Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars hit the streets earlier this week, and I was a bit leery like I'm sure a lot of you are. I was like, yeah, GTA on DS could be cool, but come on; it'll probably be like those birds-eye view classic GTA games and be lame. However, after playing the game for only a few minutes, I soon understood that I was happily mistaken. I can easily say that Chinatown Wars has successfully recreated all the fun you had on the console versions, like GTA III – IV, and brought it to the DS.
The story follows the path of Huang Lee, who has come to Liberty City to give a special sword, Yu Jian, to his uncle after his father was killed. Shortly after arriving in Liberty City though, Huang is ambushed, shot, thrown into the river, and left for dead while having his sword taken. Now, he has sworn to find his father's killer, retrieve the sword, and help his uncle become the head of the Triads. There are some fishy characters and every mission you complete puts you step closer to solving the mystery. The story doesn't take itself seriously at all, poking fun at cliches and all sorts of things, and Huang himself is a very sarcastic, apathetic individual, and is a main driver of the comedy and humorous dialogue throughout the game.
The game is very funny, which mostly comes from the dialogue and random things shouted at you as you narrowly miss pedestrians on the street. And if you're a sick individual, you will also find it humorous to burn people alive with your flame thrower or chop people in half with your chainsaw. Good times. Of course, if you haven't found out from previous GTA titles or the big M on the box, this is not a game for kids, no matter how bright and attractive the graphics are. Aside from the obvious killing of people left and right, you have lots of cussing and adult themes and all sorts of things. There is also a large focus put on drug trading, although it's not graphic or anything.
There are hundreds of drug dealers scattered throughout the city, and each will buy and sell some of the six different kinds of drugs, like weed and heroin. Prices vary from dealer to dealer, so you can spend your time scouring the city for low prices and high buy-backs, making a huge profit, and luckily, the game keeps track of all of these stats and can help you know if you're going to make a profit on a sale. This mechanic doesn't directly go along with the story per say, and it's not particularly entertaining, but it's an easy way to make some cash, and you'll spend time tracking down leads from sellers who need to sell some drugs quickly for cheap, or who know of some rich kids in need of a fix.
The top screen is where all the action takes place, while the bottom screen features your GPS, or map, along with your health and other such stats or information. You can tap on the map and then select a drug dealer or other spot to go to and the GPS will set out a route for you. You can even change some options around so the route will appear on the top screen, which can be very useful. The game does have a top-down view which can make seeing where you're going a bit difficult, but you can change some camera angels around to give you a better view and once you get used to it, it isn't a big deal.
The controls are fairly simple, but take a little while to get used to. B is acceleration and run, while Y is brake/reverse and allows you to jump. You can lock on to people or objects with R and then attack with the A button, which all works very well, except you don't always lock on to exactly what you want. The driving is also really simple, although some cars just flat out suck to drive. There is even a driver-assist option if you really suck. And while the DS cart is somewhat limiting, there are still plenty of different vehicles to drive around in, including a multitude of regular cars you've grown to love, a tank, motorcycles, boats, and all kinds of fun stuff. There are also a lot of guns to have fun with, from pistols, SMG's, RPG's, a chainsaw, grenades, and more implements of destruction.
Of course, when you use these weapons, the cops are going to be all over you, especially if you're rollin' in a tank. Chinatown Wars does things a little different though when it comes to lowering your wanted level. Instead of just running away and staying out of trouble, you actually have to take out the cops to lower your rating. For instance, if you have a two star rating, you have to disable two cop cars to lower your rating to one; then you have to disable one car, and then you can hide. And when I say disable, I don't mean blow them to hell. You have to disable the cars by ramming them into buildings or other such means, but not blowing them up or destroying them. If you completely destroy the cop cars, then your rating will go up. This new mechanic is pretty cool actually and works well, and is more fun then just running away.
Naturally, no DS game gets away with not introducing some “gimmicky” gameplay by using the touch screen, and Chinatown Wars is no exception. The game uses the touch screen for some “mini-games,” such as hot-wiring cars, searching dumpsters for items, making molotovs, making tattoos, and more. Luckily, all of these things are simple and generally not done very often, so it doesn't feel overused or forced. It all works quite well.
The game itself plays out like any other GTA game of recent years. You can go around, exploring the city at your leisure, buying and selling drugs, or do the missions. There are 60 missions to complete, which will take you around 5 hours to do, if you go straight through it, but Chinatown Wars offers plenty more. When I beat the story mode, I only had 50% completion. Aside from the story missions, there are 100 cameras scattered throughout Liberty City to destroy; rampages to complete, which are rated from bronze to gold; stunt jumps; races; taxi, fire truck, ambulance, and vigilante missions to perform; random people to help out; and more. Chinatown Wars isn't some watered down GTA game, as it features just about everything from the console games.
There is even multiplayer, except eh. The multiplayer offered is only for two players, and is restricted to local play. This is mainly unfortunate because there are a lot of cool modes to play, such as races; stash dash, where you try to get a ton of drugs; Liberty City survivor, where you try to kill a bunch of people; gang bang; and defend the base, which is co-op and just sounds awesome. There is some WiFi mode, but you can only swap items and send each other messages, more or less, which is very disappointing.
Overall, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a great addition to the series and a fantastic game for the Nintendo DS. The game has everything you've come to love and expect from a GTA experience, with a decent story, missions, free roaming, hidden items, lots of weapons, ability to massacre everyone, and all kinds of things, like taxi missions and vigilante mode. The game has been hyped plenty and given high scores on other sites, and I would have to say the credit is deserved. Chinatown Wars is definitely a top game on the DS and one of the best 3rd party efforts I've seen for the handheld.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
Posted in collaboration with Gamers Platform