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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP) artwork

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP) review

"Constant action. Constant fun. Thatís Chinatownís style. There isnít any dating, there are no strip clubs and you won't be wooing your fat cousin with burgers and drinks."

Traditionally, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has been based on one thing: intense car chases, often involving numerous cop cars. After a few titles that diverged from that path a bit, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars returns the franchise to that basic formula with nostalgic top-down action.

For those who didnít experience the game on the DS, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a lot like other Grand Theft Auto games but without some of the depth. Everything from the graphics to the gunplay has been simplified and focused (emphasis on 'focused'). Missions throw you right into the action with firefights and chase sequences, and though the controls may not be as smooth as they were in Grand Theft Auto: IV, the action is so fast that players wonít have time to compare. In this game, you arenít Niko Belik, escort service. You are Huang Lee, pissed-off Chinese immigrant. Enemies come at you in droves and you kill them by the dozens, then steal their best car and speed away into the night. In your wake lie the bodies of the hapless pedestrians that you ran over. Probably they deserved it. This is Liberty City, after all.

The cop chases, too, have moved away from the more passive hiding style employed in recent games and now focus on orchestrating high-speed crashes for the pursuing lawmen. If fast cars are your thing, youíll find that such events happen almost by default as the cops struggle to follow your meandering course through traffic and small alleyways. If you prefer the larger vehicles, then your strategy will be more along the lines of a demolition derby as you crush the cops against guard rails and force them off of the roads and into the ocean (splash!) or send them careening through gas stations (boom!). Itís really not much different from what Grand Theft Auto players have been doing all along, only now you finally get rewarded for it.

Constant action. Constant fun. Thatís Chinatownís style. There isnít any dating, there are no strip clubs and you won't be wooing your fat cousin with burgers and drinks.

A game for me has always meant ďsomething interactiveĒ and the design philosophy evident throughout Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars leads me to believe that Rockstar agrees. Nearly everything you do has a mini-game attached to it. Want to buy food? You have to scratch away a lottery ticket to see if you win a free meal. Need to hijack a car? First youíll have to unscrew its steering panel and hot-wire the vehicle. Want some molotovs? Youíll have to make them yourself at the local gas station. All of these things provide an avenue of immersion via the well-designed use of the touch screen capabilities.

Ah, wait. The PSP doesnít have a touch screen. Thatís the big argument in favor of getting this game on the DS instead. On the PSP, most of the mini-games have been downgraded to a degree that often renders them pointless and even annoying. On the DS, players had a reason to come back to places like the tattoo parlor. On the PSP, youíll nail the most difficult of tattoos on your first attempt and stop caring. Thereís a big difference between drawing a perfect circle on your screen and rotating the analog stick twice. The mini-games are varied enough to keep you interested when a new one appears, but the excitement of ďgettingĒ to interact with the environment has been replaced with the chore of ďhavingĒ to interact with the environment.

On the other hand, it would be an understatement to say that the PSP received a graphical overhaul. There are heightened weather effects, better lighting mechanics, more detailed car models and more on-screen characters. Everything has also been given that high-def sheen that the DS simply canít produce. There are still some blur and ghosting issues that can be bothersome, but those were also an issue on the DS so itís not really a point for comparison. The controls are also refined and allow players the option of digital or analog control. That's always been something that the DS lacks.

Besides, not every mini game has been butchered. The drug dealing in particular has remained unscathed, and you'll be pleased to know that it is as appropriately addictive as ever despite being one of the most mindless mini-games that Iíve ever encountered. You basically move around the city from one location to another at the bequest of random e-mails. Thereís nothing more complex to it than that. You donít have to keep anyone happy or win back turf from rival gangs (does anyone else miss that from San Andreas?), yet for some reason I canít seem to stop obeying the e-mails. Many a time Iíve declared myself done for the night only to receive an e-mail informing me that someone is buying downers at twice their market value across the map. Perhaps itís my consumer nature or perhaps the game is designed that well, but such e-mails always mean that I will be playing for another fifteen minutes. God help me if I get another e-mail in that time or come across a side mission. Itís the kindíve game that, against your will, can easily keep you up until the late hours of the night.

Establishing that Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a great game isnít difficult. Any gamer should be happy to have it in their collection. If you prefer graphics and analog sticks, youíll want to pick up the PSP version. If youíre more interested in the immersive mini-games and side quests, stick with the original release on the DS. I canít say that Iím annoyed by the differences. The point of a port, after all, is to play to the individual systemís strengths. Rockstar has accomplished that while ensuring that the game remains one of the finest in the franchise. Whether youíre pokiní with the stylus or rolliní with the analog, youíre gonna have a good time.


zippdementia's avatar
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (October 30, 2009)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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