Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
You can enter the house quickly through the door or thrash it, burn the house down and run naked around the ashes and debree. Let me do the latter and say the Chinatown Wars is the best GTA game I’ve ever played!
Ok, before calling on the wrath of many Fragland lover over me some nuance is necessary. The GTA games have never been really my thing. I like them, but that’s that. I’ve never found them to be fantastic. I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere and comedy that are so own to the infamous sandbox series but at the same time I found the gameplay often unnecessarily repetitive and not quite interesting enough to hang on until the end credits. Luckily I can’t say that about Chinatown Wars.
And that’s quite remarkable for a game that received a quite a number of strange looks when it was announced. The DS wouldn’t be capable of putting down the vivid world from the GTA games and the first screenshot already made people laugh due to its kiddy appearance. Completely unjust. Behind the colorful images a true adult game is hidden, and one that looks really amazing as well. You have to see this in reality to understand it. Rockstar craftly tortures the DS and it can be called a wonder that they’ve managed to pull out something so gorgious out of the handheld. A miracle, and most of all an example for other developers.
The party starts when you arrive in Liberty City as Huang Lee with the sword of your assassinated father on your back. This antique piece, which is a symbol for the everlasting power struggle inside the Chinese Triads, needs to be brought to your uncle Kenny as soon as possible but never reaches its destination. Upon arrival you’re immediately surprised, robbed and dumped in a sinking car wreck. The tone is immediately set and then a world filled with wild chases, hefty shootouts, backstabbing mob bosses, corrups cops, devious hookers and non-suspecting pedestrians unfolds. A world in the tradition of GTA!
But also a world we already knew. Chinatown Wars plays in (part of) Liberty City which we completely got to know as Niko Bellic about a year ago. Many places are therefore recognisable but due to the cartoony graphics and the oldskool top down view of this pocket version there’s luckily no real deja vu. Add to that the fact that the city bubbles of life as a bottle of champagne in a washing machine and you realise Rockstar has done it again.
Flashy advertising boards, trains passing by and helicopters flying over add to that typical GTA feel and color the street image of a city that’s alive. A city that of course is also filled with pedestrians (including opening umbrellas when it rains!), bikers and cars. And especially the latter, eventhough no bigger than a cut pinky nail, look really good. Of course there are tons of four wheel vehicles to be hijacked – think go-carts, bulldozers or neon-light included cars – and they all have their own characteristics. But whether you’re cruising with a pony car or a dumb van, the beauty lays in the amount of detail Rockstar put in thise “micro machines”. Stop lights, tire tracks, and a real damage model, it’s all there and really looks amazing.
Rockstar of course didn’t pay so much attention to the vehicles for nothing as also in Chinatown Wars you’ll often find yourself behind the steering wheel. Of course with a nice piece of music in the background as also the sound is pure enjoyment. The amount of radio stations is limited but the pumping beats or jazzy tunes you get to hear are of high quality. And that can also be said of the missions: the typical “drive from a to b, shoot c and run”-missions are limited to a minimum and never has the setting been so fun as with this game. It’s really originality that rules and the absurdity of the missions reaches an unknown level. For instance you can do a porn actor a favor by driving him to the film set in his limo so that he can get “warmed up” with a bunch of bitches. In then end it’s up to you to get the driving bordello safely to its destination. Without attracting too much attention of course. Laughter!
The touch screen – you would almost forget it – has an important role in all of this. Assembling a sniper gun, hotwiring parked cars, scratching lottery tickets or putting on tattoos, you do it all yourself with the stylus and this really offers added value. Where the bottom screen is used as PDA in between missions, it’s perfectly implemented in for the objectives themselves. Think of running away with a boat which engine constantly breaks down and needs a jumpstart each time, or saving a wounded prisoner from the cops while having to keep him alive with heart massage. Chinatown Wars is filled with this type of refreshing elements and succeeds better than any other game to use the unique features of the DS in an optimal way.
Next to original, amusing, varied and hilarious, the missions are usually also a bit easier than we’re used to getting. A good move as it’s about the first time I didn’t feel like giving up halfway the game, something that did happen a lot with the other GTA titles. It’s all a bit lighter and faster, the distances are a bit shorter and replaying missions is less frustrating. Chinatown Wars is a bit the light digestible popcorn variation of its big brothers, but one that tastes exceptionally good!
Next to the missions, which this time get introduced by nice texts and drawings instead of voice-overs, there’s plenty to do in Liberty City. It’s advisable to get going on your own and earn some additional cash, something that is hardly a problem. You can get going as noodle delivery boy or taxi driver, but the most lucrative business is of course dealing drugs. A couple of succesful heroine or coke deals are enough to buy some additional hideouts and enlarge your grip on the city.
With so much praise the question of course arises if there aren’t any downpoints. Of course there are but in this case I’m reluctant to sum them up. But ok: the camera isn’t always working together well, the lock system isn’t always your best friend, here and there some lag shows its face, some mission markers don’t respond too well and started parked cars becomes repetitive after a while. And if I really want to point everything out I can say that Rockstar could have easily left out the confusing storm effects. This small items of criticism, however, are nothing compared to the easily ten hours of great fun that Chinatown Wars has to offer. This one you’ll play in one go and the game is already a true classic and about the best a handheld has ever seen.
The DS, by many still unjustly seen as the favorite toy of housewives, children and demented grandparents, has a new top game. Rockstar makes a fantastic debute on Nintendos handheld and delivers with this Chinatown Wars a technically great, brutal, hilarious, adult and incredibly amusing pearl. “Must-have” is the word!