Grand Theft Auto – Chinatown Wars

Nintendo DS

Name

Granted, we’re a little GTA’ed-out here in the PCW bunkers at the moment, but that didn’t stop us from reviewing the DS version of the game. It might look and feel a bit like a throwback to the first two games in the franchise, but GTA Chinatown performs in a big way despite its small format.

You take the role of Huang Lee, a spoiled but likable character, returning home to Liberty City to deliver a family heirloom that will cement his family’s position at the top of the gangster food chain. Obviously, things don’t exactly go to plan, and you’re quickly thrown into the violent and drug-fuelled underworld of Liberty City. The mission and side-mission structures will be familiar to anyone who’s played any of the GTA games, but it’s in the execution that GTA Chinatown shines.

The gist of the control scheme works like this; you control your character on the top screen, via a top-down view similar to the original GTA games. Using the D-pad, you control movement and fighting, while the stylus comes into play in mini-games, and to sort through your ever-important GPS and PDA. One example is when you jack a parked car; you have to play a mini-game on the lower screen that involves, for example, sticking a screwdriver into the ignition using the stylus. Controls feel natural and the stylus sections are both intuitive and fun. You can even hail cabs by whistling into the DS microphone.

While the graphics of GTA Chinatown look ancient compared to its next-gen cousins, Rockstar has managed to reproduce the Liberty City we all know, and anyone who’s played GTA IV will instantly recognise landmarks and environment. The developers have done a brilliant job in removing load times and producing a surprisingly good-looking game. Despite the top-down look, there are huge amounts of character detail, a decent weather system and day and night cycle. One drawback is having the GPS on the lower screen; combined with the top-down look it’s hard to see what’s just up the road when you’re speeding away from Liberty City’s rather aggressive cops. You better get used to being arrested a fair bit more than in the other games.

The story and its missions are well thought out, with good (i.e. not too long) cut scenes. However, I found myself absolutely addicted to some of the side missions – trading drugs in the classic demand and supply way is the best way to earn cash in the game. A mission might pay out $500, while a well-timed heroin deal could score you over $15,000. The game also packs in five GTA radio stations, which is impressive considered its size and platform.

Overall, GTA Chinatown is the best game I’ve ever played on the DS (or DSi, read my review on page 22). Having access to Liberty City in your pocket is brilliant; just turn the sound off when you’re on the bus. I love the throwback to the original top-down gameplay, mixed with the experience of the more modern GTA games. If you’re contemplating buying a DSi, This game alone almost makes it worth it.

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Jan Birkeland

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