Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review
Let's be honest with each other - the first Grand Theft Auto was a terrible, terrible game. Even on the PS1, the presentation was terrible, the controls were inoperable and the mayhem one could commit - killing police officers, crashing cars and killing hookers - was the game's only real draw and memorable quality. Eventually GTA3 hit the PS2 and cemented the series in the video game history books, but neither that game, nor the critically lauded sequels, ever managed to win me over. The first GTA game I ever found myself actually enjoying was GTA: Chinatown Wars on the DS. The top down view, similar to the absolutely awful original GTA, worked much better when the goals were clear and the controls, you know, actually CONTROLLED the game. Now that title has been polished up and ported over to Sony's PSP, and the result is a similar, though somehow slightly less novel, ticket to ride in the streets of Liberty City.
If you played through the DS version of this title, there isn't much to draw you in to play through a second time. If not, then you're in for a treat. This spin-off of the series follows Huang Lee, a typical "tough guy" who comes to Liberty City after his gangster father's death. At first, his only goal is to retrieve a lost sword, one that has been in his family for some time. His priorities quickly shift to running drugs, recruiting gang members and generally being a gopher for Liberty City's various crime kingpins, big and small time alike. In typical GTA fashion, you can not only complete the game's missions, you can also take on all sorts of side responsibilities - everything from picking up fares in taxis to driving an ambulance to practicing your skills at giving tattoos. All this stuff comes together to make a game that, if nothing else, gives players a TON of stuff to do.
A lot of those side tasks - the ones that are paired with mini games, anyway - end up hurting this version's overall score, though. It becomes abundantly clear after one or two of these that this game was designed for the touch screen-enabled Nintendo DS, and since these little actions are liberally peppered throughout the entire game, I often wondered if the graphical update in this version was an even trade for some awkward moments. For example, hot wiring cars in the DS version was accomplished by using the stylus to connect and twist the connections below the steering wheel. Get it right and the car started. In the PSP version, the task is the same, but it is done with the analog nub, the L and R triggers and X button. It just doesn't hold the same magic and can often get tedious, feeling more like a chore. A personal favorite on the DS was the ability to use the stylus to tattoo people (at first it's part of a mission, it can be repeated later for extra money). In this version, the tattooing is mapped to a series of God of War-style analog inputs, and it is nowhere near as entertaining. I'm hoping, touch screen or not, these actions find their way into the next console GTA; I could see Rockstar getting very creative with how they were implemented.
Don't get me wrong; the PSP does have some advantages over the DS original, with the most noticeable being the presentation. Instead of the DS' almost cel-shaded look, this version more closely mirrors the style of the various 3D GTA games. For whatever reason, though, the static pictures that tell the story remain, rather than the 3D cut scenes we've seen in other PSP GTA adventures. The series' trademark dialogue also remains in text form, rather than being delivered by a voiceover. Before I even got into the game, I assumed that Rockstar would add both these things. They didn't, and it is a missed opportunity in making this version the one to own.