Grand Theft Auto - Chinatown Wars
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Genre: Open World Action
Release Dates: 20 October 2009 (NA) / 23 October 2009 (EU)
Price: 8.22£ (Play.Com)
Grand Theft Auto has always been a franchise well known for extreme violence and straight up crime, but Chinatown Wars takes that to a new level by putting you in the role of Huang Lee, the spoiled son of a recently murdered Triad boss who arrives by plane in Liberty City with Yu Jian, a sword that Huang's father won in a poker game and which has decided to be used as a tribute to ensure that Wu "Kenny" Lee, Huang's uncle will be the next Triad boss. As things usually go bad in the world of organized crime, Yu Jian is stolen upon his arrival, so Huang Lee has to start working for his uncle to repay his debt and grab more intel about the whereabouts of the sword on the way. Soon enough you'll be working your way up in the Triads, meet the other contestants for the position of the Triad Boss and complete missions for each one of them in order to find your way up to the top.
You will almost instantly recognize the epic Liberty City from Grand Theft Auto IV, which is more than ideal for the setting of this title as well, but Chinatown Wars' GTA II-like view from the sky makes it feel like an entirely new experience, yet still managing to keep the familiar element in there so those who have played GTA IV before will find their way in the city must easier. While Chinatown Wars might not be the characters-filled world of Grand Theft Auto IV, as you will only be completing missions for a few people, those who are a part of the story will remain essential to it until the very end, and the game takes great advantage of all the characters to create a plot that is interesting to follow and has a legit Triad feel attached to it. In addition to the cast of main characters that you will constantly interact with throughout the game, you will also meet strangers around the city asking you to perform different tasks for them and rewarding you for your time.
Instead of using cutscenes to bind the story together, Chinatown Wars takes a different approach, choosing to present the dialogue between two characters in a comic-book like form where different scenes will be presented on the screen in that way, but without the use of any voice-overs, so reading the entire story is up to you, which may be a cool thing if you usually enjoy reading comics, but at the same time a blank in presentation as the characters will never have the same impact on you without a voice that will remain in your mind days after you have finished the game; even so, this mechanic gets the job done and for what it is, it works flawlessly. 8.5
The PSP version of Chinatown Wars plays a little bit different from the DS version since it doesn't take advantage of a second touchscreen to perform various actions, but the transition of those mechanics to the PSP architecture has been done excellently, using the shoulder buttons and the analog stick to perform of the actions that required the touchscreen on the DS. Shooting is done efficiently using the right shoulder button to select a target and O to shoot, a mechanic that makes it really easy to move from a target to another, but it might get tricky to hit the exact one you're after when you have to deal with more than a few enemies, however that won't be the case for most of the game since the missions are created so that you'll only have a few guys shooting at you at any given time.
Shooting from a moving car is another issue entirely as the game will automatically point your bullets to the closest object or person that would be of interest to you, making shooting a specific car from a bunch of cars, all moving in the same direct and at the same speed almost impossible to do, but considering the general objectives of the game, you'll probably have to destroy all of them so the order won't really matter. Another issue comes in the form of occasional bugs such as getting stuck into random things and the not always ideal view angle which happens a lot under the bridges where your visibility is extremely limited as a view from the sky doesn't really help a lot, but it isn't that much of a problem either since no one is forcing you to take a fight under a bridge.
The missions might not be as spectacular as the ones from GTA IV, but Chinatown knows its limits and with the things it has at disposal each mission is fun and easy to play, which is basically the only thing this game needs to be worth your while. The one thing that makes Chinatown Wars unique and different from anything we have seen before in a Grand Theft Auto game is its drug trading mechanic which allows you to peddle heroin, LSD, MDMA, marijuana, cocaine and ritalin around the city and make a buck from it, which you can later spend on new apartments. Instead of using the phone to access all the features, you now have the PDA at your disposal from where you can access the GPS, check the game stats, read your emails, or save the game at any given time when you're outside of the mission. Inside a mission, things are a little bit different, as there are no checkpoints and some missions can take a few minutes to complete, so if you die you'll have to restart from the beginning each time, which is annoying especially since this was built for gaming on the go. 7.5
Chinatown Wars looks astonishing on the PSP, bringing the enormous Liberty City from GTA IV to life on your portable device and the best part is that it looks just as good viewed from the top. The overall design fits the entire Triad theme of the game and even though things like your character being the same size with a car might look ridiculous at first that is the whole point, adding the nostalgia element in there for those old school GTA II fans, but at the same time adding an arcade feel to the game and make it more about the fun of the game itself and the enjoyment you get out of all those missions and events than the actual storyline or logic. The effects are some of the best seen on the PSP in its entire lifespan and explosions are a delight each time. The comic-book style presentation might not be the spectacular show you get from the usual cutscenes, but they're incredibly well done so even if you aren't a huge fan of comics the art style will keep you focused on them. 9
The audio quality is excellent and without any sort of problem, and the effects can sometimes be really amazing especially when you're exploding things. The soundtrack is just as good, with a superb selection of the best tracks to fit the Triads theme of the game, but with additional radio stations in there as well, so there's something for everyone. The dialogue from those scenes might not be voiced over, but at least the writing is top notch, unfortunately those well-written characters will never stick into your mind as they should due to the lack of voices and even if there are lines that are so well delivered to create a memorable moment, no one remembers reading about a good punchline, everyone remembers hearing it, something that can't be done in here. 7
It takes around 10 hours to complete the main storyline, but in addition to that there are strangers that you can meet around town, drug trades that will always be there for you when you need more money, apartments to buy and so on. There is also a multiplayer mode with some exclusive missions and some interesting modes, but unfortunately it is limited to only 2 players, so if you were hoping for massive Triad battles with rocket launchers and all that, you're up for a disappointment. 8.5
Chinatown Wars is an excellent addition to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, putting yet another criminal environment in the face of the player and letting him choose how to play around it, and there's plenty to do in this Triad controlled city. There are some problems and the story might not appeal to everyone, but the game is incredibly fun and addictive to play so you'll probably forget about all that and go sell some drugs, because that's Chinatown's strongest point. 8.1