From it’s 2D top-down origins right up until the latest and most technically astounding console offering, the Grand Theft Auto series has proven time and time again that Rockstar have a very firm grasp of this idea called videogame development.
Grand Theft Auto has now finally moved onto that little ridiculously successful handheld called the Nintendo DS, and while it is not the first handheld version of Grand Theft Auto, it is quite different in many ways to the “Stories” titles that were released on PSP.
So now it’s time to see if Rockstar could pull it off again, only on a tiny not-so-powerful system with two screens and a stylus. Was the task almost too small for the ambitious minds at Rockstar, or have they just given everyone a really good reason to go out and finally buy a DS?
This review is going to be quite a simple one, and I’ll tell you why, after the jump.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is easily one of the best DS games available today. Reviewing games isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be, but sometimes, a title comes along that you just don’t want to put down.
This title proves, in every single way, that Rockstar are one of the greatest developers of the past decade. Their ability to create huge and ambitious titles on almost every platform is almost unmatched and it just goes to show what can happen when a company has it’s head screwed on the right way around.
You only have to take one look at the amazing little cell-shaded 3D graphics engine to appreciate how smooth and beautiful it is. Not only that, but you have access to nearly all of Liberty City and you will recognise most of it very quickly if you have spent a good couple of hours playing GTA IV.
Even though it is being played on a tiny little screen, it hasn’t stopped rockstar from giving it all the bells and whistles possible. The game features full day/night cycles, rain, fog, you name it.
Big Trouble In Little China
The “cutscenes” are all done using still images in the GTA art-style that so many of us have grown to love, and almost play out like comic book panels. Good use is made of both screens, as there are often times where your character will talking to someone in the game engine on the top screen, with the lower screen using the art to almost show the “close-up” of the conversation going on below with the use of subtitles.
The game still plays out like most Grand Theft Auto’s do. You start in a city with almost nothing and then have to work your way up to the top, doing main missions for some dodgy people as well as many side missions available to you, such as the (what is now) standard taxi and vigilante missions as well as a couple others.
This time around, as the title suggests, you are thrown into the world of Asian triads and a battle for power, as well as honour (in that order…) .You take on the roll of Huang Lee, a spoiled rich son of a recently deceased gang boss, who has now come to Liberty City to pass on a family heirloom to his uncle, but is robbed of the heirloom and left for dead soon after his arrival, leaving him in search of revenge, the heirloom and all the rest.
What’s Wong With Woo?
While most of the game, as most GTA’s do, revolves around you doing missions that involve stealing, killing, escorting and all sorts of other wonderful things, a lot of the focus in this specific GTA is on Drug Dealing. The game has a great little system worked into your characters PDA that allows you to see who’s selling or buying what, and where, as well as statistics on your trade skills.
The drug dealing is a good way to make money and is ironically immensely addictive. Once you do your first good deal that scores your a good wad of cash, you find yourself spending more time than you would think running around the city buying and selling drugs, as well as managing what drugs you keep on you and what you leave at your safehouse, reason being that cops can be somewhat of a problem in this game. They are all over the place and more than happy to confiscate the hundred thousand dollars worth of coke that you just bought for a deal, so you are left feeling quite paranoid of drug busts and run-ins with the po-po.
The controls are maybe the best part of this great little title and show that Rockstar had a good long think about how they were going to approach the project of creating a title for the little handheld. While many DS games only use the stylus and touchscreen as a gimmick, Chinatown Wars integrates it into the very core mechanics of the game. You will use your stylus to navigate your lower screen, which acts as your PDA and allows you to check emails, make online orders from ammu-nation, select weapons, check the drug trade status and even utilise your GPS in a manner that is very familiar to real life GPS units.
You also use your stylus for more than just navigating. The stylus is used for little sections that will have you manually hot-wiring a car by unscrewing panels and twisting wires together, cutting open car panels to find hidden drugs, defusing bombs, building molotov cocktails, scratching lotto tickets, tattooing new gang members and a whole lot more and really makes full use of the handheld system for what it is.
You Know What They Say About Asians and Driving
Driving is simple and mostly works the same way that it does on consoles. Your d-pad, face and shoulder buttons are used to drive the car. To make things even easier, there is a very clever drive assist option that helps you out by constantly, but very lightly, keeping your car in line with the lane that you are travelling in (or even the center), which makes it a lot easier to get around.
The cars are very easy to handle (although some muscle cars suffer from the lack of pressure sensitive buttons) and the physics of the cars make it a blast to watch as they go smacking into each other. If you aren’t too keen on driving, catch a taxi for a quick commute.
The overall sound in the game is great as well, all the guns, cars and environments while there is basically no dialogue in the game, you still have the occasional expletives being thrown out by passers-by as well as the wonderful experiences being proposed to you by the drug dealers (hey man, you wanna get *@#*&^@ up!?).
While elements such as the varied amount of radio stations are not possible on the little DS cartridge, you are still treated to instrumental tunes that are played over the handful of radio stations that are made available to you.
GTA: Chinatown Wars goes to prove that even though a title is being developed on a small system, it doesn’t have to be a small idea. While everything is large in scope and varied to offer you hours and hours of gameplay, it’s the little things that ultimately count towards it’s genius.
The little people running around on the streets still take out their umbrella’s when it rains, cars still indicate when they are turning and people still stop to check if someone is alright if they are involved in an accident with a pedestrian, followed by the arrival of an ambulance.
Coupled together with a fantastic control scheme and an amazing little 3D engine and this game proves once again that the Grand Theft Auto franchise can shine, bringing together an unbelievably good mixture between the original 2D GTA’s that captured our hearts and the newer versions seen on the powerhouse consoles of today.
Play it for five minutes, or play it for 5 hours, this game is fun, versatile and ultimately the closest thing that I have found to a perfect DS game. If you own a DS, and are over 18 years of age, you have no reason in the world to not go and pickup a copy of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars right now.
Squeezes every little bit of functionality out of the DS’s controls and just works so well.
There is very little more that you could do with the DS, the cell-shaded graphics are absolutely great to look at and the little touches make it all the better.
Once, again, you couldn’t really expect more from a DS.
It doesn’t get better than this for DS owners. Got 5 mins? Whip it out and do a quick mission or a drug run. Got 5 hours? Marvel as the minutes fly by.
How Rockstar managed to make a game so large, yet so small and manageable is beyond me. Pure handheld perfection.
Last Updated: March 24, 2009