The plot is much more tongue-in-cheek than in the relatively dark Grand Theft Auto IV.
You play Huang Lee, the son of murdered crime-lord looking to avenge the death of his father. Unfortunately, Huang's arrival sees him embroiled in a war between all those itching to step into the shoes of the deceased bossman.
It'll take you about 8 hours to see the entirety of Huang's story, an 8 hours you'll be fully engrossed in. There are mini-games and a complete drug-dealing strategy side game to return to once you've finished the main plot; with multiplayer and timed missions fleshing out the experience.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars may be top-down like a traditional GTA game, but it still looks fantastic. Liberty City is as detailed, lively and vibrant as ever, with realistic traffic and people moving through the streets. Personality is on every street corner, with billboards showcasing the typical GTA cynicism and a new e-mail component (accessed via a PDA) packed with witty conversation. The game's static cutscenes are also packed with life, thanks to a great art-style and some interesting character design. You can just tell by looking at his picture that Chan Jaoming is way into transsexuals. It's hilarious.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is without voice acting and animated cut-scenes. Instead the whole plot is told through sub-titles and nifty art-work. It's complete testament then to the writing of Chinatown Wars that it made us laugh more than any other video game this year. The writing is so sharp and cynical, that you can't help but giggle at the flaws of the well conceived characters that litter the streets of Liberty City. One favourite mission of ours involves Zhou Ming, who has us busting our guts hijacking an ambulance and delivering a patient to his garage alive, only to cut his heart out and boast about the size of his manhood. It's black, but hilarious.
Originally designed for the Nintendo DS, Chinatown Wars is filled with little mini-games designed with the Nintendo's stylus in mind. Don't let that put you off though, because on the whole these mini-games are just as fun with the PSP's face buttons. For example, when hijacking a car, the screen will cut in half anime style presenting you with a view of the vehicles dash. Here you'll unscrew a panel by rotating the analogue stick and hot-wire the car with the L & R buttons. These minigames are generally fun, and they constantly pop-up during the main missions to keep things fresh. On the whole though, Chinatown Wars is much like any other GTA game — you chase people, you kill people, you avoid the cops. Still, that formula seems much better tuned in Chinatown Wars than any other PSP based GTA game, and for that alone the game is worth checking out.
Chinatown Wars has a whole sub-component that many games would be happy to consider their main attraction. The totally optional strategy mechanic in Chinatown Wars has you working the drugs trade — scouting out deals, making contacts and fixing prices. You'll be selling, stashing and buying drugs for cash in this component, which is like a full-on strategy game alone.
Given access to Liberty City's Ammunation online store via your PDA, you're privy to a whole range of weapons at the cost of your hard-earned moolah. The weaponry on offer is actually kinda neat, with tasers, RPGs and flashbangs all available alongside the more traditional GTA weapons. In fact, Chinatown Wars goes a long way towards providing weapon variety that other GTA games just fail to provide. There's a lot to experiment here and none of it feels at all tacked on.
The top down view in Chinatown Wars is on the whole a great move. It ensures the frame-rate and graphics remain consistent no matter what's happening on screen. Sadly, the camera can be a little slow to keep up, causing error as you attempt to maneuver vehicles while the camera is readjusting. The camera can also make it a little difficult to see everything that's going on. It's not a game-breaker, just a little irritating from time to time.
Presumably due to limitations on the game's original platform, the Nintendo DS, Chinatown Wars does away with the typically excellent Grand Theft Auto radio, replacing it with a few catchy, but repetitive mixes. It's fine cruising around to some simple tunes but, we do miss Lazlow.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars features a complete multiplayer component which we'll document in more detail at a later date.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a delightful package of tuned gameplay and inspired mission design wrapped together in a bow of cynical, dry writing.