This is a guest review by Blues
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (GTA CW) is not the first time the GTA games have made their way to the Nintendo handhelds, in the past sticking to the top down style of the original games and being limited by the capabilities of the Gameboy Colour and the Gameboy Advance the results were average at best, the DS has finally received a GTA worthy of a Nintendo handheld. It's amazing that this game has seen release on the DS given the shift in audiences over recent years and the tendency for GTA to upset people, Nintendo has let Rockstar release a game that is uncensored in its language, acts of violence and drug trading and surprisingly has not got it censored in Australia. They also let Rockstar make a GTA for the DS that is big in size and aims to keep you occupied in Liberty City for a while, all the while making a game that is a load of fun.
The game starts off Huang arrives in Liberty City, his father has been killed and a sword that is important to the triad has been stolen, an assassination attempt later Huang is out on the streets looking for revenge while helping rebuild his Uncles reputation and doing odd jobs to try and get names so he can avenge his father. It is the usual tale of revenge, honour, deception and betrayal, all told through still (or very slightly animated) screen cutscenes with text and emails that get sent to your in game PDA/GPS. If you've been spoilt by the big console versions it might be a step down from proper cutscenes, but you're not playing GTA 4 here and sacrifices have to be made to fit in all the game play and full on cutscenes and voice acting are pretty limited in the best of DS games. The story is serviceable enough for the game and while it isn't award winning it doesn't suck either, the main thing you'll be focussing on is the missions and the handheld Liberty City.
The story missions are what forms structured part of the game and thankfully the missions vary enough to keep things from getting stagnant given that there are quite a few GTA games out there now, but it is still your usual GTA experience and you have your simple group of missions; taking down someone, deliveries, escorting people about or make an example of someone. There are plenty of missions and the addition of the touchscreen minigames can pop out of nowhere and mix up the gameplay a little, the most common example given is assembling a sniper rifle there is also going down to the petrol station and filling up bottles to make Molotov cocktails, escaping from sinking cars, keeping people alive while you transport them to the hospital and hotwiring parked cars, every now and then a new action will pop up so it pays to keep the stylus close and ready to use. While there is no complaints about the missions themselves, in fact it's the first GTA where I haven't gotten to a mission so annoying that I stop playing for a while and let the game gather dust, the missions are very much on the easy side. While not everyone will have the same amount of ease getting through missions you will be hard pressed to find a moment where you throw the DS across the room. The missions are not usually long which is most likely due the portable nature of the DS and you can't save during a mission, thankfully you can save anytime outside of a mission and it also autosaves whenever you complete a one as well, gone are the days of only the safehouses being your save point.
While there is plenty of missions given to you through the story portion of the game there is thankfully lots to do on the side. The whole of Liberty City is open to you from the beginning, early on you are introduced to the Drug trade which I will go into later and you are given the means to go hunting down the surveillance cameras which serve as this games secret packages. Additionally there are plenty of races dotted around the city and plenty of vehicle based missions like firefighting, delivery, rushing people to hospital and vigilante missions all you need to do is steal the right vehicle, rampage missions also make a return. There is plenty to do in the game should you get tired of story missions, next to the story you will probably sink a lot of time into the games Drug trade. Essentially it involves moving around the city trading with the dealers, most of the time you probably won't deal with them until you receive a tip-off from them about someone wanting to offload some cheap drugs or are willing to pay generously for some, money in the game is not in abundance and if you want to be able to purchase properties and purchase weaponry chances are you will need to put in the legwork. On top of the usual vehicle based missions there is also warehouse raids and hijacking supply vans from the different gangs or Ammunation, neither of these have shown to have a high yield other than getting some drugs or powerful weapons earlier than you can buy them, this also means ammo is limited so you probably won't use them until you want to stir up some trouble while getting about the city as the missions never get so tough that you cannot get through them without a trusty SMG. The culmination of all these missions and oddjobs should keep your overall game time over 15 hours at least, unless you rush through the story and do the minimal in which you could probably reduce that time but then you're not really getting the most out of the game and you'll never get anywhere near 100% completion.
Throughout your time in Liberty City you will make plenty of use of your in-game PDA as you regularly receive emails from your contacts and dealers, Ammunation is now dealt with through the PDA as an online shop and weapons get delivered to your safehouse and you can also keep track of your stats, drug info and GPS locations. The PDA on the bottom screen is handy, one tap and you can check the emails, you can bring up the GPS and set a new point to go to or go to a contact or dealer and it's also from here that you swap weapons and use the stylus to drag where you want to throw a grenade or Molotov, but unfortunately there are a few little niggling issues. The tips on the game says that the GPS will give you the shortest legal way but some of the routes it give you are horrible and you'll find yourself having to remember where you're going based off of the map until the GPS gives you a more direct route. You can also save locations for easy locating later on so you cannot give the location another name so you know whether you've saved it because there is armour there or if there's a camera to smash and you won't find out until you drive across the map when you have some time. The touch screen throwing of Molotov's is clunky and while you'll probably use it most for destroying cameras you usually have to go right near your target and spend a few seconds checking the trajectory so you can hit it, it is barely handy in a fast moving situation and while you're busy focussing on the top screen it can be easy to forget that only dragging the stylus along the right symbol will actually throw and you will find yourself opening up the emails in the middle of a fight, the last minor issue would be the save game while it only takes some scrolling and clicking to get to there's no reason it couldn't be in the first group of options for quick saving when you're only having a quick game, past these minor issues the PDA is very useful for getting around and for the most part time saving.
Visually Rockstar have done an incredible job of making a living world, while it's nothing that you wouldn't see in other games it's the small attention to detail such as umbrellas showing up when it starts to rain, the weather system and the activities you notice happening as you make your way around town. The game manages to maintain a decent frame rate throughout most situations, it was when there was lots of action, whether it is a large police chase or battle with explosions going off where the game would start to chug a little and unless you're looking for a big brawl you won't come across it often. To really appreciate the effort that has been put into the look of the game you need to see it all moving to get a good look at the city that has been crammed into a DS cartridge without a loading screen to be seen.
The sounds of GTA CW are not going to live up to the expectations of those who were expecting full licensed songs and radio stations full of humorous talkback and as with any complaints that there have been about the cutscenes there are very unrealistic expectations. When out of the cars there's the sound of the world around you, cars going by, the sounds of hustle and bustle around and people yelling when you run them down, it all creates the right atmosphere, although it would be nice for a GTA character to discover an MP3 player for once in case there is no car about. There are a handful of radio stations when you are cruising around the town and while they aren't filled with singing they are perfectly functional and give you something decent to listen to, the only real downside is that after a while you will have heard all the songs plenty but for a DS game it packs plenty in with everything else in the game, put some of your own music on should the situation get too dire.
Getting about Liberty City is pretty easy, you can walk, run, drive and swim, and there are plenty of cars to steal and boats to appropriate for your cause, a lot of them all control differently whether it is the speed or the steering and weight of the vehicle and over the course of the game you'll discover which ones are good and which ones to get if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere with no choice or throw caution and steering to the wind and hop on a chopper. Stealing parked cars will bring up a minigame on the touch screen to hotwire it and is definitely the least risky way to get some wheels, cops are all over Liberty City and there is a fairly high chance of getting into a cop chase when you hijack on the move, sometimes to the point of frustrating as you can either stay out of their way for a while or you have to take their cars out or make a mad dash to your safehouse so they can't bust you and take all the drugs you're holding. While it might be annoying at times, especially when you need to keep the police attention down in the end you will most likely find yourself more hesitant to steal moving vehicles or more prepared to smack some cop cars into a barrier. Overall the driving is only as good as the person controlling it and how they handle each car, there is a little help with the "Steering Assist" option on where you will generally straighten up on roads to make driving a bit easier with a D-pad and it does make things a bit easier especially when your fingers start aching after an extended gaming session.
GTA CW does have multiplayer following after GTA 4 only this is limited down to local play, there are a few different games to play with a friend which comes down to racing or teaming up and defending a base, they're fine as something a little extra with the large single player game but ultimately you probably won't remember they're there until you have a friend with GTA nearby, there are also a few other small features like GPS location sharing, stat sharing, message sending and item trading. Rockstar have chosen to incorporate their online social club which you can sync your statistics to after you make an account, there is also a bonus for those who have finished the story and checked out the site and it looks like there is more to come in the future which will hopefully extend the game even further, it is worth making an account if you decide to get this game.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is an extremely well made game and Rockstar have definitely gone all out with what they could fit in the DS cartridge, while there are a few little nitpicks with the game they don't stop the fun and are far outweighed by the fun there is to be had in this game. For fans of the series it is definitely worth picking up if you haven't already and for anyone else old enough to buy a copy and not too easily offended by swear words it's worth a look, you will be hard pressed to find many other DS games with this much effort and content outside of a first party game. Now it's time for me to go, I have some surveillance cameras that need smashing.