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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars review

AT A GLANCE
  • 40 hours of diverse gameplay
  • PSP-exclusive missions, music, features
  • Finally, a proper portable GTA
  • This was made for the DS
  • Too many police cars on patrol
  • Controls are clumsy at times

When it was first released on Nintendo DS several months ago, Chinatown Wars was an ambitious, unprecedented use of the system's capabilities. Not only did it implement touch screen and microphone controls in clever, unobtrusive ways, it also proved that a "mature" experience could be had on a system best known for Brain Age and Cooking Mama. It went on to become the DS's highest-rated game of all time (currently a 93 average), and stood as a proud example of what was possible on the comparatively weak platform.

On PSP, Chinatown Wars is a different story. At a glance, its simplistic visuals and top-down view pale against the two previous GTA titles (Liberty City and Vice City Stories), which were fully 3D and played more or less like their jumbo-sized PS2 counterparts. The formerly touch screen minigames, such as disarming bombs, assembling guns and hotwiring cars, are out-of-place holdovers from a game that was built to be a DS exclusive. The in-game PDA, used for plotting waypoints on the map, reading emails and charting the progress of your burgeoning drug trade, is now navigated through a series of button presses and menu surfing instead of functioning like a real touch-screen PDA.

In other words, all that DS-specific stuff feels clumsy. The game was designed to have an entire additional screen devoted to all these controls, and now they’ve been crammed onto a button configuration that never quite gels (secondary control scheme included). A great example is the Select button, which pulls double duty as weapon selection (if you tap it) and talking to pedestrians (if you hold it). Really? The usually obsolete Select button has two jobs?


Above: Worked great on DS, not so much with analog nubs

OK. With that minor amount of bitching out of the way, we’re happy to say the rest of game is just as ruthlessly addictive and deceptively deep as the DS original. More importantly, its mission structure and overall playability are much better suited to a portable system than the aforementioned Stories titles. Instead of trying to ape a pre-existing PS2 game, both in presentation and in gameplay, Chinatown Wars wisely chops your goals into easily digestible bits and alters police chases so they’re far easier to ditch (though problematically frequent). The alterations make Chinatown Wars perfect for quick sessions or hours of consistent dicking around.


Above: Got 5 minutes? Fine. Got 5 hours? Even better

Thankfully there’s quality to this quantity. The storyline missions, which take pampered Huang Lee through a twisting tale of gang wars, corrupt cops and blood-soaked revenge, almost always have you doing something outrageously creative. True, many goals are of the “shoot people” variety, but several stand out as the most ingenious of the series. One moment you’re hiding inside a Chinatown parade as a colorful dragon float, forced to act out the performance so you don’t lose your cover. Then you’re firing a truck-mounted chain gun at rival gangs, or torching a warehouse full of weed, or tossing molotavs at the Statue of Happiness. In a GTA first, you’re able to replay any of these missions at your leisure, a welcome addition given how much we loved some of them.


Above: For every few dull missions, there’s a memorable tour of destruction

Rockstar saw fit to add even more content to this already freakishly robust package, as PSP owners now get additional music stations (including licensed tunes from DFA, Anvil and others), greater online support through Rockstar Social Club and new characters and missions. Best of all, they’re bathed in new lighting effects and enhanced visuals, so you definitely feel like you’re playing an improved, not rushed port. Well, aside from the cramped buttons.

If there’s one thing we want to make absolutely clear, it’s the amount of content packed into this seemingly scaled-back sequel. The drug side quests alone account for hours of searching for the best buyers and sellers, and they’re almost entirely optional. If you stick with ‘em, your pockets will be bursting with cash, financing all your weapons, ammo and numerous safehouses scattered across the game’s three islands (sorry, no Alderney this time). It’s remarkably easy to get lost in the drug trade and forget there’s a whole other game to play.

Above: A DS shot of an impending drug deal. It looks better on PSP 

Speaking of the islands (and of the size of the game), it bears repeating how well Liberty City has been reconstructed. If you played GTA IV, you’ll no doubt recognize several landmarks that we pointed out here using the DS version.

We realize this is a hard sell. The screens look rinky dink and piddling compared to not just GTA IV, but also earlier PSP efforts. In all honesty it looks like a game from 1997, which is actually true given that its guts come from the very first GTA titles. But don’t let any of this deter you from jumping in, even if you’ve never given the series a second glance.

There are just enough new ideas to lure those in who’ve never cared, and just enough left alone to keep the fans happy. Pity all of the DS-minded bits drag the finished product down a notch.

Oct 20, 2009

More Info

Release date: Mar 17 2009 - DS
Oct 20 2009 - PSP (US)
Mar 20 2009 - DS
Oct 20 2009 - PSP (UK)
Available Platforms: DS, PSP
Genre: Action
Published by: Rockstar Games
Developed by: Rockstar Leeds, Rockstar North
Franchise: Grand Theft Auto
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
PEGI Rating:
18+

13 comments

  • scott-pearson - December 16, 2012 7:53 a.m.

    Very pissed off, I turned the game off then when i went to go back on the game it said the save file was corrupt so have to start all over again now am not happy
  • Wink95 - January 1, 2010 11:41 a.m.

    It's going to be hard to choose from GTA: CW or LBP portable...:/
  • alexhofer3rd - October 27, 2009 9:17 a.m.

    I'm asking for a cheat of this game? Pls. post...^-^
  • Spybreak8 - October 22, 2009 9:15 a.m.

    Hope PSP owners buy this game and give it what it deserves, my fav DS game in my collection.
  • Cyberninja - October 21, 2009 7:53 p.m.

    @gamesradarbrettelson i think i will get the ds version because its also $10 cheaper where i live. i am mad that i couldnt get it when it was on sale for $20
  • America_FTW - October 21, 2009 12:38 p.m.

    how come they mention the fire truck misson twice..?
  • AMayer - October 21, 2009 12:59 a.m.

    Let me have the fuck out of this game, please!!!!!!!!!
  • GamesRadarBrettElston - October 21, 2009 12:33 a.m.

    Replaying missions is a first on PSP and all Sony platforms, so it's worth saying in that way. But yes, that was a feature on DS as well. Cyberninja: Yep, I think it's better on DS, having spent tons of time with both I feel I can say that easily. However, if you didn't play the DS one, this is absolutely worth trying.
  • WaffleLeech - October 20, 2009 11:12 p.m.

    Definently getting it.
  • EnviromentalDog - October 20, 2009 10:15 p.m.

    For quite some time now, I haven't really touched my PSP (a lot of that has come down to being to busy). With this, I think i'm going to have to dust it off, and play the fuck out of it. The review has only strengthened the fact that I need to really play it. Thanks GR.
  • Cyberninja - October 20, 2009 10:05 p.m.

    so your saying it was better on ds it had a 10
  • Pyroco101 - October 20, 2009 9:17 p.m.

    funny how they mention the replaying of missions are only on this version, because it was on the ds' too
  • MST2009 - October 20, 2009 7:25 p.m.

    This game looks amazing, I'm buying it for sure...

Showing 1-13 of 13 comments

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