Review by horror_spooky
"My jaw dropped"
Grand Theft Auto is a series that has never disappointed me. Back on the days of the PlayStation, the series impressed me with its addictive and simple gameplay, and when the PlayStation 2 hit, I was absolutely floored with the amazing game that is Grand Theft Auto III. This success continued when the series were home to two of the best games of all time, Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. While the series has made a few entries into the handheld market on the PSP and the Game Boy Advance, this is the first time GTA has appeared on the DS and hopefully it isn't the last.
The reason Chinatown Wars is so awesome on the DS is that it utilizes the DS's features in interesting ways. Sure, some of these ways border a little bit on a flash game but nonetheless, they're really cool. You have to use the stylus and the touch-screen for a variety of things during missions and for other things like throwing grenades. You can buy lottery tickets that you scratch using the stylus and then you can blow the scraps away by blowing into the microphone. Want a taxi? Well, you could press a button, or you could do the much cooler thing and actually whistle for it! If you couldn't already tell by my enthusiasm, whistling for a taxi cab is freaking awesome in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.
Moving around is sometimes painful for your thumb as the DS's d-pad isn't the greatest in the world and the way you'll have to hold the DS can cause some issues during lengthy play sessions, but you really shouldn't have too much trouble. While walking around or driving around the city, you can do all sorts of things, like search dumpsters for weapons, buy property, complete side missions, cause mayhem, destroy security cameras (this game's version of hidden packages), and pretty much just do whatever you want, like every other GTA game.
Unfortunately, the combat system in Chinatown Wars isn't the greatest. It tries to emulate the older GTA games by just using a lock-on system, which worked fine for the older games, but for the DS is horrible at focusing on the right thing. You will be in a middle of a firefight and try to lock onto the guys shooting at you, but all of a sudden you will be aiming at a random car or pedestrian. You can switch between who you are aiming at via the L trigger, but it takes a couple of seconds just to do this and it often just causes problems in heavy combat situations.
Dying is pretty easy in Chinatown Wars as your health just shoots down and for some reason the health bar is on the bottom of the screen by default, causing issues at first. You can customize the HUD for it to display your health, armor, and GPS on the top screen, which should have been like that at default. Looking from the top screen to the bottom screen while trying to drive is just a painful task, but thankfully you are alerted if a new icon pops up on your map.
A major part of Chinatown Wars and one of the only really effective ways to earn some cash is by dealing drugs. Chinatown Wars is easily one of the dirtiest Grand Theft Auto games I have played by the way, so just giving that warning now if you are super hardcore against drug use. Anyway, you sell and buy drugs in a sort of stock market-like way, with drugs fluctuating in worth depending on the area and availability. Some dealers will want to sell drugs super cheap if they get too much supply and other people will willingly pay thousands extra if you give them the kind of drug they are craving. You can pay attention to the charts and think strategically about dealing the drugs, and you will earn a butt load of cash as a result.
There are all sorts of side missions and extra things to do in Chinatown Wars just like every other GTA game before it, but Chinatown Wars also supports a multiplayer function. While it loses some points for not having any sort of single-cart multiplayer, the multiplayer that is there (which lets you race and complete sort of defend-the-base missions with a friend) is a freaking blast and you'll enjoy every second of it. There isn't any Wi-Fi support for this multiplayer, but you can use the Wi-Fi connection to join the Rockstar Club online and get some extra stuff if you are interested in that kind of thing.
Doing all of this stuff will require a lot of driving, and you probably aren't going to be driving like you are a word class citizen. Yes, you will be running people over and smashing into cars left and right and the local police force isn't just going to sit around and let this happen. Grand Theft Auto IV introduced a new system to evade the police which just tasked you with getting out of a circle on the map, but Chinatown Wars has a brand new system. While you can hide from the police like always, the most effective way to get away from them is by tricking them into destroying their own cars. You do this by having them chase you really fast and then swerving so they smash head-on into a wall or something. While this is all fine and good, the cops are insanely aggressive in Chinatown Wars and they can become quite the annoyance. They will chase after you with bloodthirsty rage if you so much as bump into them, and while trying to do missions, this can definitely be an issue.
Grand Theft Auto games are known for their sadistic plotlines, crazy characters, and twists that turn everything in 360 degrees, and Chinatown Wars is no exception. All of the characters are pretty memorable and the storyline has some pretty gargantuan twists that while a tad predictable due to a lack of characters, are still awesome as hell. I do wish that there were more storyline connections to Grand Theft Auto IV, and while there are a few here and there, I was disappointed with the lack of characters that usually carry over between Grand Theft Auto games. Regardless, the plot follows Huang Lee, the series' first Asian protagonist. He lives in China until his father is killed and he is sent to give his father's sacred sword to his uncle in none other than Liberty City, America. Things go wrong, the sword gets stolen, and Huang is forced to work his way through the criminal workings of Liberty City in a bloodthirsty attempt to recover the sword and avenge his father's mysterious death.
Graphically, a lot of Chinatown Wars looks like a flash game that you'd play online, but the fully-rendered city with no loading times is amazing. The amount of characters they can fit on screen is awesome and while there is some lag every now and then, the game usually runs as smooth as butter. Adopting a cel-shaded look akin to Tony Hawk's American Sk8land was a great idea and Chinatown Wars just looks simply awesome. I also think that this version of Liberty City is just more fun to explore than the one in Grand Theft Auto IV, and that's saying something.
I was also surprised with how good the audio is in Chinatown Wars as the audio is generally the weakest feature in DS games. Chinatown Wars has music that is just as clear as it is in Elite Beat Agents and while there is minimal voice acting, the voice acting there is done so well and so subtly that you'll be hard pressed to notice the difference between the DS's audio and your television's. While the cut-scenes, which are played out in an anime-style, don't have voice-acting, you won't miss it. Text works surprisingly well for the series and you'll actually like it quite a bit as opposed to listen to some annoying NPCs ramble on about random nonsense.
One of the biggest faults in Chinatown Wars is the game's length. You can complete the story mode in less than ten hours. This isn't so bad considering there are a slew of side missions, cameras to find, and the multiplayer is pretty fun, but it's still a little disappointing when compared to Grand Theft Auto IV's lengthy and epic storyline. You will spend a lot more than ten hours with the game though, I assure you, and you won't regret the purchase one bit. I also liked how the game has two save slots, so you can use one save for cheats (cheats, for some really stupid reason, prevent you from getting 100%) and one for your story, or, if you have a friend that wants to play, you can share the game and each can have a save on either slot. The reason I mention this is because Pokemon Diamond's replayability was brought down a little when I realized it wasn't going to include more than one slot. I think it's also worth mentioning that Chinatown Wars lets you replay any missions you've previously completed instead of making you go through the entire game again, and while the series STILL doesn't have a mid-mission checkpoint system (something it desperately needs) you can now skip the trip and just go straight to the action, assuming you reached that point before.
I can't believe that this game is selling as badly as it has been. When I first started playing, my jaw literally dropped, just like it did with GTA IV, and when a game can make you do that, you know you have something special on your hands. Is Chinatown Wars the best game on the DS? No, but it's right up there and while the controls are sometimes a problem as well as the short story mode, you will still find plenty to love and do in the game. There are things that still need to be fixed for the series and Chinatown Wars takes a couple of steps in the right direction. Any GTA fan and any DS owner should go and pick up this game right now as it uses the DS's unique features brilliantly, has an awesome storyline, sweet graphics, and an audio experience that is one of the best on the little handheld.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/27/09
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (US, 03/17/09)
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