It's nothing if not strange to be reviewing the same thing for the second time in a fortnight, but then Rockstar has sent us down strange roads before. The Ballad of Gay Tony is the same now as it was last week, but the fact that it is also available on a disc it shares with The Lost and Damned, and which doesn't require the original Grand Theft Auto IV to play, asks different questions of a review.
It's possible, for example, that you're considering whether to buy this having never bought or played GTAIV - in which case your impressions may be mixed. The Liberty City of the current generation is a vast, colourful and varied environment, brimming with the series' trademark satirical humour and eccentricity, but whereas 18 months ago it seemed a technical marvel, 18 months on it's merely at the handsome end of competent, and drops frames more noticeably than an epileptic optometrist. And the core of GTA is very much still going to icons on the mini-map to receive a briefing and then driving somewhere to do some shooting, or similar.
Mechanics are solid but unspectacular, and lack the finesse intervening games have standardised. The cover-based third-person gunplay, for example, is sticky, and awkward in close quarters, and you never feel as comfortable as you do in comparable action games when you're moving around on foot. Sometimes, as when jumping or navigating buildings, it's as though the programmers spent so long making the world around you operate properly that they struggled to accommodate your need to touch it. The driving physics have also proven divisive. With that said, modern GTA is less frustrating than it was on PS2 and Xbox in many respects; you can even restart missions without having to go off and buy your guns again. Progress!