Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Has Rockstar really been able to cram the GTA experience onto two little screens?
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Rockstar certainly knows where its bread and butter comes from; Grand Theft Auto has become a household name across the world. A name synonymous with glorified sex and violence. The series represents all that is bad in world of video gaming to our moral guardians, who are desperate to protect poor children from tRockstar, hell-bent on corrupting their fragile little minds. Sex and violence alone is not enough to make a video game a multi-million dollar success though; the reason everyone knows about Grand Theft Auto is because the series, across the board, has been AAA quality. Chinatown Wars is no exception.
Chinatown Wars follows closely in the footsteps of its forefathers. You play the part of Huang Lee, a low life street thug who has just arrived in Liberty City. Supposed to deliver an important sword to his Uncle, Huang is jumped on his arrival, the sword is stolen and he's left for dead. From here, it's down to you to hunt down the sword, reclaim your family honour and avenge the death of your assassinated father. Not an astoundingly original plot, but Chinatown Wars makes up for it with a cast of charismatic, well written and whole heartedly unsavoury characters.
Rockstar have done a superb job in squeezing Liberty City onto a DS cartridge and it's rare even in Nintendo's own games to see a system which uses the duel screens and touch features so convincingly. While all the action is carried out in the top screen, the bottom acts as your PDA, displaying map information, emails, contact info and a database of who is selling drugs around town and what they're interested in buying. The touch screen adds greatly to the gameplay itself, with screwdriver assisted car thefts, bug planting and sniper-rifle assembly all requiring no more than a point, drag and twist to get the action done. The only time the system fails is when trying to throw your grenades; touching the screen to throw a grenade accurately is no easy task when you're the victim of a drive-by!
While GTA IV rendered Liberty City in glorious high definition third-person perspective, Chinatown Wars harks back to the original with an overhead view. Liberty City is a full 3-D model and the slight isometric angle shows off the ups, downs, and ramps you'll be driving over at 90 mph to escape the law. There are some problems viewing Huang underneath rail lines and buildings, but a level of transparency helps out immensely. Clear black outlines around cars and building keep all objects distinct, but a lack of variance in clothing means it's not always easy to see if you are running down a pedestrian in a blue jacket or a police officer. Sadly, many innocent civilians suffered broken legs and backs in my attempts to show off my souped-up Inferno to the local constabulary.
On a DS-sized cartridge it would have been ridiculous to expect the same quality of licensed songs and chat from the locals as the DVD based GTA titles provide. Working with what it had to hand, Rockstar has again pushed the boat out, providing six radio stations of rock, hip-hop and other music. Although the sonic stylings of the DS output may not be to everyone's taste, the music does a great job of breathing life and atmosphere into your surroundings. The opening credits are a real highlight, with ethnic Chinese instruments playing over the top of dirty, urban hip-hop beats.