The GTA series has always pushed the limit of what is possible on whatever system it’s on, and this outing is no different. What the guys at Rockstar achieved on the DS is amazing. A big open environment, a sweet art-style, lots of action, and about 8 hours worth of gameplay are all packed in that little DS card.
For this particular handheld outing, Rockstar decided to go back to the old 2-D overhead view. This was a great idea as it not only brings on a little bit of nostalgia for long time GTA fans, but it also works really well on the DS. The biggest problem, usually, with this type of view is when you’re driving you can’t see that far ahead of you and crash a lot. This can be fixed by going into the options menu and increasing the lead your view takes in front of the car, but the default option isn’t terrible.
The other problem I had when driving was also fixable thanks to the options menu. Looking down to the bottom screen when driving to follow the route to my destination was difficult, but luckily, you can make the game display the arrows on the top screen, which makes driving a lot more fun and easier to accomplish. Getting around the world is pretty easy and fun. Whether you’re driving to a mission, or a dealer selling cheap ecstasy, the driving mechanic works just fine, even in a top-down view.
The other problem all the GTA’s had before 4 was the auto-targeting system, which unfortunately this game keeps. Tapping R locks on to enemies, and you have to use the L trigger with the d-pad to switch targets. I never quite managed to get the targeting to switch when I wanted it to, but the standard auto-aim can take care of the job most of the time. There were only a couple of times that I really got in trouble because of this mechanic, but it did get me sent to the hospital a few times. Now that I’ve addressed the two mechanics in all GTA games, let’s get on to the interesting stuff for Chinatown Wars.
The game’s story is a very generic Asian gangster story with the expected twists and turns. Unlike GTA 4, story is not at all a reason to play Chinatown Wars. The writing isn’t as spot on as usual in GTA games either. Several times I had to laugh during the story, but at how terrible the writing was, not at some clever piece of dialog or interesting turn of phrase.
The touchscreen is used to good effect in Chinatown Wars, from breaking the window of a sinking car, to three different ways to hotwire a car, the little mini-games are never that intrusive and help to break up some of the action. The only problem this brings about is that since you need to do mini-games every now and then, you constantly have to just hold the stylus in your hand at the ready. This can be kind of annoying since the rest of the game uses the buttons and you only have to use the stylus once in a while.
Touchscreen mini-games in DS games can sometimes be really terrible gimmicks, but for me these ones felt really natural and not forced. One of my personal favorites is how you have to actually make the Molotov cocktails. You start out by picking the amount of gas you want to buy at any gas station, and then you have to aim the pump as it pours gas to get the liquid in a bottle, then you just stick a rag in it and you’re done. These little diversions do a good job of breaking up the pace and are never that hard that you might fail or anything.
Not only do you have to use the touchscreen to hotwire cars and fill Molotov cocktails, it also plays host to the deals you have to make to make money in the game. Those deals are straight up drug deals, something I never thought to see in a game on the DS, but are used well in this game to get money for your player. Like most interactive economies, the point is to buy low and sell high. Different dealers offer different drugs at different prices, and by shopping around you can usually find a good price for any purchases or sells you need to make. You also get emails from dealers who want to get rid of their stash for cheap, or pay a higher price for certain drugs. Buying cheap and selling high is the goal, and it’s an easy enough goal to accomplish that it never gets in the way of the actual game, and can actually be a fun diversion.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is a great game for the handheld and can satisfy any hardcore gamers’ craving for something more than cooking games and language teachers on their DS.