Namreh Avatar Posted on 3/26/2009 by Namreh
Games
Reviews
Rockstar returns Grand Theft Auto to its roots with the incredibly ambitious and full-featured Chinatown Wars.

Rockstar did a lot of things right with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, losing very little in shrinking it to fit the DS, and in some cases gaining wonderful new features. The excellent use of touch-screen functionality and side-missions were great, but what I really enjoyed most was the transition and feeling of a classic GTA game from years past. The carefree nature and nonsensical storylines of the past have thankfully returned, and what it may lack in modern technology is more than made up for in gameplay and style. I’m not afraid to say that I actually enjoyed this game more than GTAIV, and I suspect I'm not alone. Make no mistake, this is a true GTA to its core and incredible fun throughout. Definitely recommended.
Release: March 17, 2009
Rating: M
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Written by Herman Exum (associate editor)

There's little doubt that Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto franchise has matured greatly over the years, with each new chapter pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling (and good taste), and has become one of gaming's most respected series.  But for some, this growth has come at the expense of many of the series most incredible moments, namely the almost cartoonish buffoonery and tongue-in-cheek nature that always reminded us this was just a game.  That's not to say I haven't enjoyed my grittier, more realistic romps through the dirty streets of Liberty City, but its with a certain spring in my step and joy in my heart that the developers have seen fit to return these very traits with the debut of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS.

True to its title, Chinatown Wars revolves around Huang Lee, a spoiled rich kid who arrives in Liberty City after hearing the news of his father’s death. His business though has less to do with mourning and more with maintaining favor within the triads by delivering a family heirloom – the Yu Jian Sword – to his uncle.  This being a Grand Theft Auto title, things never happens as planned and its not long before Huang is shot, robbed, and forced to take a swim just moments after leaving the plane. Of course the task of reclaiming the Yu Jian and getting some good old-fashioned revenge is the basis of this latest chapter in gaming's most notorious franchise, and earning respect among gangs by stealing cars, racketeering, and drug distribution just name a few things you’ll be doing it all on these fine streets of Liberty City.  Welcome home!

While the naysayers and torch-wielding critics might disagree, the real star of the Grand Theft Auto franchise has never been the gratuitous violence, prostitutes, or any number of the scandal-raising issues you might have read about.  It's all about the finely-tuned gameplay and mechanics, many of which GTA helped originate and perfect over the years and its this core that helps make Chinatown Wars such a smashing success.  Fears of a lesser game are largely unfounded, as nearly everything that has made previous chapters so enjoyable (and in some cases, more so) has been retained in this Nintendo DS portable rampage, minus the theatrical cinemas and vocals.  There are still plenty of cars to hijack, missions to accept, and of course the same rotten-to-the core goodness that drives fans wild.  The package may be small, but it packs one hell of a powerful punch.

The gameplay is a great mix of classic meeting innovation, and the ambitious Triad-laced plot is served well by the sometimes hilarious comicbook-style storytelling.  The classic birds-eye perspective makes a glorious comeback, and the over-the-top mechanics fit nicely with a detailed Liberty City, and includes some truly impressive cel-shaded visuals that are some of the best ever seen on the platform.  A big addition to GTA is the use of the touch-screen, which truly does take advantage of the Nintendo DS, and depending on the task you’ll typically be hot-wiring potential vehicles, or trying to disarm a bomb. Aside from using your trusty stylus the simpler features will have you using the bottom screen as a nifty PDA device that has route-mapping GPS and email, or even as a way to carefully aim and/or throw grenades or Molotov cocktails.

The most surprising aspect of all is how easy and seamless the whole experience quickly feels, and I'm curious how much of what Rockstar implemented here will make its way into the next home-console iteration.

Certainly the most controversial element of the game, drug trading is another involving feature of Chinatown Wars that is practically a game within itself, putting the complexities of narcotic distribution right in the palm of your hands. A number of dealers are spread throughout Liberty City, each offering different prices for their illegal wares (including heroin and cocaine) and rates will depend on location.  You'll have to carefully choose when to sell to the highest bidder, and more often than not you'll need to make good use of this resource to further mission chapters and obtain better inventories.  You’ll even get tip-offs about exclusive buyers and sellers, which probably makes this the most outrageous mini-game the DS has ever seen.

Occasionally your deal will get busted by the fuzz, and I was surprised to see how aggressive their pursuit was this time around (especially given how lackluster they seemed in GTAIV).  Even accidently trading paint with their cars will set the LCPD on your tail, and hiding is no longer enough to lower your wanted level (designated once again by onscreen stars), and you'll often have to force them off the road or crash their vehicles to keep your progress on the down low.  I mention these speedy chases at length only because they helped remind me of how carefree and joyfully reckless this franchise once was, and while I can appreciate the subtle nuance and emotional storytelling of recent chapters, I still do love a good cop chase now and again.

Another element that should please hardcore GTA fans is the use of WiFi and multiplayer, although not for reasons you might expect.  There is no WiFi online multiplayer, and if you're itching for some friendly rampage action, you'll have to bring along a friend with another DS and copy of the game.  WiFi is used for stat-keeping and linking to Rockstar's Social Club, as well as activating some of the unlocked missions throughout.  I wasn't able to try out either, but given the developer's penchant for quality (and how well multiplayer was for GTA4), I can only imagine its a quality deal.

Rockstar did a lot of things right with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, losing very little in shrinking it to fit the DS, and in some cases gaining wonderful new features.  The excellent use of touch-screen functionality and side-missions were great, but what I really enjoyed most was the transition and feeling of a classic GTA game from years past.  The carefree nature and nonsensical storylines of the past have thankfully returned, and what it may lack in modern technology is more than made up for in gameplay and style.  I’m not afraid to say that I actually enjoyed this game more than GTAIV, and I suspect I'm not alone. Make no mistake, this is a true GTA to its core and incredible fun throughout.  Definitely recommended.







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