I think I need to keep up to date more. While I knew of the existence of Chinatown Wars, I didn’t actually know the release date for it until the day before it came out.
Anyway, Grand Theft Auto : Chinatown Wars marks the 10th game in the GTA franchise, a series which stretches all the way back to 1997. This new incarnation was developed by Rockstar Leeds, who previously worked on the Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories games.
The game takes place in the Liberty City of GTA IV (minus Alderney) with some of the routes familiar if you’ve played that game. Chinatown Wars sees you play as 25 year old rich kid Huang Lee. He is returning to his home town of Liberty City to deliver the family heirloom, the sword ‘Yu-Jian’, to his uncle, Wu ‘Kenny’ Lee. The sword was won by Huang’s father in a card game, and he was assassinated shortly after giving the sword to his son to take to Liberty City. However, upon arriving in Liberty City, Huang is ambushed and the sword is stolen, so now Huang has to get it back.
The first thing to strike you about Chinatown Wars is the superb graphic style. The pre-mission conversations are done like a comic book, with pictures of the characters and the dialogue underneath. When you are actually playing the game, the graphics are cel-shaded with black outlines. Rather than being a fixed top down view or being 3rd person like previous games, the camera is at top down, but with a slight angle, and it is also fully rotatable.
Chinatown Wars contains familiar elements from GTA, like Pay N’ Spray, stunt jumps, service side missions (Police, Taxi etc) There are several new elements to this game. First, and most important of all, is the PDA. This is always on the touch screen and contains everything you need to get going. Most of the time, this will have your map and GPS on the left hand side, and your weapons on the right hand side. If you tap on the map, it will bring up a list of points of interest, be they missions, drug dealers (more on that later), safehouses etc. Simply pick out where you want to go on the list, and you will get a line on your GPS showing you where to go to get to your destination, a la GTA IV.
The button controls are pretty straight forward and easy to get used to. There is also a lot of use made of the touch screen as well. Rather than cycle through weapons, you tap your weapon on the touch screen and it brings a box up with all the weapons available at the moment. Just pick what you want and off you go. Things like grenades and Molotov cocktails are handled differently. You have to tap on the grenade and then move the stylus in the direction you want to throw it, at which point you will notice a line appear by your character in the top screen, showing the path that your projectile will take. Simply take the stylus off the touch screen and you will throw it where the line indicates. It can take quite a lot of getting used to.
There are many great uses of the touch screen in the game. Things such as disabling security systems on parked cars to steal them, hacking into security systems to access restricted areas, assembling sniper rifles and cutting the doors off hijacked weapons trucks all use the touch screen well and feel very natural.
In previous GTA games, if you wanted to escape the police, you had to get out of their ‘wanted zone’ and stay out of site. Chinatown Wars gives you another way to escape the police. When you get a wanted level, a number of car icons appear under your stars as well. You can reduce your wanted level by taking out police cars, with the number of car icons representing the number of police cars you have to take out to reduce your wanted level. The more stars you have, the more police cars you have to take out. It makes police chases a lot of fun.
Old school GTA players will be delighted to learn that some features from older GTA games have been introduced. There is the return of having to buy safehouses, as well of the welcome return of one of my favourite elements from games gone by, the Rampage! That’s right, folks, it’s back! Now you can earn medals depending on the score you get on the rampage. Plus, once you find one, it will be added to your GPS so you can go back and do them whenever you feel like. Good times!
The soundtrack is good and works well, with an obvious oriental edge to the whole thing. There are some radio stations as well, although obviously, due to the limitations of the DS, there are no real songs as such. There’s just different styles of music. But they are really great to drive along to.
One of the biggest – and most controversial – additions to the game is the previously mentioned drug dealer side missions. Huang carries a bag on him which he can use to stash 6 types of drugs. When you find a dealer, they will be added to your PDA. From time to time, you get e-mails letting you know about people who want to offload some drugs cheaply, or others who are willing to buy them for a high price. It’s a really (pardon the term) addictive part of the game, and it’s possible to make a huge amount of money once you know what you’re doing.
The main missions themselves are fun to play. There are the standard ‘Go to this place’ and ‘kill this guy missions’, as well as missions that involve things such as fighting through a rival gang while cars explode around you, or breaking into a secured area and doing some sniping. And sometimes you have to do some side tasks before you will be allowed to do more story missions. The plot is interesting, with a lot of twists and turns as you would probably expect from the series by now. You never know who’s going to turn out to be trustworthy or not.
Overall, there’s a lot packed into this little DS cartridge. There are admittedly a couple of issues with it. Some of the things you use the touch screen for feel a bit needless, such as the toll booth, which was a constant source of annoyance for me. I could count the number of times I passed through there without alerting the police on my fingers. Also, you can snap the camera behind you when on foot, but not while driving, which seems a bit odd. Also, there is no online multiplayer with this, only local. Although admittedly I haven’t had the opportunity to play any multiplayer at all.
But the fact is, if you own a DS (and you are old enough, of course) you really should pick this game up. It’s the best game to come out for the DS for a while, and is a excellent addition to a fantastic franchise. I’ve also had a lot more fun and enjoyment out of this game than – dare I say it – GTA IV.