Plane rides make for great DS time and knowing this I picked up the latest in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, GTA: Chinatown Wars. I’m probably of the minority here, but I actually haven’t been a fan of Rockstar‘s famed franchise since they moved away from the top-down view. Call it out of date, call it nostalgic or call it old skool, but I loved the originals on the old Playstation because of the implied simplicity.
Chinatown Wars brings me back to the days where GTA was all about speed and efficiency as opposed to the free-roaming and exploratory details of the later games. The DS version is everything that I loved about the originals plus a bit more.
First up, the story. I’ve completed the game once now and like most GTA titles, there is a main goal. For Chinatown Wars the goal is take back what is rightfully yours while battling through rival gangs and under cover cops. The depth of story so far is really what separates this from the first few GTA titles in that it has borrowed the intricacy of character from the later titles and created a new experience. Reading much more like a comic book than a newspaper, Chinatown Wars manages to put the player deep into an intricate storyline without generating any confusion as where they should go or what should happen next.
Game play, as mentioned above, is nostalgic. No you can’t jump in a cab and have the driver take you to any place and no you don’t get rewarded for buying hookers or beating up innocent people in the street. What Chinatown Wars does very well is bring players back to the core values of a GTA game, being the best at what you do. The great thing about the game play is that if you don’t enjoy one component, you can master another (Drug dealing versus killing for cash). The one game play note that I should mention is how great the controlled driving experience is. All vehicles differ in strengths and weaknesses but the great part about all of them is the ability to snap into a straight line for a more efficient trip. Coming from a guy who can’t stand driving games cause he’s all over the road, this is a huge help.
Bringing this game to the DS has also given Rockstar a new platform to experiment with - a platform that includes a stylus and a touch pad. This makes for a brand new gaming experience for stealing cars, defusing bombs, setting tracking devices and unlocking combination locks. The only thing really awkward about the touch pad is using it to snipe enemies. I don’t think the potential has been reached, but Rockstar is onto something with this.
Finally the artwork. Chinatown Wars isn’t beautiful by any means, but it gets the job done. The top-down view is very limiting in that sense, but I think this game actually benefits from this. The cut scenes aren’t amazing, but they do capture that comic-book reading element that brings players into the world without any assumptions.
All in all, this game is a pretty good find. I used to love my DS for Brainage and strategy based puzzle games – but Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has really opened up the possibilities.