Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Sporting its trademark top-down view and cartoonish visuals, Chinatown Wars definitely harkens back to the series' PlayStation roots.
- Trademark GTA gameplay and humour, solid controls, huge city to explore
- Sub-par script, difficulty spikes, changing between the two DS screens on the fly can be disorienting
A fantastic addition to Rockstar's legacy, Chinatown Wars stands solidly on its own two feet as not only the series' first foray onto the Nintendo DS, but a damn good game, to boot.
Price$ 69.95 (AUD)
I'll admit wholeheartedly that I was a bit doubtful when I was first handed Chinatown Wars. After playing through last year's spectacular, yet remarkably darker and grittier Grand Theft Auto IV, I didn't quite know what to expect from Rockstar Leeds' latest installation. While I'd greatly enjoyed the PSP's on-the-go GTA iterations in Liberty City and Vice City Stories, there was no denying that Rockstar's flagship series had found a safe niche as more so a solid third person shooter than the arcade-styled, tongue-in-cheek sandbox racers that had preceded it.
Then along came Chinatown Wars. Sporting its trademark top-down view and cartoonish visuals, Chinatown Wars definitely harkens back to the series' PlayStation roots, yet at the same time maintains the incredible innovations in both technology and player accessibility that the title's previous instalments have supplied.
Players take on the role of Huang Lee - a wise-cracking rich kid who comes to Liberty City upon news of his father's death. Huang is tasked with delivering a sacred family heirloom - the Yu Jian sword - to his crime lord uncle in order to swing his family back into favor with Liberty City's Triads. Of course, as soon as you can say "opening credits" Huang reaches the mainland only to be greeted with a bullet to the head courtesy of a gang of rival mobsters. Shot, robbed, and left for dead... and you thought you had a rough morning
Huang's loss of the Yu Jian serves as the foundation for the rest of the game: earning respect in the metropolitan cesspool we all know and love as Liberty City. From drug distribution, insurance racketeering to old fashioned car-jacking and street races, everything you know and love about the Grand Theft Auto series is here with some fantastic new contributions and handheld-specific alterations.
Something Old, Something New
Chinatown Wars makes excellent use of the DS' features, from allowing players to whistle into the handheld's microphone in order to catch a cab to an incredibly wide array of touch screen-based mini-games and activities. The DS' top screen is used to show the overhead playing field - all detailed in cel-shaded 3D - where the touch screen offers a map, statistics, weapon selections, e-mail access and mission briefing.
While the idea of touch-screen mini-games in a GTA title didn't thrill me, I'm more than happy to report that these asides never felt like tacked-on DS gimmicks, but are well thought out additions to the title. From carefully hot-wiring parked cars to disarming bombs with a swipe of your stylus, the touch-screen integration is rather seamless. Outside of the "mini-games", players can use the touch-screen to program GPS routes to your next destination, select weapons - and my personal favourite - carefully aim and throw Molotov cocktails or grenades. This may sound a bit dull on paper, but when you're hanging from the side of a helicopter, arcing the path of your explosives with careful consideration onto the rival gangs below, there's nothing cooler.
On Top of the World
One of the newest and biggest additions found in Chinatown Wars is the drug trading simulation, which is pretty much a game all in itself. Throughout Liberty City's mean streets you'll find a variety of Dealers, all offering different prices for different drugs depending on your whereabouts. Meeting up with these Dealers, Huang can purchase up to six specific narcotics and carefully sell them to the highest bidder, all depending on gang location and Liberty City's geography. Huang's drug trafficking escapades may seem menial at first, but as you progress you'll find yourself single-handedly affecting the drug flow throughout the entirety of Liberty City - constantly receiving e-mails and hot tips about exclusive buyers and sellers.
Another of Chinatown Wars' big changes is the way you lose pursuing police. And believe me when I say that these aren't the passive police from Grand Theft Auto IV; we're talking an LCPD that'll just as soon mow down a parade of pedestrians if you accidentally scratch their paint job. Instead of simply hiding from the police, Chinatown Wars insists on a more "hands-on" approach to dealing with the fuzz. For each Wanted Level star you get, a small police car icon will appear on your HUD. In order to lose the cops, you're forced to take your pursuers down Burnout-style, forcing them off the road or crashing their vehicles into the side of buildings. For each car you disable, a red "X" will appear over the icon. Take out all of the cops, you clear your Wanted Level. But don't think you can just pull up to a cop car and start spraying lead - you have to be creative in the way you immobilise the law, often times leading to incredibly entertaining high-speed pursuits.
Hit the Streets
While Chinatown Wars certainly suffers from a slightly clunky interface and a relatively silly script, I can't help but recommend it to both hardened criminals and fresh meat alike. This is Grand Theft Auto the way you love it: all of the innovation, charm and thrills from its past installations neatly tied together in a creative package worthy of any DS owner.
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