Review: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Drugs are bad, m’kay.
When Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was announced for the Nintendo DS (and its entire bastard offspring) most people were trying to imagine what it could be like. The majority of the gaming community were still fapping over GTA4 and being that GTA has been in full 3D since the PS2 then most people probably weren’t expecting much – knowing the DS’s limitations. The PSP GTA games sold very well and did a remarkable job replicating the modern console feel of GTA on a handheld, so why try to scale it back to fit the humble DS? Most young gamers today never experienced the original GTA on the PS1 and therefore haven’t a clue how the series used to be, granted it was a long time ago but it was groundbreaking (perhaps more for its controversial content than gameplay). Chinatown Wars is here to educate people on how fun and innovation will always show you a good time; without the need for fancy graphics.
As with most of the GTA games you start as some poor schmuck with some pretty bad luck. Huang Lee is the son of a recently deceased Triad leader. On his way to Liberty City to deliver an ancient heirloom to the new head of the family (Uncle Kenny), Huang is ambushed, robbed and left for dead. With himself and his uncle dishonoured, Huang decides to stay in LC and try to make things right. From here (as always) it’s all about moving up the ladder and killing some bad dudes in the process. The story may not be complex, but it is implemented the best it can be.
So, how does one prove to the Triads that they are ready to lead the way, as opposed to bending over whist having ancient swords stolen from their possession? By earning money, selling drugs, making new friends, driving fast cars and going on rampages â€“ that’s how! You travel the city, working for your uncle at times and even a few rival triad factions as you would imagine in the standard GTA way.
CW is played from an over the head perspective, the camera is not stationary as in the original GTA but it still gives you limited vision of the field ahead. The traditional controls are as easy to use as you would imagine, buttons are mapped for sprinting, rolling/jumping and hijacking cars as you would expect. Combat is still mostly handled in the traditional way but thankfully there is now a lock on button that is essential for targeting enemies. Tapping the touch screen gun icon pauses gameplay and allows you to choose your weapon of choice, the touch screen is also used to flick thrown weapons like Molotov’s at enemies â€“ I will admit that this was a bit fiddly to do in the middle of a fire fight, but incredibly effective if you pull it off. These weapons of mayhem themselves are as usual found on dead bodies or from the Ammu-nation store (more weapons come available as you progress) but now you must purchase them online from your safe house and they will be delivered to you.
The cars (bikes, bulldozers and boats too) in the game are as varied as ever and driving hasn’t changed too much but it will take a little while to get used to not seeing straight ahead, while the camera can zoom out to a maximum you will initially still start driving too fast and smacking into the back of unsuspecting po-lease, which nicely brings us to one of my fave features. While GTA4 introduced the new system of loosing police chasing you (get out of their search area and stay out of sight) the CW method is surely the best.
Wow isn’t it ironic that the most playable and more importantly FUN Grand Theft Auto game since Vice City isn’t some overhyped HD next gen (read: infinite shades of brown and grey) effort but an unassuming handheld game that has more in common with GTA 2 than any of the last five GTA games! The game’s graphics, limited as they are all look nice and do a good job of being like the GTA character artwork come to life even if it does but suffer from slowdown when things get a bit busy and the semi-overhead view sometimes obscures the action when passing under l-train tracks or road signs.
The music too is limited when compared to the licensed tracks and DJ banter we’ve become used to now but if you focus on pure ascetics you’ll miss what this GTA game is all about: fun. You know FUN that strange and indefinable quantity that’s been sorely lacking in GTA games of late. The driving is fun, the combat is fun, the little mini-games like lotto cards and hotwiring a car are fun and the drug dealing? More fun than a dozen Niko Belicks wearing clown shoes provided you’re slightly pedantic and have borderline OCD like Colin and I do.
If you have a DS and don’t buy this you’re either one of those Brain Training drones who watches too much Countdown or just plain stupid and don’t deserve ‘real’ games on the DS.
Secondary Score: 9/10
If the fuzz do start chasing and you have a low wanted level you can probably loose them in the usual way of speeding ahead (this wont always work) the guaranteed way to get them off your back is to actually remove them as a threat, think more like a takedown from Burnout. Slamming unsuspecting cop cars into dumpsters, walls, the water or oncoming traffic is the sure fire way to get them off your back whereas gunning them down or running over beat cops (other civilians too) will only further incur their wrath. Loosing a tail now require more skill as opposed to â€œballs to the wallâ€ fast and mad driving.
The unique DS controls are something else. So frequently are they employed at it doesn’t at all feel gimmicky and tacked on but rather an actual part of the game, you will find yourself constantly gripping the stylus for use at a moments notice. Whether its making Molotov cocktails, assembling a sniper rifle, restarting someone’s heart, setting a GPS location, diffusing bombs, planting bombs, assembling bombs its frequent fast and fun.
The missions themselves truly are unique as they are varied, you may be going on a rampage for the boss, or you may be using your touch screen hammer to do some vandalising. You never feel saturated by the experience and if you do fancy a change you still have a sizable, almost alive city to explore – cars indicate while turning, civilians have punch ups in the street and when the cops aren’t chasing you, usually you get to see some other poor fools suffer at their hands, its just fun to watch. If you’re the economic type you can practically spend hours scouring the city for drug dealers, buying low and selling high and making one helluva profit. Your GPS tells you where to find people and your buddies email you with specials on buying/selling you wares, as addictive and fun as this is money can only buy you so much (guns, cars, safe houses) before you have to advance the story.
Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars is a game that has some pretty big shoes to fill, and quite frankly it just cant do it because Chinatown Wars is the equivalent of Rammstein mosher boots of death compared to GTA4s little ballerina slippers. This is the kind of game that reinstalls your faith in a series, keeps you addicted (no pun intended) and quite frankly gasping for more.