Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars DS Review
So how exactly does GTA IV fit on DS? I tried to put my copy in my DS, but damnit, the disc just doesn’t fit in the cart slot. There’s not even an option to snap it up and shove it in every available hole because, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t squash even half of it into the console. So how in the hell did Rockstar manage it?
In Chinatown Wars, you play Haung Lee, the son of an ex-triad boss (forced into an early retirement by the bullet in his head). For once, I can actually relate to the lead character of a GTA game, something made difficult previously because I’m not a criminal. But Haung and I have something in common, because he knows how brutal it can be to fly into America. When he arrives to visit his uncle, he is attacked by mobsters and dumped in a river (those of you who have been through US Customs will be familiar with the feeling). Needless to say, Haung survives and much crime ensues.
One of the most significant qualities of Chinatown Wars is that it’s so like the original GTA in feel. Instead of being a hardcore crime-‘em-up, it’s far more arcade-y in all aspects. For example, when being chased by the police you must take out a certain number of police vehicles to lower your wanted rating by a star. It is a far more challenging and rewarding way to get rid of unwanted attention than simply escaping and hiding, which more often than not, results in being discovered by accident and the whole chase starting up again.
Chinatown Wars is one of the few DS games that is able to incorporate the touch screen effectively. Aside from obvious uses, such as displaying the GPS and other info, it is also called into action for various mini-games required during play. Through the magic of the touch screen, you can hotwire cars, make your own molotovs and even tattoo new recruits to the gang. Rockstar really have made full use of the DS. As well as being well spaced out, the mini-games are also varied. You won’t always be hotwiring a car in the same way, so you’ll have to be on your toes to get it right, or risk the consequences.
Chinatown Wars won’t always have you wiping your thumbs around the screen though. As always, there’s a range of missions to complete. A common criticism of GTA games is that the story missions get repetitive in nature, and unfortunately the same can be said of CW. Most missions comprise of ‘Drive from A to B. Kill people at B. Drive back’. It’s slightly disheartening to see that little effort has been made to try and shake it up a bit. There are, however, plenty of side missions to go at too. As well as the usual paramedic, police or fire service tasks, you can also take the opportunity to deal some drugs. Take care of buying/selling, and keep an eye on supply/demand to make a bit of extra money on the side. It’s risky business though, the police are watching the hotspots and could bust you after a deal, triggering a difficult escape with a high wanted level. Admittedly, when this first happened to me I didn’t help my cause by killing a few cops before driving away. I probably could’ve done without expanding the list of felonies from drug dealing to murder and grand theft auto, but it’s all part of the fun. As anyone who has played GTA will know, it can all escalate very quickly. You panic. Then, before you know it, there’re SWAT teams and helicopters trying to bring you down, just for buying $10 worth of drugs.
Considering the recent outbreaks of crime sprees in Liberty City, it’s a wonder people keep going there. Personally, after having my car stolen for the third time in a week I’d just give up and move. Despite this, it is a fantastic place for gamers to explore. There’s a large variety of vehicles, including motorbikes and boats, and a simple driving system to help keep you going straight. And with the size of the city, you definitely will need to make a few car journeys to see it all. In fact, almost the entirety of the Liberty City found in GTA IV has been recreated on the DS. The only time I’ve noticed the DS struggling is while hurtling down the streets, sometimes there are grey patches instead of landscape, but then they quickly load before you get too close. Not bad for such a small machine.
Combat is rather basic, as it always was in GTA. No need to faff around with aiming, just lock on and fire. It keeps the interface as uncluttered as possible while still allowing effective and satisfying use of the weapons. One of the only things to feel disappointed about is the soundtrack. In contrast to the lengthy and numerous radio shows we’ve become used to, Chinatown Wars has only about 4 radio stations which repeat themselves after about 10 minutes. The sound quality all round is quite poor actually, everything sounds like you’re hearing it through a tin of beans.
Something I’ve always been fond of is a bit of cel-shading, provided the game suits this style, and GTA certainly does suit it well. The almost comic-book feel goes hand in hand with the recognisable GTA-style art and the tongue-in-cheek humour. Not only is the place huge, but it’s also densely populated. There’re always people about and vehicles on the road. For Rockstar to have gone as far as incorporating a daylight and weather cycle into the huge city, and make it all work on the DS, is incredible. I remember chuckling to myself when I noticed that pedestrians even pull out umbrellas when it rains. They get in taxis. They even sometimes run each-other over, then get out to assess the damage (leaving their cars prime for stealing).
Every little touch like this just shows why Rockstar is so respected by gamers and developers alike. It’s what separates an average game from a great game. No-one else but Rockstar could’ve made Chinatown Wars what it is, because no one else has that kind of commitment and finesse to pull it off. It’s been a while since such a must-have game has come to the DS.