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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars review

Rockstar's small step backwards is still a giant leap forward


  • Hours upon hours of superb gaming
  • Streamlined for portable play
  • Drug dealing and Rampages!


  • Omnipresent cops
  • Vehicles are quick to explode
  • No fart button

By now most of you have peeped that score on the final page and have zipped back over here to call us liars, jerks and harbingers of molten bias. We’re half kidding of course, because a great many you are mostly curious to see how the hell one of history’s most popular franchises could possibly benefit from a transition to Nintendo’s decidedly underpowered portable. This here pictorial should settle any doubts for both camps.

Above: ‘Nuff said

But since it’s our job, we’ll elaborate. It’s not like anyone harbored any doubt that the developer behind the PSP’s Liberty/Vice City Stories could create an excellent GTA experience. However, the fact that Rockstar Leeds succeeded while moving the series back to a top-down, birds-eye perspective should be commended wholeheartedly. Besides, once you factor in the inherent limitations of the DS, it’s practically unfair to call Chinatown Wars “scaled down”, as that’s only applicable to the loss of a 3rd person perspective and certainly not the game’s scope.

Outside of Alderney, this is the Liberty City you’ve come to know and love on PC and next-gen consoles. Right down to the smallest detail, nearly every district, car and building is represented on the DS in some fashion. We remembered an Infernus parked in a suburban Beach Gate driveway from our recent time with Lost and Damned - and lo and behold - there it was in Chinatown Wars, sparkly and adjacent to a more than suitable recreation of the Firefly Island amusement park.

Furthermore, there’s alsosomething a little faster, just a little slicker, about GTA on the Nintendo DS. Whereas both PSP Stories titles were acceptable facsimiles of their console counterparts, Chinatown Wars has been streamlined exclusively with portable gamers in mind. Plentiful auto saves, copious safe houses, and one button mission restarts are all part of the optimization.

Protagonist, Huang Lee, appears to have been lightened on his feet, as well.
Last year we challenged you to beat our time of four minutes and 18 seconds during a speed run from one end of Liberty City to the other. Proving that laborious drive times have been tinkered for gamers on the go, we did it under a minute-forty (sans Alderney, of course).

Even though the voice acting is truly missed, the game is incredibly well written, featuring an Asian Clint Eastwood playing numerous factions of warring gangs and corrupt cops against one another while trying to regain family honor in the wake of his father’s death. And the loss of voices and cinematics may have been beneficial in a sense - the reduced focus on theatricality resulted in some of the most creative missions and hilarious situations in the series’ history.

One of our favorites involved escaping in a leaking gas tanker, which created a pursuing flame that ignited everything (and everyone!) in its path like a wick. Positively Looney Tunes! Plus, you’ll also experience a long overdue prostitute uprising and quite possibly one of the cleverest robbery escapes of all time.

More Info


This is a superb transfer of the console GTA experience, which is shocking to see on this underpowered system.

Franchise nameGrand Theft Auto
UK franchise nameGrand Theft Auto
PlatformDS, PSP
US censor ratingMature
UK censor rating18+
Alternative namesGTA: Chinatown Wars
Release date17 March 2009 (US), 20 March 2009 (UK)


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