworld backers and, well, his bills have come due.

Over the course of this episode, you'll meet a cast of new characters (alongside familiar ones), as well as play new mini-games (club management, cage-fighting, disco-dancing) and some San Andreas-style, cartoonish-ly over-the-top missions, many involving base-jumping. Yes, you will be parachuting off buildings for fun and profit.

You'll also play through previously developed plot points from a new perspective as you conclude GTA IV's blood-diamond story arc while roaming this glitzier side of Liberty City.

Like Tarantino in the '90s, Rockstar North is operating at an impressively creative peak and once again races along on storytelling verve, biting satire, eye-popping production values, ace voice acting and mad style. So, yes, it's set in the same digital metropolis you've been driving around in for some time now, but The Ballad of Gay Tony isn't the same old song. (Rockstar Games)