Through intuitive use of the touch screen, GTA: Chinatown Wars offers the fast paced action, open-world exploration, and a merciless anti-hero that Grand Theft Auto is so well known for, all right in the palms of your hands. Yet, can it compete with its predecessors’ compelling story and ruthless criminal gameplay that has made the series so popular?Yes. Emphatically and definitely, yes. Long have I awaited for a game of this stature to grace any handheld; a game that not only provides the portable fun factor of keeping your mind distracted as you’re on a long trip, but when that commute is done, you flop down on the couch and continue to play and before you know it, it’s the ass-crack of dawn. Now, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is not perfect (although it is oh-so-very-close), as the single cartridge and the Nintendo DS hardware are just simply incapable of reproducing everything that the GTA series has been known for (even though the cartridge bolsters over 900,000 lines of code). However, for whatever is not included from the main series, Chinatown Wars makes up for it with intuitive use of the DS’ touch screen and Rockstar’s unbelievable creativity.
As you begin your adventure once again in Liberty City (the same city from GTA IV, with the absence of Alderney), you’ll notice the first, most startling change; the game veers away from the traditional ground level view that GTA fans have become accustomed to and re-adopts a fully rotating top-down display, much like the original two games that first appeared on the PC, Playstation, and the Dreamcast. This top down perspective works extraordinarily well for the DS’s lack of graphical ability and the generally small dual screens, as well as supplementing the comic-esque, cell shaded graphics. This comic book style is relatively present throughout the entire game, as cut scenes are conducted in panel-like stills of characters talking, with no voice acting present. Yet, Rockstar is successful in relaying the plot without voice-overs, implementing ridiculous, over-the-top dialogue that will have you chuckling to yourself like a village idiot throughout the entire game.
Throwing the main protagonist, Huang, right into the middle of – for the lack of a better word – a shitshow, the story explodes right from the get-go. Charged with delivering the “sacred” sword Yu Jian to the new figurehead of the family, Uncle Kenny, after the murder of his father, Huang arrives at the Liberty City airport to watch his escorts assassinated, the sword stolen, and ends up shot and left for dead in the nearby harbor. With the sword lost, Kenny is dishonored among the Triads, and with Huang’s help, must rebuild his former honor while searching for Yu Jian among the streets of Liberty City.
Much like previous installments, as you travel the boroughs of Broker, Dukes, Algonquin, and Bohan you’ll receive missions from an array of quirky characters ranging from cross-dressing Italian mobsters, bisexual Triad bosses, and heroin-addicted undercover cops. Missions vary to a certain degree; you’ll steal cars, steal boats, steal guns, steal drugs, kill Guidos mobsters, kill Triads, kill Koreans, and kill federal and local law enforcement. Though how you’ll go about these tasks differs, many of the mission goals are very similar; kill, steal, or follow/track, and this is my one and only gripe with the game. Going about these missions, if you’ve played any of the ground perspective titles, will feel very familiar, as the control scheme mimics its predecessors almost “to a tee,” including both an auto-aim drive-by and normal targeting system.
Yet, Chinatown Wars does not simply rely on time-tested features that have been successful for nearly ten years. A plethora of well-connected minigames exist throughout the game, solely utilizing the touch-screen. As you break into parked cars, you may need to jimmy the lock with a screwdriver, or you’ll need to build your sniper rifle so you can decimate your enemy’s face from a far distance. Many missions require similar touch-screen minigames, however, they are intuitively used to compliment GTA’s style of play and never feel tacked on or gimmicky.
You’ll quickly notice that if you’re not running, shooting, or driving, you’ll extensively be using the touch screen, otherwise known as the in-game PDA. There are no more phone calls, rather, they are replaced by your in game PDA email system, which can also be accessed at any one of your many safehouses. A GPS is also included, allowing you to look up points of interest in a flash. And if you plan on constructing a decent drug cartel, you and your GPS will be BFF!
Speaking of drugs, the newest and most notable addition to GTA: Chinatown Wars; drug dealing, will make you very rich very quickly, if you happen to know the basics of supply and demand. Using the PDA, you’ll be able to scour Liberty City looking for the best prices to buy and sell drugs, based on which criminal organization’s turf you’re buying and selling on. The GPS allows you to quickly look up any dealer that you’ve dealt with before, allowing you to efficiently move large amounts of product.
If you need a buy a large amount of weed, you’ll want to go see the Jamaicans. However, selling this weed to turn a profit may prove a little more difficult; you’ll want to sniff out a different organization, for each group is always looking to buy a certain drug and always has one certain drug for sale. You’ll notice unmarked vans traveling on the streets that can be stolen and searched for product (another touch-screen minigame), giving you the best opportunity to turn a profit. But, just like in real life, the more hardcore the drug, the more money you stand to make and can spend on guns, hookers or both.
Instead of visiting Ammunation shops in designated parts of the city to buy weapons and ammo, you’ll receive packages straight to your doorstep with the new “online” shopping that is offered in-game. You may hijack an Ammunation delivery truck to add to your weapons cache, however only the weakest weapons are available when the Ammunation service is unlocked, but as you progress the story, you’ll find that you can buy anything from a flamethrower to body armor to a personal taser to your classic fully automatic carbine rifle, which will require serious use as your crimes attract the attention of Liberty City’s finest.
The police, unlike other GTA games, are much more hard working and will pursue you almost endlessly, even if you end up just trading a little paint. Security cameras lurk around many corners, busting up your major drug deals and giving you an instant 2-star wanted level. However, you can destroy these cameras to in order to keep you safer from the fuzz, and much like collecting “secret packages” in previous GTA installments, you’ll want to destroy 100 of them to get that 100% completion rating.
In order to reduce the amount of police tailing you, you can do one of two things: find a Paint n’ Spray or take out the cars chasing you one by one, effectively lowering your wanted level after you clear the corresponding number of police. For example, if your wanted level is at 5-stars, you’ll need to destroy five cop cars to drop it to 4-stars, than take out four cars to drop it to 3-stars, and so on.
Overall, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars offers an unforgettable experience that is a must-own for anyone that has a DS, casual and hardcore gamers alike. Where the DS lacks in graphical and storage ability, Chinatown Wars makes up for it with a very slick touch-screen HUD, laugh-out-loud cutscenes, exhilarating, non-stop criminal action, and bolsters an intriguing story that can last 12-15 hours. With the addition of well placed and equally well designed minigames throughout the adventure. GTA: Chinatown Wars is everything I could possibly desire in both a Grand Theft Auto and Nintendo DS title.
Although not living up to previous GTA graphical standards, Rockstar Leeds works wonders with their slick HUD, cell-shaded comic book-esque graphics, and hilarious cutscenes that provide for a truly engrossing experience
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Playing like previous installments, Chinatown Wars not only utilizes time-tested mechanics, but introduces many intriguing elements that make full use out of the DS’ touch-screen. While the missions vary to a certain degree, some of the goals are very similar.
Although no voice-acting is included, the radio stations carry some interesting instrumentals.
The story itself is around 12 to 15 hours. However, if you plan on reaching 100% completion, you’ll easily clock in 30 hours.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is by far the most entertaining, intuitive, and exhilarating game out now for the Nintendo DS. Stop wasting time and go buy it TODAY.