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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

KevinS By:
GENRE Action 
PUBLISHER Rockstar Games 
DEVELOPER Rockstar Leeds 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Pops a cap into the competition.

In the original top-down view reminiscent of the classic PS1 titles, Grand Theft Auto has finally once again graced a handheld... and this time, it's an all new adventure filled with an enormous city, a new main character that's worth paying attention to, and a theme that fits perfectly into a portable platform. It is truly GTA done right.

click to enlargePlus, seriously, any game that can make a mission about getting someone to a porno theater for “try-outs” deserves a mark or two for originality. Especially when the entire mission has the limo you're driving rockin' like no one should be knockin'.

GTA: Chinatown Wars is the life and crimes of Huang Lee, a new immigrant to the world of Liberty City, who really isn't prepared for his welcome of being shot and dumped into the river. And, on top of it, a family “heirloom” is stolen in the process. So what happens when somebody steals something from you in Liberty City? Why, steal it back of course, and with as high a body count as deemed necessary!

The open world of GTA leads to many different ways of “playing through” this game, which leads to more and more of an interesting, “endless” experience. Throughout the game are plenty of missions, each with unique objectives that I originally thought couldn't truly be done on such a small scale, and all are challenging without being frustrating. Each head-honcho in the game wants you working for their side, and each one has a well-defined personality to go along with their objectives – YOUR objectives – and they are willing to pay for your services.

But what if you don't want to deal with other people's business? Then start working for yourself in the drug trade. Six different drugs are for sale throughout the city, sold from 80 different dealers scattered around each territory, and each of them have a personality to go along with their stash. If you really want to break the bank, you sure can, and there are houses, cars and ammunition you can buy to do just that.

click to enlargeLiberty City is an awesome thing to behold on the DS screens. People walk in and out of buildings, they get into fights, they even kill each other as you traverse the steel and asphalt jungle. From police officers to pedestrians and local gang members, everybody is walking the busy streets at all times (though there is a distinct drop in foot traffic as day turns to night).

Each person, car and building on-screen is also in full 3D, which is hard to believe until the camera zooms to the side and shows you right before a mission begins. Yet it's all very clean and crisp in a way that should not be possible on the DS. The whole thing has a true-to-life gritty noir feeling, and with the comic book panels moving the story along it's made to come to life.

That's not to say it's necessarily perfect. The driving is very basic, and even after hours of play it still feels odd driving/backing up with the Y and B buttons instead of using B and A. It might sound like a small gripe, but when it's a mechanic that's used throughout the game, it starts to stand out. Also, while there is voice acting used throughout the game, it's relegated to the sounds of people screaming as they run away from me (why, what'd I do? I just used a nightstick...) and yell for taxis; none of it is used for the  dialog.

click to enlargeThe stylus based PDA  for just about everything else works fine, as does as the mini-games of hot-wiring a car, but having things pop up automatically would actually be more useful. Say, if I receive an “important” e-mail while I'm driving so I don't have to worry about directing my vehicle into a wall.

And Rockstar, what's with the absence of “utilizing” hookers? I could use a health boost every now and again, and why grab health packs when I could invite in a lady-of-the-evening?

From the moment I picked this game up, the voices of people criticizing it popped into my head... “This is horrible!” “This is wrong because it's so violent!” And after having played it, I realize what they're talking about, and yet I know that I haven't played a game that is so finely tuned in ages. The overwhelming love for this franchise by the dev team is obvious. Too many people are offended by this series' content to find out just how great it is. I was originally hoping to find a game I could beat up like a rival gang member, but I can see instead that we're all on the same side here.
A- Revolution report card
  • Characters have personality
  • Dialog is well-written
  • Some bizarre and hilarious missions
  • PDA usage is easy and intuitive
  • Huang Lee is easy to like
  • Drug-dealing system WELL implemented
  • Graphically perfect for the DS
  • Driving hasn\'t evolved since PS1

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Also known as: GTA Chinatown Wars

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