Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

gtachina
What we liked:
+ Incredible visuals
+ Tons to see and do
+ Social Club features
+ Excellent storyline
+ Portable streamlining
What we didn't like:
- No voice acting
- Only two players in multi-player
DEVELOPER: Rockstar Leeds   |   PUBLISHER: Rockstar Games   |   RELEASE: 10/20/2009

For PSP owners, the wait was more than worth it.

I will be the first one to admit that I did not play Rockstar’s last DS effort. So when I heard that Chinatown Wars was coming to the PSP with new missions and a slew of connection features with the company’s Social Club, I was more than intrigued. PSP owners were no doubt disappointed that the latest chapter in the Liberty City saga was absent from their respective handheld. Leave it to Rockstar to make up for it by delivering the absolutely definitive portable version of the series to date. Chinatown Wars on the PSP is by far the most engaging, massive and downright enjoyable GTA available on the handheld systems. Fans of the series should definitely not miss a chance to play through this incredible title.

The premise behind the story takes us back to the ever-popular Liberty City. This time around you play Huang Lee who is a rich, spoiled son of a Triad leader that is returning to the city after his father is brutally murdered. Upon arrival you are met with violence, beaten and left for dead. Also the family heirloom you brought with you to give your uncle is now missing, which infuriates your uncle to no end. Unlike previous games this one is told without voice acting and entirely through comic-panel cut scenes. Amazingly as I progressed through the game I was still highly interested in the story thanks to excellent writing and getting just enough story without feeling the need to skip the scene.

The core storyline takes you through around 70 missions and lasts just shy of ten hours. This is of course if you simply stick to the main missions and never deviate from them. That in and of itself is a monster portable game, but when you factor in the massive amount of side missions, collectibles and other activities the game nearly quadruples in size. In the same fashion as all other GTA games there is certainly more than enough bang for your buck within Chinatown Wars.

PSP owners might be a bit surprised by the overall feel of the latest game. Unlike the previous Stories series, Chinatown Wars feels more akin to the classic top-down games. While the entire game is still modeled in glorious 3D and Liberty City is nearly indistinguishable from the console counterparts, the way things are handled are a bit different than you would expect. All of the controls are transferred over so you still tap the triangle button to jack a car, but seeing as how the PSP is sans the two extra triggers and analog clicks some things are handled differently. Regardless of the lack of buttons the PSP version of Chinatown Wars surpasses the clunky, more constricted controls found in the DS version. Some of the mini-games don’t translate over as well without the touch screen, but the positive upgrades certainly outweigh the bad.

One of the most impressive aspects is how well the game caters to the fact that it is a portable game. Subtle nuances are abundant and make some of the more complicated actions much more streamlined to the player. For example your car now aligns itself to the road automatically, making navigating the city a much simpler task. Drive by shootings now have an auto-aim and you can find your way around the city easier by activating the world GPS system that draws yellow lines on the streets for easier navigation. For gamers that hate the analog nub you can also switch the controls over to the d-pad for more precise controlling. You PDA is your best friend in the game, and you will use it often. But it also holds another function that is new to the PSP iteration, and that is the Social Club features.

The Social Club gives gamers another avenue to earn money and explore the world of Chinatown Wars. On the website, and also accessible through your PDA within the game, the service provides arcade mini-games and even a massive world map that shows you where every drug dealer, hidden collectible and stunt jumps are located. The arcade games also earn you money within the game and are actually quite fun to play including the new Peking Duck Hunt, which as you can imagine is a play off the classic NES title and of course Chinese cuisine. The Social Club is just one of the many features that solidify Chinatown Wars as the definitive portable GTA experience.

As I mentioned the story missions are only a small piece of the overall puzzle, but even those are filled with replay. Chinatown Wars introduces the ability to replay any mission you want after you complete it to try and achieve a higher score. This is actually really cool because how many times in previous games was there that one mission that you absolutely loved, but had to replay the game to do it again. This also gives you a chance to try out different strategies and scenarios. In addition you have 100 security cameras to find and destroy, plenty of side missions including the ambulance and taxi diversions, and tons of other things to keep you occupied around Liberty City. In fact the drug dealing aspect of the game is so fleshed out that you could easily spend double-digit hours just earning money this way.

This would be wise as drug dealing is the best way to earn extra cash in Chinatown Wars. I know that sounds absolutely terrible, and if a parent ever read that comment maybe they would understand why their six year-old should not be playing this game. The sheer amount of variables and options that go into this aspect of the game is astonishing. Things such as supply and demand, who you decide to deal with, and even events that you trigger within the world will affect how much money you can rack up dealing drugs. For instance dealing in front of one of the many security cameras makes you more respected. The amount of time and effort you can spend making money selling drugs is another example of how much Rockstar spends the time to get all the little details just right.

The PSP version also comes packed with a brand new set of missions featuring a reporter named Melanie Mallard. In this set of events she will be working close to you in order to get her story on the seedy underbelly of society. The new dialogue is superbly written and the missions are just as inventive and fun as the rest of the game. Rockstar could have gotten by with simply porting the entire game over to the PSP and called it a day; and let’s be honest it would have been more than enough, but this extra effort really sets this version apart from its counterpart.

Speaking of upgrades the visuals in the PSP version are absolutely stunning. Brand new textures and lighting have been applied to every single thing in the game and it shows. Visuals are gorgeous on the PSP’s slick screen. Even the cut scenes are nicely drawn even if they don’t animate or have voice over work. That is probably the most disappointing aspect of the presentation, but even without voice work the story excels past most games that do include it. The music is your typical GTA breed of mish-mash radio stations that offer up a nice diversity of tunes to listen to while wreaking havoc. Sound and visuals are most impressive, even if the game lacks voice work.

If all of that wasn’t enough Rockstar has even deemed it necessary to throw in a local multi-player functionality that supports two players. Yes the number is small, and we would have loved to have seen support for more, but as it stands the modes are pretty enjoyable in their own right. There are racing modes where destroying each other’s car is the objective. This is actually more fun than some of the standard mission stuff. There is a deathmatch mode as well that involves police and other hazards, and somehow manages to be entertaining even with only two players. There are some online options such as sending messages to your friends, but if you want to play together it has to be local or nothing at all.

Amazingly Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars outshines every other portable version of the series, and even some of the console offerings. This game is absolutely one of the most diverse and feature-rich games on the PSP, or any other system for that matter. The upgraded visuals, new missions and Social Club features were more than enough to make up for the wait PSP owners had to endure for the title. If you have even the slightest interest in the series this is a must buy, hell I would go as far to say this is easily one of the must-own titles for the system. There are very few games that will define a system; this is one of them.

Ken McKown

Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.