Game Review

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Stuart Reddick

Grand Theft Auto makes the jump from the big screen to Nintendo’s small screen.

Whenever studios branch out and transform series well suited for consoles into the handheld format, there is always an element of risk – none more a prolific example than Rockstar’s GTA Chinatown Wars for the DS. Though we’ve already seen the Grand Theft Auto franchise brought to Sony’s handhelds, it has only gone to Nintendo’s once. The increasing success of the Nintendo DS ensured that this wouldn’t be the case for long, and, sure enough, Rockstar Games announced that they were taking the series on a DS road trip.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars follows in line with its predecessors, but at the same time it completely reinvents everything in order to take advantage of the Nintendo DS' features. And, despite the hardware and processing limitations, Rockstar Games have managed to create a deep and enjoyable title that veterans of the franchises will immediately fall in love with.

The game opens with players stepping into the shoes of Huang Lee as he travels to Liberty City to deliver a rather important sword to his Uncle Kenny. Huang’s father, a Triad boss, was slain in mysterious circumstances and, following tradition, the sword must be passed on to his brother, Kenny. Sadly though, Huang gets ambushed along the way: his father's sword is stolen, and he’s tossed for dead into the harbour. While it may sound rather oddball, the story is absolutely amazing for the most part and does a splendid job of getting players engaged into the game.

The team responsible for bringing the series to the PlayStation Portable also took on the challenge of introducing, and adapting, the franchise to the Nintendo DS. Though a few things may have shifted when it comes to the wider picture, the fun factor and depth remains the same – this feels like a Grand Theft Auto game through and through – although there are notable changes.

With Chinatown Wars, Rockstar Leeds took practically every aspect of the console games and compressed it onto a rather small Nintendo DS cartridge. Due to the graphical limitations of the platform, the developers realised it was unwise to create the game in the same style as the PSP versions, and instead reverted back to the top-down view of yesteryear. While many expected this change to be for the worse, it actually turned out fairly decent. The game runs at a smooth 30 frames per second and practically everything is displayed in 3D: including cars, obstacles, and buildings. Like the more recent games, there is a detailed physics engine present, which means that cars can flip, jump and tumble depending on whether or not you’re an aggressive driver. So even though the perspective may be different, the the same formula that many have come to love is still contained within.

One thing that we had serious reservations about was whether or not Liberty City itself would hold up during the transition, so we were happy to report that its turned out pretty close to its console counterpart: the regional boroughs remain intact, and the entire city is available right from the start of the game. With that in mind, the criminal activities are just as addictive as ever: if you see a vehicle, simply hop into it and take a wild ride to get to wherever you’re heading. In true GTA style, there are plenty of different vehicles sitting around the city that are practically inviting the opportunist car-jacker to come along and take them for a spin – it's like a motoring pick 'n' mix! To cater for every criminal's needs, every vehicle in the game will have its own unique features: vans, for example, are heavy, large and durable, whereas bikes are light, small and nimble.

Driving, of course, isn’t the only way to get around town: for those that are environmentally friendly, there’s always the option of walking to your destination. In some cases, walking may even be only option, especially when gunfights are on the cards. And speaking of guns, Chinatown Wars puts a heavy amount of emphasis on weaponry – players will have a lot of people to waste in this game. To facilitate the carnage Huang will inflict, a “lock-on” system has been created to help target enemies and take them down with rapid-fire attacks. While it takes a little getting used to as the controls aren’t all that intuitive, players should eventually find themselves getting accustomed to Chinatown Wars’ setup.

What was really great to see was the inclusion of a brand new PDA – Personal Data Assistant – which proves to be an overwhelmingly useful device. Through use of this PDA on the touchscreen, players can gain access to everything from GPS and email tracking to weapon ordering. Chinatown Wars also introduces us to the seedy underworld of drug trading – an profitable process that’ll earn Huang Lee some extra cash. The concept of this is very simple: throughout the are various drug dealers who each want to make specific bargains with Huang; only happy to oblige, you must avoid the police in order to buy and sell between dealers whilst skimming a healthy profit off the top – it’s simple business sense that you learn in school!

Just like any other game though, Chinatown Wars certainly has its downsides: the biggest being the soundtrack. Don’t get us wrong, the music is splendid, but for a game of this calibre, we expected something a little bit richer – the drawback to setting high standards in past titles! While there are a few other minor niggles with the game’s functionality, these are more than counterbalanced by the amazing work put into creating such a masterpiece – one that has pushed the DS to its limits.

After completing the game’s 15-20 hour main adventure, players can join in on some multiplayer action. In this, as many as four players can go head-to-head in epic matches: ranging from a “capture the flag” style mode, to standard races. Every one of the game’s multiplayer options is plenty of fun to play and has tons of replayability. Sadly though, none of these modes are online, so you’ve got to get your friends round for this experience, which means it will be an ultimately underused feature.


At the end of the day, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars truly is one the best titles to ever grace the Nintendo DS. Despite the fact that it took on an old-style graphical approach and introduced alien concepts, the transition of the series to Nintendo’s handheld has been a smooth one – the end result being a fantastic adult game that is not worth missing. Trust us, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars will be the biggest third-party title to grace the Nintendo DS this year.

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User Comments (34)



jones2929 said:

Nice review. However, I would give this game a 10. It's incredible for the DS.



AlexSays said:

I'm not even a huge GTA fan and I'm picking this one up.

People have had nothing but good things to say about this one.



anthonyb said:

Yes, I agree this deserves a 10- Imo, the best DS game I own. It tops Zelda: PH and New SMB. The dialogue is quit humorous in this game too. "Wanna piece of my pie?"



cheese said:

I also think this game deserved a 10, it's amazing that they were able to make such a good GTA game for the DS. In my opinion this game tops the PSP GTA's easily.



MickEiA said:

shame it wasnt on any other console weird that rockstar when back to birds eye view



AlexSays said:

shame it wasnt on any other console

I don't think you understand why it's great.
It's great because it takes full advantage of the DS and provides an authentic experience on that platform.

You put it anywhere else and you take away what makes it great, the DS.



Kit said:

I would go as far as to say that its worth getting a DS just to play GTA Chinatown Wars. It is a brilliant and long awaited game for the DS, and it maintains playability even after completing the main story. Get it, you have no excuse... erm unless you're under 18. LOL X-D



MisterSmith said:

The main reason why I bought this game was because the developers (Rockstar Leeds) did such a great job with Max Payne for the GBA. The game had voice overs and 3D and so much stuff that pushed the boundaries for the system. Stuff you'd never think of being possible for a handheld. They pulled it off again with this game, and I really hope they stick around and keep making DS games.



brandonbwii said:

I've always felt the GTA series was too hyped for it's own good. As if everything game in the series would be revolutionary. It always takes attention away from other potential hits. That being said I was blown away by this DS game. It truly lived up to the hype. I'm not big on the whole show the world you care by "voting with your wallets", but any adult gamer should buy this post haste and send a message to the industry!



Chunky_Droid said:

I'll be picking this one up for sure, I wouldn't even mind if they ported some of the GTA games on PS2 with IR control on to the Wii aswell to follow up.

Though I would prefer a built from the ground up Wii title too, but I think Rockstar would do well to port one to see how well it sells with the Wii audience (half of whom probably never played a 3D GTA game)



Kirk said:

I would say this is a great game on DS, technically stunning with some of the things it is doing such as the whole 3D city including the pedestrians and vehicles etc, and the realtime shadows and lighting, and the night day cycle, and the cool storyline and "mature" theme, amazingly well implemented use of the DS' unique touchscreen features and more. I love that you can also back and replay your favorite missions at any time too. Even the cops are fun in this game.

It's not perfect, I mean the shooting is a little bit limited because of the lock on but then most GTA games have never really been that solid with the basic hand to hand and gun combat so it's not a major problem and it's nothing to worry about here. Other than that though it really is a proper full GTA experience on the DS.

If you like this type of game normally on any other consoles then there is absolutely no reason not to pick it up for the DS as far as I'm concerned.

It may even be the best GTA yet.

This game certainly deserves to pick up plenty of awards for best technical achievement and best graphics and best game and so on when the time comes.

Someone should put these guys to work right away on a Wii GTA game.



Kid_A said:

Not a big GTA fan, but I'm really enjoying this one. If it wasn't for the crappy dialogue it'd be a perfect 10.




Many are ranking this within the top 5 games available on the DS. Considering the huge amount of quality titles on the console (unlike the psp ;-P ), that is saying something.

I'm not a GTA fan and won't be getting this. I do appreciate the work go into this project though. Increadible how the made it work on the DS and with so much content.



geek-master said:

my parents wont let me get this game! i know it has a bad influence but i would never become a drug dealer in real life!



Adam said:

You say that now, but spend one minute with GTA and you'll be hanging out in dark alleys before you know it. Trust me. I've been there.



Bejeeta said:

Love this game. There are some flows that makes it frustrating, but it's very good.
I did'nt like the amount of police around (too many, it's not realistic to find 2 or more policemen on foot in a small area and police cars everywhere), the real problem is that, since most of the streets are tight, you can easily hit a police car, risulting in an istant manhunt all around Liberty City.
The rest is great.



Metafish said:

I like all the stylus based spots in the game like; hijacking a car, crashing the window of a car in the very beginning, search dumbsters for weapons, dismantle bombs and so on and so on

I haven't really started on it though..



Screw-Jay said:

Today buyed this goodie! Looks like this game is a perfect stuff I fall into love with this thing...



retro_player_22 said:

"Though we’ve already seen the Grand Theft Auto franchise brought to Sony’s handhelds, it has only gone to Nintendo’s once."

Actually Matthew, the Grand Theft Auto series was brought to Nintendo's handhelds three times (four if you count this one). The first two were ported to Game Boy Color, an original GTA game were created for GBA, that means this DS version is the fourth GTA to grace a Nintendo's portable.



g-silent007 said:

This was my first Grand Theft Auto game and I must admit it did cause me to play the other games in the series, this is a very good game but not the best game on DS



Rebel648 said:

yeah it does deserve 10 out of 10 the games amazing gangstar 2 doesn't look that good the one for ipod touch is alright but automaticly saves so you cant save the game then go on a rampage and die



Bucho said:

hmmm i bought this back in march 2009 and put it away before opening it because i was playing something else on ps3, today i found it unopened more than 3 years later and i think i'll play the crap out of it, after i finish kid icarus uprising of course xD




This game rules period, it's my favorite GTA game out of all of them. I happen to like the top down graphics too, reminds me of the classic GTA games which I actually at one point thought were more fun and addictive than the newer ones. Not to mention all the crazy little minigames that take advantage of the stylus, like hotwiring cars.. all in all this DEFINITELY deserved a 10, why the 9? I didn't find any flaw in the game whatsoever. there is no reason for it not to be rated 10. EXCEPT maybe the fact that the music sucked, and there are no metal stations... but cmon that is not enough to take it down to a 9.



Ven said:

this is the greatest game on the DS for $20 that i have ever had. my one reservation on this game is the swearing and the very poor multiplayer aspect but otherwise this is game of the year, the DS's equivalent of the N64's Ocarina of Time, but with GUNS AND CARS!!!!



BarryDunne said:

Love that so many people are giving this a 10. It truly is the best DS game out there. They really need to release this for Wii U!

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