Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

ReviewGrand Theft Auto is a series that has revolutionised the action/adventure genre. Over the years we’ve seen the series grow from the first ever Grand Theft Auto game to GTA4, and the team at Rockstar have set an example in showing us how a series should develop. In the previous instalment, we saw the entry of the series into the next generation of consoles. Playing as Niko Belic, gamers were reintroduced to Liberty City. Modeled after New York, Liberty City was a living, breathing city. The sheer level of detail in the game was at times difficult to fathom.

After the success of GTA4, one would have figured that Rockstar would take a break from the series. But our prayers and their profits convinced them to work on another GTA game; this time however taking a whole new turn. Say hello to Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS. Yes, for the DS.

[singlepic id=1060 w-200 float=left]Chinatown Wars is the story of Huang Lee, who comes to Liberty City to avenge his father’s (a triad boss) mysterious death and deliver the symbolic family sword to his uncle. Things don’t turn out as easy as Huang had imagined. He gets ambushed, the sword gets stolen and he is left to die. The story is not very unique and could have been worked upon, but the gameplay easily makes up for the shortcomings. The developers have gone retro this time, sticking to the birds-eye perspective that we loved in GTA and GTA2. However, it is to be noted that though the perspective is above the action, everything below – buildings, objects, cars, etc. are in 3D. The camera does an awesome job of following you around and can be repositioned at any time with the press of the left trigger. The controls are crisp and the game overall looks great.

Going through the entire story would take hours as it involves everything from carjacking to mowing down people. Chinatown Wars is the only game in the series that lets you replay any previously completed mission. So, if you loved the amount of mayhem you caused in a certain mission (or conversely, felt that you did not cause the amount of damage a mission merited), you could go right ahead and fire it up again. There’s also the Trip Skip feature that lets you skip the road trip while replaying a previously failed mission.

The controls are fairly simple; the traditional D-Pad buttons of the DS cover the basic handling, and pressing down the right trigger will activate the lock-on system. It’s probably not a good idea to look for cover in the game because wasting too much time would lead to your death or prison time. It’s all about taking quick decisions. In fact, charging down toward your enemies with a barrage of bullets might be your best option.

The touch screen of the Nintendo DS has also been used extremely well. The game features lots of minigames that require the use of your mighty stylus. For instance, stealing a car in Chinatown Wars doesn’t merely involve breaking into the car and driving away. Instead, you’ll be forced to play a mini game in order to start the car. This can be really fun, and frustrating at times, especially when you are trying to run from the cops or trying to catch up to an enemy.

[singlepic id=1065 w-200 float=right]Other mini games include working at the Tattoo Parlour to earn some quick bucks, or trying your luck at the Lottery, which again is very addictive. However, one of the major letdowns of the touch-screen system is the way projectiles such as grenades and Molotov’s are lobbed. Lobbing a grenade or Molotov involves you having to push the stylus on an icon and sliding it into the direction of your target. It sounds fairly simple, but more often that not, you’ll find yourself missing the target and blowing yourself up. Weapons, however are abundant; you have 20 different types of weapons at your disposal, including grenades, Molotov’s, snipers rifles, and shotguns.

In GTA4, Nico had the cell phone; in Chinatown Wars however, you have the PDA. Everything in the game revolves around the PDA. You can read your emails, select waypoints and even save the game. The touch-screen makes the PDA highly accessible and useful. It is extremely well designed and enhances the overall experience.

Huang’s major economic turnaround in the game comes from drug trafficking – buying drugs cheap and selling them at higher prices to earn a profit. You will become friends with dealers who will send you emails about recent bargains. I have to say that this new feature is highly enjoyable and addictive. More often than not you’ll find yourself getting distracted from the main storyline in order to nail that one drug deal.

There are also loads of other ways to kill time. There are certain vehicles to look out for that start races or delivery missions, and unique stunt jumps. Then there are the rampage missions, which challenge you to kill a certain number of people in a certain amount of time using a specific weapon. You also have the taxi, ambulance, police car, fire truck and noodle truck missions. In addition, you’ll find marked vehicles roaming around the city. Stealing them successfully and bringing them back to your safe house will reward you by letting you keep its contents, which could be drugs, weapons or cash. All this could keep you busy for quite some time.

[singlepic id=1063 w-200 float=left]One of the major changes in Chinatown Wars is the wanted system. Instead of out-running the cops like in previous games, here you have to destroy the police cars to reduce your wanted level. For example, you have to destroy two police cars in order to reduce a two-star wanted level. Personally, I love this change. Destroying cars is far more satisfying than out-running them.

Graphically, Chinatown Wars has reached levels that no DS game has come close to. The game feels right; it feels perfect. It’s hard to imagine compressing the mighty GTA into a small, little cartridge, but Rockstar have all but nailed it. Liberty City is beautiful; everything from the Star Junction to the dark back alleys look fantastic. Cut scenes are different too. They are not animated or voiced; instead they are comic book like text-dialogues that add a unique feel to the game.

The game features five radio stations that offer everything from jazz to instrumental to rock. It’s sort of a mixed bag; either you like it or you don’t. I thought it added to the gameplay and complemented the fast-paced action of the game.

Multiplayer in Chinatown Wars allows as many as 4 players to compete in various competitions. These include standard races and capture the flag races, where you race to capture a van that is hidden somewhere in the city and bring it back to your home base. There is also a defend your base mode. The only complaint here is that there is no online mode. The game however offers some Wi-Fi options; you can connect to your friends and exchange messages and trade weapons. And of course, there’s the Rockstar Social Club, where you can upload your stats and unlock hidden missions.


To conclude, the most striking thing about GTA: Chinatown Wars is that it stands at par or even surpasses the other games in the series. It feels right to hold a DS in your hand and play Chinatown Wars. It is a game that maintains the GTA legacy; a game that is thoroughly enjoyable. So if you own a DS, please do yourself a favour and buy this game.

(+) Grand Theft Auto on the go
(+) Great use of the touch screen
(+) Superb graphics

(-) Average storyline

Title: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Developer/Publisher: Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar Games
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rating: 18+
Platform: Nintendo DS

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