Giant Bomb Review


Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

  • DS

GTA: Chinatown Wars looks amazing on the DS, and the game retains enough of what Grand Theft Auto fans are looking for to make for a great experience.

Your uncle, Kenny, wants to run things in Liberty City. Of course, so does everyone else.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a very different kind of GTA game than the ones you're used to playing. That's a very good thing. Rather than trying to capture the essence of GTA's console experience on a handheld--like Rockstar attempted on the PSP--Grand Theft Auto for the DS is its own thing, custom-built from the ground up so that it makes sense on Nintendo's handheld. That means that you're going to get a different ratio of story and satire to gameplay than you might expect, but despite the different formula, Chinatown Wars comes out a winner.

The game's story isn't especially deep. You play as a guy named Huang, and you're delivering your deceased father's ceremonial sword to your uncle, as per family tradition. As soon as you step off the plane, you're grazed with a bullet to the head and the sword is stolen. You'll spend the rest of the game looking for the sword and attempting to sniff out a snitch in your ranks. Rather than the character-heavy stuff Rockstar did in GTA IV, the script in Chinatown Wars is a bit more lighthearted. As Huang, you encounter the typical batch of screw-ups, junkies, porn fiends, cross-dressers, and dirty cops you might expect to see in Grand Theft Auto, but as the mission dealers give out their deliberately atrocious dialogue, Huang is there to eat them up and deliver zingers about how, well, awful their dialogue is. It's a slightly different brand of humor than you get from most other GTA games, but Huang's smart-ass act is decent enough to keep things moving, even if there's no actual speech in the cutscenes.

It's the technical side of Chinatown Wars that makes it so impressive. Liberty City is large, and you see the whole thing from a slightly cocked top view that lets you see what's on the road ahead while you drive. It gives the whole thing a classic feel, provided you're old enough to define "classic GTA" as the games that came before GTA III. Objects in the world are defined by thick, black edges, and these lines give the whole world a comic book kind of feel. In motion, the game is almost always very, very smooth. The high frame rate on the action really brings the world to life, and you feel like you're high above, watching a cute little clockwork city with a dramatic organized crime problem.

Building your own sniper rifle is but one of the touch screen actions you'll perform.
The gameplay and mission structure is the most GTA-like part of the entire pacakge. You'll run cars off the road, follow people around without being spotted, snipe enemies from a rooftop, chop down foes with a sword, get in car races, and so on. The standard side missions are also in place, so you can hop in a taxi and take fares, hop in a cop car and catch criminals, deliver food, and more. There's also a large drug dealing side to Chinatown, and the basic rules of buying low and selling high apply. You don't do any street slanging as part of this; you merely ferry packages of drugs from one dealer to another. You'll occasionally receive tips that tell you if a specific dealer is in need of some coke (making him willing to pay above the normal market rates), or maybe another dealer is having a blow-out on heroin (meaning you can score for next to nothing). Keeping an eye on these tips will get you a ton of money, fast. The catch is that you don't really need a lot of money to succeed, so aside from a few mission-specific objectives, like one where a guy needs you to bring him some ecstasy before he'll let you do a mission, you don't really need to do any of this stuff.

Changing the perspective to more of a top-down view makes the controls in Chinatown Wars easy to grasp. For the most part, you're using the D-pad to move around and steer, the face buttons for fighting when on foot or driving when behind the wheel, and the triggers are used for camera control and targeting. The touch screen comes up fairly often, though, as it's used to select GPS routes, check your e-mail, and all sorts of other little things that require your in-game PDA. You'll also partake in a collection of minigame-like activities at various points. Stealing cars with alarms will pop up a hotwiring screen where you have to remove screws to expose a panel, then drag the two wires together and draw a circle to twist them together. Fancier cars have more elaborate alarms and, thus, more elaborate requirements.

Blowing up stuff is still a good way to get the cops on your ass.
But the touch screen stuff never gets too complicated. In addition to car alarms you'll smash locks, rewire control panels to open gates, assemble sniper rifles, work the controls of a crane, restart a pesky motorboat engine... you get the idea. Because of all this, you either need to be OK with using the touch screen with your fingers, or you'll need to play with a stylus in-hand, just in case something breaks out. It's gimmicky and sort of silly, but it doesn't happen so often that you'll get tired of seeing them. However, some of it does go a touch overboard. The drug dealing interface requires you to tap to open car trunks or satchels to trade goods, when a simple screen full of numbers would have been a bit faster.

Chinatown Wars is understandably shorter than the standard GTA game, as well. I completed the story in just under five-and-a-half hours. Of course, if you're the sort of person who gets wrapped up in all the side stuff, you'll be left with plenty more to do outside of the main missions. Online, the game will log into the Rockstar Social Club to put you on leaderboards and such. Locally, you can play a handful of two-player modes that put you in races, deathmatches, racing deathmatches, and others.

Chinatown Wars is an impressively designed game. The developers at Rockstar Leeds were very smart about which elements of GTA to carry over and which would just drag the final product down. The end result is a game that feels new and fresh, even though it largely relies on the concepts forged in GTA's past.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
47 Comments Refresh
Posted by FlappyHands

Awesome review, Jeff. Man, I kinda wish I had a DS sometimes...

Posted by super_machine

Im very tempted to pick this one up. Its been a long time since I bought a game for my DS.

Posted by 8xBiT

This game is awesome, much better than the PSP ones.

Posted by theMcNasty

     I was really hoping the development team would pull through with this one.  Can't wait to buy it!

Posted by Wally

Game is awesome....Nice Review.

Posted by Snail

Alright. Sold.

Posted by Binman88

Mine's arriving this week, can't wait to play it after reading all the great reviews. 5 hours seems pretty short though.

Posted by Endogene

Love this game.

Hey know what? You can jump big fat ramps, with tanks!

Posted by Double0hFor

maybe this will be the reason to finally play my DS again

Posted by twillfast

This is the best GTA-game I've played since GTA.
It's also probably the most technically competent game I've seen on the DS, aswell as the most fun DS-game since... Layton.

Posted by coldmilk

wow, I'm glad to see this wasn't another Grand Theft Auto Advance

Posted by PapaLazarou

It's one of them games you know is probably good but you have to force yourself to play because you just can't be bothered to invest the time into it. I got intot he game and realised you had to read and I havn't played it since cause it's too much focusing on two screens.... would just prefered for it to be voice acted so I could focus on playing.

Posted by Zinc

I wish my DS wasn't broken so I could pick this up.  It looks rad.

Posted by RHCPfan24

I got this myself and am loving it. Great review, Jeff.

Posted by OldManLollipop

Damn, I thought I could skip this.

Alright, I hope that the shoulder buttons aren't THAT important....

Edited by Death_Burnout

More reason to get this i guess!

I'm one of the fortunate GiantBomb users who's old enough to enjoy the classic GTA feel from this.

Posted by mad4it89

Great review as always Jeff.

Posted by hyperslug

Sweet! it looks like Calling All Cars meets GTA

Posted by Nettacki

Not getting this because I don't have a DS....

...but I LOVED the PSP ones!

Posted by TheHBK

Wow, this one flew under my radar because I just assumed it would suck since it was gonna be about the triads and it was on a handheld.  The PSP games were good but kinda left me disappointed.  I need to find out how it controls.

Posted by Rick

Amazing game in the palm of your hands. This really revives the DS.

Posted by TheGremp

Nice review, I would get it if I had a DS. :(

By the way, any plans on doing any video reviews soon?  It's been a while.

Posted by StarFoxA

The art style looks a lot like the style from GTA Advance.

Posted by Aaron_G

Nice review Jeff. I really want to get this. 

Posted by JJOR64

Kick ass.  I'm looking forward to this game for when I get my DSi.

Posted by RedSox8933

Sweet, I picked this up on day one and pretty much haven't put it down since.

Posted by cjmhockey

I figured this would be a skip when I first heard of it... guess not. Definitely going to have to pick this up sometime this week.

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

5.5 hours? jeez jeff. i heard 15 on ign. i think i'll get a lot more mileage out of this game once i get the flamethrower and chainsaw though, cuz i'm loving it so far and all i have is a measly smg.

Posted by THE_END

Awesome review Jeff!!!!!!

Posted by Kinarion

113th to find the Fo twins.  Represent.

Also, this game is amazing.

Posted by insanejedi

I can acknowledge the product and it's existence similarly to Saints Row, but I prefer the more mature tone of GTA 4.  Nice review though, you hit most of the points, story, graphics, gameplay, but where is mention of the audio of the game? Does Chinatown War's not have any radio stations or anything like that?

Posted by Kohe321

Awesome review! I'm getting this game this week.

Posted by Milkman

Yo Fifty! Where my sword at?

Posted by MeatSim

Rockstar does it again, of course.

Posted by Crono

Game looks great and I really enjoyed the review.  Five and a half hours though?  That has me a little concerned.

Posted by lukusluke

Your written reviews are always a pleasure to read Jeff; very well spoken, covered everything, and not too long. Thanks GB crew.

Posted by darkjester74

Just got this the other day.  This game is an excellent example of how good design can make a game succeed in the face of  disadvantages (hardware limitations, expectations set by previous games, etc.).  Very well done R*!

Posted by JJWeatherman

Awesome review. I can't believe it turned out so well. I honestly thought it would be a 3 star game at most. But I'll have to get it now.

Posted by exfate

Love me some classic top-down GTA. I would prefer a main mission a bit longer than 5 and a half hours, but other than that, this review swings it for me. Great review.

Posted by ElectricHaggis

Given that I'm not into the side mission stuff in GTA games, full price seems too much to pay for a 5 or so hour single player.
Nice review Jeff.

Posted by trimon

I'm so glad this site is not afraid to give 5 stars. Reviews shouldn't be nitpicking about decimal points and "perfect" ratings. If a game's good, recommend it. :)

Posted by G0rd0nFr33m4n

I very much agree with this review, Cheers!

Posted by BigShot

This game is amazing. It's really fun to just buy and sell drugs to get tons of money.

Posted by noahkorevaar

this game is so much better than the psp gtas

Posted by Media_Master

I haven't needed a DS game for a while, this one sounds like the next one I'll get!

Posted by El_Rickhead

i don't know wat it is about this game, im a huge GTA Fan, played them all to completion and then some, but i can't seem to enjoy this one.
I keep slipping in and out to do like 1 mission or drive around aimlessly for 10minutes, its annoying cos it looks quite good and i do want to play it through, but theres something about it thats draining the appeal out of me.
Am i through with GTA? looks like it

Posted by DG991

Finally got around to beating it. 
Very very impressed.... 
Everything was great, but the shooting in some of the missions pissed me off.