DS Review: Grand Theft Auto – Chinatown Wars

Everybody was handheld kung-fu fighting…

Following his father’s murder, Huang Lee has a simple mission: deliver an ancient sword to his Uncle Kenny to ensure his family retains control of the Triad gangs of Liberty City. Huang is a spoilt rich kid who expects everything to run smoothly, but his trip does not go exactly as planned. After being robbed and left to die, he will search for honour, riches and revenge in the most dangerous and morally bankrupt city in the world.

When I originally heard that GTA was heading to the DS, I was overjoyed but a little skeptical. How would it overcome the graphical demands from fans, how would the touch-screen be implemented? The whole idea sounded like it could either work to be one of the best games on the handheld, or it could fail miserably. Rockstar seemed to know the risk and managed to balance it all into one fantastic package.
The series originally started out with a top-down perspective and Chinatown Wars sends us back to this. It sounds like it’s going backwards, but it actually works more in the system’s favour. They can make the game look bright and colourful, maintain an impressive framerate and to see Liberty City from a new angle. The stylus is used for taking over cars like unscrewing things and mixing wires, entering numbers into a PDA and for smashing the back window of the car if you somehow end up in the river. There’s also scratch cards that require you to use the stylus, its pretty fun if you are addicted to them and don’t want to spend a fortune at your local shop.

The story for Chinatown Wars is pretty gripping. Sure, it can’t compete with the likes of Niko or Johnny from TLAD but it does a good job and makes you want to play it to see where it goes. Sadly, there is no voice-acting but cutscenes are detailed like in most GTA artwork you see for each game. It gives the game a bit of a more authentic feel, despite the lack of voice-work. But based on the size of the game and multiplayer, I’d say that they had to make the cut because of storage limitations of the DS cartridge. I don’t know that for certain, but it would make sense if true.
You can lock on to enemies with the right button and you can hail cabs by whistling into the microphone. Shooting is simply a case of tapping A while locked on and combat is a good mixture of button combos which can be effective when you are without any ammo. The mission structure for Chinatown Wars follows the tradition of every GTA game. I wish you could just get your missions via your PDA instead of going to each location, but it’s only a small complaint. Essentially, Chinatown Wars is GTA stripped down to nuts and bolts. It’s more accessible, missions are shorter than usual and it’s easier for the more casual player.

Then there’s multiplayer. You can play online, but only if you have the other players friend codes. If you connect to WFC, you can then see your stats on the Rockstar Social Club site. It’s a good way of keeping track of your friends and your own stats. Through the Social Club, players are also able to download new missions. I wish the online was made without the use of friend codes, especially considering the game is an 18, so there’s no real need for it. Why couldn’t they just make it so you can search for a match, jump in and play? It’s a mystery to me.
That aside, GTA Chinatown Wars is more or less the perfect balance of the series on a handheld. It doesn’t use the stylus too much, missions are nice and varied and the story is gripping. It has at least one thing that everyone will like, despite its small problems. It’s the best GTA game to grace any handheld including the PSP, period. It’s hard to criticise it for anything other than perhaps catering too much to the casual gamer and not being able to just search for online matches. Those are perhaps it’s only flaws, the rest is near perfect.

The artwork style cutscenes fit the DS well and feel natural for it. The game’s visuals themselves aren’t the strongest in the world, but considering it’s on the DS…it’s pretty incredible. It’s vibrant and never slows down, even with tons of cars chasing you. There are radio channels with a nice mixture of music, albeit with no lyrics…but still it’s nice to see it.

The Verdict

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars takes the ingredients of any GTA game and makes another classic. It may be more simplified and some may not like the return to the top-down perspective, but it just wouldn’t have worked any other way. More importantly, it wouldn’t be as memorable.


1 Comment

  1. This – better than it’s real 3D brethren on the PSP? No. Trust me. I’ve played them all. It’s damn good. But not that good.

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