By dankempster 9 Comments
Hey guys. Long time no blog. There's a simple explanation for this - I've been completely pre-occupied with Linguistics essays over the last couple of weeks. Thankfully they're all finished (for now, at least), and once again I have free time to devote to my passion for writing. So, what better way is there to simultaneously get back into writing and reacquaint myself with this great community than to put something out into the blogosphere? There are a couple of first-person shooters that I'm itching to share my opinions of, but first up is a Discovering Gaming Greatness blog that's been in the pipeline for two weeks now. Two Saturdays ago I reached the end of the main story missions in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the PSP, making it my first completed game of 2010. I loved every single second of the fifteen hours I devoted to this game over the two-week period that I played it for. Having played through Grand Theft Auto Advance, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, I can honestly say that Chinatown Wars is the best rendition of the GTA franchise on a handheld to date. Why? Well, let's get on to that...
One of my favourite things about Chinatown Wars was the sheer amount of variety on offer in its missions. One of the biggest complaints thrown at Grand Theft Auto IV was that towards the end of the storyline, the missions became indistinguishable from one another in their similarity, and to an extent I'd be inclined to agree. Chinatown Wars definitely doesn't have this problem. Over the course of Chinatown Wars' storyline, I retrieved sunken cargo from the sea with a salvage boat, assembled Molotov cocktails at a gas station and used them to ignite a storefront, and even escaped from a bank heist disguised as a ceremonial Chinese dragon. Admittedly, the variety did wane a bit towards the end, but the final few missions were so well-constructed that I didn't notice or care at the time. The variety in these crazy missions is further supported by some of the best use of quick time events I've encountered in recent memory. I haven't seen so much mission variety in a game of this nature since Vice City set the standard way back in 2002.
There were a few things in Chinatown Wars that impressed me so much, I wouldn't mind seeing them in future console iterations of the franchise. One of these was the drug dealing aspect, which acts as a brilliant companion to the main game. The best thing about the drug dealing is that it's as deep as you want it to be. My involvement with it was almost wholly governed by the tip-offs I received by email, but I never found myself struggling for money at any point. Another thing I'd really like to see in the next console GTA is the implementation of Chinatown Wars' wanted level system, which is reduced by forcing pursuing cop cars to crash. After attaining a five star wanted level and then losing it in an epic fifteen-minute police chase through the streets of Algonquin, I couldn't believe this didn't happen sooner. It's such an intuitive way of getting rid of those wanted stars, and doesn't feel as "gamey" as GTAIV's search radius or the GTAIII canon's police bribes. The thought of what could be done if Rockstar North implement this into the next console GTA is an exciting prospect to say the least.
A major compliment I feel like I have to give to Chinatown Wars, although it has no real relevance to the game's quality, is that it's completely changed the way I approach Grand Theft Auto games. Whenever I've got my hands on a new GTA in the past, it's been something of a personal tradition to plough through the story missions as quickly as possible before taking some time out to check out what else the game has to offer. My time with Chinatown Wars was nothing like this. Maybe my time with Morrowind last year has had some kind of subconscious influence on me, but more often than not I found myself taking prolonged breaks from the storyline to simply wander the streets, Molotov cocktail in hand, looking for security cameras to destroy in the hope I might stumble upon something even more interesting (which, more often than not, I did). The Grand Theft Auto games have always done a great job of providing players with interesting and cohesive open worlds to explore, and packing those worlds with lots of rewards, but that side of the game has always been something of an auxiliary way of playing for me. In my playthrough of Chinatown Wars, these two sides of Grand Theft Auto finally came together into one seamless experience, and I had a hell of a lot more fun with it than I might have done as a result.
Grand Theft Auto: Advance did a pretty good job of transferring some of the gameplay conventions of the 3D GTA games back into the 2D plane, but was difficult to play with the GameBoy Advance's small screen and limited controls. Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories were both very competent GTA games, but felt watered-down compared to their console brethren. Chinatown Wars suffers from none of these issues. It succeeds for me where these other portable GTAs have struggled because it seeks to re-interpret its console counterparts rather than emulate them. Both the story missions and odd-jobs are short and varied in nature to fit in with the pick-up-and-play nature of handheld games. While it still features Safehouses, it's possible to save anywhere as long as you're not on a mission. It's got a lot of extra content, perfect for moments when you just want to pass the time without getting too involved in the game. Chinatown Wars was made FOR a handheld console, rather than being made TO FIT one, and it's a better game for it. It's not perfect, that's for sure - the story was pretty weak, and the awkward lock-on made combat more frustrating than it needed to be at times, but the overall package is a brilliant one. If you're a fan of the series and haven't already, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.
I guess that just about wraps up this blog. Shame, really, because I have a lot of other games-related stuff to say. I've played about twenty hours of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII on PSP and have a lot to say about the game, as well as the aforementioned pair of shooters I recently played through. I've also acted on an impulse and ordered three Rare games from Amazon. I'm still waiting for them to turn up, but based on what I've played of Rare's other titles, I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero and the original Viva Pinata when they do appear on my doorstep. Anyway, thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
P.S. For the first time in a GTA game, Molotov cocktails are actually useful. Rockstar Leeds deserve a medal for making that happen.
Currently playing - Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP)