During the past couple of years Rockstar Games, have seen their fair share of successes on the Sony’s little portable that could. With Vice City Stories, and Liberty City Stories before it, the development team at Rockstar North we’re able to really gain serious experience while working with the handheld. Fast forward to 2009 and it’s another team’s turn in continuing what Rockstar North started as Rockstar Leeds, leads (pun intended) the way in the next title in the franchise – Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.
GTA: CW, although it’s the most cartoony looking title in the serious is by far the most mature, and quite possibly the most engaging as it has just as much to offer as the GTA titles found on non-portable machines. The drug trafficking element in the game is a welcome return to some good old-fashioned Rockstar Games controversy. Dealing isn’t really part of the main missions, but it’s a big part of the in-game economy as you can make additional income while learning the ins–and outs of drug dealing in Liberty City. Supply and demand is what it’s all about.
In the game you play as Huang Lee, a member of the Triads crime syndicate. For the most part (well the beginning of the game at least) he is a spoiled, silver-spooned crime-family brat. After his father is killed back home in Hong Kong, Lee embarks on a journey to Liberty City to deliver his a sword called the “Yu Jian”, which is like a Lee family heirloom to his eccentric uncle, Kenny Lee. His trip doesn’t go as planned as he is attacked and kid napped by would be assassins who snatch him up after he lands at Francis International Airport. They shoot him in the head, take the sword and leave him for dead by throwing him into the river. This is where the game opens up as you have to swim to the dock and get yourself to Uncle Kenny’s restaurant to get back the “Yu Jian”, and get revenge on those who killed your father and those who tried to kill you. It may sound cliché, but still tons of fun along the way.
As usual with any GTA title, the writing is top notch. Huang and all of the out-of-whack-with-reality characters you interact with along the way are quite entertaining. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a lot of stupid people out there think that these GTA games are mindless entertainment but if you really understand the writing and all of the subtleties and undertones you can really get some insight into how deep of a social satire these games are.
Having never played the DS version and not really knowing what to expect, there was one question that I would constantly hear after this title had been announced. “How will they pull off the various touch screen mini-games?” Well let me be the first to say that not only did I enjoy the mini games (whether hot wiring cars, making molotov cocktails, or sabotaging things) it never felt like it was done half ass on the PSP. It may not have a touch screen, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun. Some might seem a bit gimmicky, maybe even hit or miss at times, but it never takes away from the overall experience. The games PDA system, your do-it-all menu system, includes your email (a means to receiving communications and missions from games characters), a GPS system allowing you to set way points to various locals through out the city, and the ability to save anywhere (a welcome addition many GTA fans have been waiting for). And when using your in-game laptop computer found in your apartment, you have the ability to access the Rockstar Social Club. A “members only” online community that allows you to sync up all of your personal stats and check out the various online leaderboards, right from within the game. To use that feature you have to go online and register at http://www.rockstargames.com/socialclub.
Another welcome addition to the game play is the newfound ability to shake err smash the cops. No longer do you have to look like O.J. Simpson in the white bronco, by driving for what seems like an eternity to simply avoid capture by the “po-po.” No, in Chinatown Wars, if you want the “fuzz” off your back while you do your thing in Liberty City, simply ram them hard enough. For every police car that you ram, you get a star taken off of your wanted level. I have to say that this is probably the most satisfying (albeit unrealistic) feature in the game, as it reminds me of a proverb from my childhood:
“F- the police”- N.W.A.
Visually, the game breaks away from the more realistic graphics of games past to more of a comic book feel. The color palette (especially during the cut scenes) really gives the game some added pop. Frame rates are pretty much rock solid, even when all hell breaks out on-screen (and that happens quite often). Although its art style may seem cutesy to some, it’s truly a refreshing take on Liberty City, considering how gloomy and grey the city seems at times on its console counterparts.
The games sounds are solid all around. Explosions, collisions, and guns all sound as they should. Police sirens (just like in the titles before it) still have the ability to make you very paranoid even in this shrunken down portable form. One drawback I had with the sound was that although the game had various radio stations as expected, they didn’t have any officially licensed music. This wouldn’t have been a let down had the game not opened up with a licensed track during the opening credits. It got me very excited to see what would be on the radio dials once I got into the game, and alas…nothing as to what I was expecting. The music is good, but when you get to hear songs that you hear on the actual radio in real life I think it helps add a certain level of immersion. The lack of talk radio (with all of it’s social commentary we’ve all been accustomed to) is a bit of a let down as well, yet I’m sure the sheer size of this game and space available on the UMD had to have somehow played a role in that.
With that said, I think that’s the best way to close out this review. The size of this game, especially considering it’s a handheld title is borderline ridiculous. And although I’ve plowed my way through the main story arch, I still feel that I left so much left undiscovered. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, even hours and hours later doesn’t look like it will be escaping from my UMD tray anytime soon. If you have a PSP, it shouldn’t take too much thought as it’s a must buy.
- Title: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP)
- Developer: Rockstar Leeds in association with Rockstar North
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- MSRP: $39.99
- Release Date: October 20th 2009 in North America
- Review Copy Info: This Review Copy was sent to DualShockers Inc by/or on the behalf of the Publisher/Developer for Reviewing Purposes