REVIEWS -- Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars -- DS
One of the finest titles on the DS
by Peter Fiorilla
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
Slick presentation, finely tuned gameplay, loads of missions and fun mini-games make this GTA an incredible piece of software, portable or not
Less than a year after Grand Theft Auto IV‘s monumental release, fans of Liberty City have yet another entry in the series to sink their teeth into; and while it isn’t as large or beautiful as other games in the series, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a legendary portable title that has obliterated nearly all preconceptions of the limitations of the DS. Not only has Leeds proven mastery over the hardware, they’ve proven mastery of how to make a compelling experience.
Leeds pulls off a masterful transition to DS
Chinatown Wars tells the tale of a Chinese gang war, which manages to be wacky yet somber simultaneously. Huang Lee’s father is murdered, and it is his job to deliver an ancient sword to his Uncle to garner favor from Chinese gangs. Upon landing in the United States, Lee is jumped and left for dead in Liberty City’s port. He now sets out on a mission to do whatever he can in order to gain as much of his father’s power back from the psychopaths in charge of the Chinese gang Triads.
Bizarre characters and even odder dialogue try to mask the lack of voice acting and cinematic storytelling, and the approach is a success -- Chinatown Wars‘ script is entertaining, although a few of the one-liners are hit or miss. Leeds’ writers are not on par with, say, the Ace Attorney localization team, but compared to most other games in the system’s library the narrative is quite good. There are some serious moments that stand out in a crowd of inane dialogue and characters (inane in a good way), but for the most part the peculiar narrative fits the DS’ fatuous image well.
Series appeal largely rests on the incredible scope and wonderful sandbox design, both of which have received a masterful translation to DS.
Nearly all of Liberty City was squeezed onto a cartridge, with an incredible level of detail crammed into each distinctive environment and a comic book art style that fits the goofy narrative. Excellent physics and sound design aid in immersing the player, as well as a decent soundtrack with five different radio stations available. The isometric perspective gives the player a good view of the action and makes outrunning the cops especially enjoyable -- flying along Liberty City in a Sabre GT with police vans, patrol cars and helicopters blasting after you is an exhilarating feeling.
Chinatown Wars‘ single player experience is compelling and boasts an impressive level of variety rarely seen in action titles these days. Some missions utilize the DS’ unique hardware in riveting ways, producing an experience only the Nintendo’s handheld could provide. You’ll be shooting down rival gangs, winning races, protecting hospital patients from heart failure and more, all the while completing enjoyable mini-games on the bottom screen. Despite the enormous waves of skepticism surrounding Leeds’ decision to include mini-games (often associated with casual shovelware) in a Grand Theft Auto game, they work very well for the most part.
A giant playground in the palm of your hand
Chinatown Wars also boasts a “pharmaceutical”-oriented economy. Players can still massacre gangs, complete missions, etc., for cash, but the most efficient method of earning dough is by trading drugs. Drug dealers are scattered around the city; desperate drug traffickers will pay more for drugs than your average junkie, so buying from the well-stocked and selling to the poor (in spirit) nets players a ton of money. It is a nice addition to an already fantastic game.
In fact, Chinatown Wars‘ design is so incredible that there’s far too much to do and see in a mere 10-20 hours. The story mode doesn’t last very long (although you can go back and complete your favorite missions at any time you choose), but the enormous world, wide variety of vehicles and weapons, and choice of game options ensures Chinatown Wars will last players a long, long time. It literally feels like a giant playground in the palm of your hand -- who wouldn’t want to take advantage of such a treat?
The cop AI is noticeably lenient, which is a good or bad thing depending on your taste -- crashing into cars or bumping a cop never gets them riled enough to initiate a chase. They will notice if you are in the process of grand theft auto, crash into them hard, are in the middle of a drug deal or are killing pedestrians/gangs. If they notice too much, in fact, there will be cops on every street corner in Liberty City with vans, choppers, barricades, etc. Fortunately, the method of lowering your wanted level (obliterating cop cars by making them crash) is nothing short of fantastic.
The sexy presentation is yet another stunning victory for Leeds. The PDA (START) is home to a wealth of options, including many different gameplay options and settings to customize the experience and mold it around the player’s personal preferences. There’s also a helpful brightness setting to help out players who may be playing on an original DS, which does not have the same advantages as the DS Lite. Chinatown Wars also has auto-saving, a rare occurrence on the platform.
Every aspect in the entire package works so harmoniously and is so finely tuned that, frankly, it is overwhelming to attempt to describe it in words. All you need know is that Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is an incredibly piece of software, portable or not. This will not only be one of the year’s best, but one of the finest titles on the DS.
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Release Date: March 17, 2009
Review Date: 29-04-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: Multiplayer
Notes: Wi-Fi, Content Sharing
An incredible amount of detail was crammed into each distinctive environment, and the comic-book art style fits the goofy narrative like a charm.
Intuitive controls, a variety of mission objectives and numerous leaps forward for the series ensure players will be hooked by Rockstar’s latest.
The PDA works very well and the comic-book approach to narrative is a success. A plethora of customization options are a great boon to the overall package.
Five radio stations with high quality tunes you’ll be humming along to for a week. A bit underwhelming compared to other GTA’s, but by any other standard good stuff.
Chinatown Wars’ story mode lasts 8-10 hours, but Liberty City has dozens of hours of enjoyment in it. Multiplayer is strictly local, unfortunately.