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GTA: Chinatown Wars
Nintendo DS

Reviewed on: Nintendo DS

EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rated: "T" for Teen

CHEATfactor Game Review
by Joe Sinicki

Audio/Visual: 6
Gameplay: 5
Lasting Appeal: 5
Overall: 6
CHEATfactor: 6

The Nintendo DS has always been about innovation. From the novel touch screens, all the way to the newly announced DSI’s dual digital camera – the “big N” knows how to create a unique player experience. But what happens when that innovation gets in the way of gameplay?

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, the latest in the notorious crime simulation series (and first on a Nintendo platform since 1992’s GTA 2), takes full advantage of the DS’s touch screen – almost to a fault.  While the technology does work well to advance the gameplay in most missions, there are points when it seems a little excessive and unneeded. Luckily, the title is saved by the franchises trademark addictive open-world gameplay, impressive visuals and a fairly engaging story, making it one of the portable’s top games.

Chinatown Wars stars Huang Lee, a spoiled youth from Hong Kong who also happens to be the son of a Triad gang boss. When his father is assassinated, Lee must travel to Liberty City to deliver the Yu Jian (an ancient sword kept in his family for centuries) to his Uncle Kenny. From here you’re in for your typical GTA style adventure, you know – killing, stealing, and running from the cops.

"... the game’s comic book like cell shaded visuals makes for quite the unique look."


I heard someone refer to Chinatown Wars as “GTA: The Animated Series” – a perfect analogy. While it does feature decent writing and it fits into the series timeline – it somehow feels a bit more lighthearted. The story unfolds with simple, still cutscenes that of course don’t offer the same production values as its console brethren, but like the rest of the game, there’s a noticeable charm to them. At first glance, it looks like the developers went old school and returned the series to its traditional top-down view roots, when in reality the camera system is completely unique to Chinatown Wars. While it is quite similar to the top down view, it’s zoomed in a bit more, and is fully rotatable. This combined with the game’s comic book like cell shaded visuals makes for quite the unique look.

Of course, what separates Chinatown Wars from previous GTA titles is the Nintendo DS’s touch screen. Most of the time you’ll view the gameplay on the top screen, while the bottom serves as your PDA – essential for tasks including managing your map, purchasing guns and ammo, keeping up with your objectives or just changing the radio stations.  Where the touch screen really shines is when it puts a new spin on series staples. In GTA IV, Rockstar chose to make stealing cars more realistic by forcing the player to hotwire certain vehicles; in Chinatown Wars, they took that to the next step. Using the touch screen you’ll maneuver a screwdriver to hotwire older cars, and will have to override the computer systems on the newer models. It’s a fun twist that adds more depth to one of the game’s standard features.

Sadly, the touch screen features do feel overdone at times. I’ve always been a supporter of the theory that the DS works best (in most cases anyways) when the touch screen features are used more to support the gameplay, rather than actually being the gameplay. Simple actions like cycling through your weapons inventory and paying tolls are controlled by tapping icons on the screen. Why not just map these actions to a face button? Constantly having to tap the screen to do things we used to be able to do at the press of a button makes the technology feel less like advancement and more like a burden.

"...adds another level of depth to an already deep game."


Another interesting addition to Chinatown Wars is the drug dealing mini game. With up to six different narcotics at your disposal,  it’s up to you to study the geography and market conditions of Liberty City and expand your…ahem…business as you see fit.  It’s an interesting way to make money, and adds another level of depth to an already deep game.

My only other issue with Chinatown Wars is the incredibly slim multiplayer suite. Perhaps I’ve becoming spoiled playing the multiplayer modes in GTA IV and the PSP GTA’s but I couldn’t help but feel a bit letdown.  Sure, there’s Wi-Fi support, but only to chat, trade items or view another players stats; to compete against another player (that’s right, multiplayer only supports two players at once) is via local DS connection. There is however a Co-Op mode, which I have been begging for since the series went online.

It would be easy to pigeonhole Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars as portable version of GTA, but it’s more.  By taking an old formula and putting a new spin on it, Rockstar has created the perfect meeting point of where the series has been, and where it could be. Sure, it has its problems, but anyone who enjoyed the past GTA games, or is merely a fan of well done action games will find much to appreciate in Chinatown. 



CHEATS USED: Weather Cheats, Spawn Vehicles, Weapon Cheats, ...more

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has all of the cheats you’ve come to expect from the series. At first I wasn’t sure if creating chaos would be as fun without the super detailed 3D graphics engine – but it was soon evident that my fears were unfounded. Watching the tiny people and trucks scurry around Liberty City is almost like playing a game of Lego GTA. Now there’s an idea…

What I really liked about Chinatown Wars is that it brought back some of the cheats we haven’t seen in a while. You can manipulate everything from the weather, to the sunlight, to the money in your pocket. Add to this the ability to spawn pretty much any vehicle or weapon and you have a recipe for one fun social experiment.

Oh and just try not to smile as you fire off the “exploding desert eagle bullets”.


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