Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review
No matter how you feel about the Grand Theft Auto games, you have to give Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars credit for what the game's been able to accomplish within the tight constraints of the DS system. Rockstar has managed to take the series' signature open-world gameplay and squeezed it onto the DS with a minimum amount of sacrifice. The graphics, gameplay, and sheer volume of things to do in the game are all remarkable, and Chinatown Wars is one of the most impressive games available on the system, if not the best DS game to date.
Before I get into the particulars of the game I need to start with a warning: Chinatown Wars thoroughly deserves its M rating, and parents are well-advised to keep this game out of the hands of children. The language, violence, crime, and drugs in the game make it unfit for kids, and even adults may have a hard time playing a game in which your primary method of making money is dealing illegal drugs. Crime, violence, and drugs are central to the game – you've been warned, now let's move on.
In Chinatown Wars you play Huang Lee, who comes to Liberty City from Hong Kong to avenge the death of his crime boss father and deliver a valuable samurai sword to his uncle. The death of the elder Lee has led to a power struggle among the Triad gangs, with Huang's uncle desperately trying to regain control over the situation. The uncle was hoping to use the sword to buy the loyalty of other factions, but on Huang's arrival to Liberty City he's jumped, has the sword stolen, and is left for dead. That's where you take over, serving your uncle to restore your family's honor, end the gang war, recover your sword, and avenge your father.
Chinatown Wars follows the same gameplay model as its console cousins. You advance the story by completing missions, but you can initiate these missions at your leisure. When you're not completing a story mission there's always plenty to do. You can hijack cabs, police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and delivery vans, and initiate missions related to the type of vehicle you've taken. You can also look for a variety of missions hidden around the city such as rampages (timed killing sprees) and street races, look for hidden jumps, or try to find and takeout the security cameras placed around the city. You can generate extra income by buying and selling drugs among the dealers that make up Liberty City's drug network. Or you can just explore the city – which is impressively large – seeing the sights and hijacking the occasional car or mugging the random passerby. Like all Grand Theft Auto games, Chinatown Wars tracks your progress in a number of statistical categories, from your progress through all of the various types of missions available to how many game secrets you've uncovered, and even how far you've walked, driven, and swum. Game completists will find that Chinatown Wars will keep them occupied for a long time, and even those who don't feel compelled to complete 100% of the game will have plenty to do once the story missions are all completed.
Chinatown Wars does a great job of making everything to do in the game easy to track and control. The centerpiece of the game's interface is your PDA, a versatile device that receives emails that contain everything from missions to drug tips (and even some spam), allows you to view a city map and set GPS waypoints to your destinations, and even order weapons from Ammu-Nation over the internet. The PDA is entirely controlled through the touch screen, making everything intuitive and easy to access. The game also does a great job of streamlining things for you through the PDA. For example, if you receive a tip via email, there will be a link that will let you instantly create a GPS waypoint and path to the location mentioned in the email. The touch screen is used for more than your PDA and mini map, though. It's used to provide easy access to a number of in-game controls such as switching weapons or changing the radio station (yes, Chinatown Wars comes with a selection of radio stations that you can listen to while driving, albeit all the songs are strictly instrumental). There are also a number of touch screen mini games tied into the game itself. For example, to steal a parked car you may have to jimmy the ignition switch with a screwdriver or hotwire the ignition. I also liked the addition of lottery scratchers to the game – pop into a convenience store, buy a scratcher, and then try your luck at matching symbols and winning a prize. There are times when the reliance on the touch screen gets a little in the way, like when you're in the middle of a fight and don't have a free finger to send down to the touch screen but for the most part it is put to very good use, being integral to the gameplay without being gimmicky. The rest of the controls work nicely, and everything from driving cars to firing weapons is easy to control.