Review by nintendosega
"An entertaining, addictive, and very funny throwback GTA adventure"
The big GTA game of the generation has, of course, been Grand Theft Auto IV, which proved to be a great (though very overrated, at least, in my view) game. The unfortunate truth is that GTA: Chinatown Wars has been somewhat ignored despite critical praise, and that's too bad because not only is Chinatown Wars the most pure fun GTA game since Vice City, but it's also a very addictive and really funny entry in the series that returns to the top-down view of the pre-GTA3 games mixed with the series' improvements since. Fans who found GTA4's more serious, more "realistic" direction a bit frustrating will be right at home in Chinatown Wars, and of course I think people who were fans of the pre-GTA3 games will love the return to the top-down style.
Visuals; for a DS game, it actually looks very impressive, and after getting used to the top-down viewpoint (which took me about 5 seconds) I had almost no complaints about the visual presentation, an occasionally erratic framerate aside. The second screen holds all the essential information like the radar, your PDF, a quick way to check emails, drug territories, etc. etc. etc. This frees up the top screen to be mostly for gameplay, which ends up working very well. Cutscenes are presented in comic book style and work very well. They can be skipped but to do so would be to deprive yourself of the game's very funny writing. Very few complaints as far as visuals go.
Gameplay; Surprisingly, GTA: Chinatown Wars returns several features that were removed from GTA4. You can once again buy property, and you can do cab and paramedic fares. A "quick-travel" feature that cuts the "traveling" portion out of your mission when re-trying it is in full effect, usable on every mission where travel's involved. Meanwhile, the game includes a nifty PDA feature that gives you access to a ton of great stuff, including a virtual Ammunation store, emails, a map of what drugs are being sold in which territories, your game stats, drug profit summaries, and even descriptions of the drugs you have in your inventory. You can even disable emails that you don't want to receive. It also doubles as a GPS, which will plot out your trip for you, highlighting on your radar the fastest (legal) route to your destination. It's all handled pretty realistically and really brings the game together. Ditching the realistic (aka annoying) GTA4 controls for driving, cars once again are fun to travel in, and shooting's returned to the more traditional (flawed, though for this game, fine) lock-on system. Hand-to-hand combat controls are also vastly improved over GTA4's. The wanted system's again been overhauled, this time police cars can be stopped by having them smash into something, and so while it's fairly easy to escape when you have a wanted level (though still much harder than it was in GTA4) you will get wanted stars many times, as the police presence in this game is very high. (At times maybe a little too high.) Though this is an annoyance at times, it never stops the game from being fun.
Missions are by far among the most entertaining of the series, with the game making excellent use of the touch screen. It's not even at all gimmicky, it just works very well and it's what makes the game stand out from the fairly dull GTA handheld titles in the past that were on the PSP. When not participating in main story missions, there are lots of bonus missions and sidequests to participate in, (the main story's only around 50% of the game,) but what will get the most attention is the drug dealing. Various dealers are scattered throughout Liberty City and they will send you emails when they have good prices or when they will pay extra for certain drugs. The game even displays info about whether or not you can profit by purchasing drugs at certain prices. It's a very fun distraction and it's how you make most of your money in the game, and I've spent plenty of time with it.
I finished it in around 11 hours, with a lot of time spent drug dealing, so it's a bit hard to say how long the main quest itself actually is. But again, this is only 50% of the game. Though I stuck mainly with the main quest and drug deals, I still found the length of the game to be very satisfying, especially given the cheap prices of DS software. I played through it nearly constantly, from the time I opened it to the time I got to the end credits; for some reason, it's the most addictive GTA game I've yet played, and I just didn't want to put the DS down.
Storyline; the other thing that makes GTA: Chinatown Wars so addicting is its storyline. Huang is a witty, very sarcastic character who's likable almost immediately. Over the course of the game he deals with some of the most cartoony and ridiculously dumb characters I think since Vice City, and I was thrilled to see this series finally return to a story that didn't take itself so seriously. Almost every line in the game is sarcastic and/or winking at the gamer, though that's not to say the story doesn't take itself seriously enough. The main story (involving Huang avenging his father's murder and trying to find his stolen sword, as well as rooting out a potential traitor, or traitors,) is pretty compelling and the dialogue and situations are often very funny. It might not present the ambition of recent GTA games but I think it's all the better for it.
Sound; The music may be without vocals but it adds a definite flavor to the city when driving in a car, and the music during the story segments is pretty catchy as well. There is no voice acting in the game (aside from people in the street who yell things out) but it works for the better, as the dialogue in the cutscenes definitely wouldn't fit with spoken dialogue; it's totally unrealistic, but in doing that, it's hilarious.
Overall; GTA: Chinatown Wars returns the series to the lighter days, pre San Andreas, where its storyline didn't take itself entirely too seriously and just focused on being as over-the-top and funny as possible. The gameplay, thanks to the DS and its great touch screen, as well as a very well-realized PDA system and great writing, is always fun and very addictive. GTA fan who ignored this game should really go back and give it a look, it's a lot of fun and its gameplay and missions easily present more variety than those featured in its HD cousin, GTA4. Needless to say I highly recommend Chinatown Wars to all DS owners and GTA fans. Naturally it has the limitations of being on a handheld (relatively short length, few building interiors and no licensed songs or funny radio stations or lyrics, well, aside from a great Doom and Ghostface Killah song written for the game,) but you get past these pretty quickly and I think a lot of GTA fans who give it a shot will find it to be one of their favorite GTA games, at least since Vice City.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/31/09, Updated 03/01/10
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (US, 03/17/09)
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