Video Game Review - GTA: Chinatown Wars

March 31, 2009

Grand Theft Auto arrives on the DS with Chinatown Wars, set in the familiar Liberty City and loaded with plenty of crimes waiting to be committed. You'll control Huang Lee, the son of a triad boss who comes to deliver a sword to his uncle, and soon finds himself involved in a good, old-fashioned mob war. It's a big concept that Rockstar is trying to shrink down onto the dual screen.
It might look a little different, but Chinatown Wars has a lot in common with past GTA games. You'll have a lot of work to do after arriving in Liberty City. Missions doled out to you by a seedy cast of characters will take you to all corners of the city and ensure plenty of brushes with the law. In addition to killing people and making things go boom, you can buy and sell drugs to and from various dealers. It's a lucrative activity, and you'll definitely want to be on the lookout for large potential deals. When you're not furthering your career, Liberty City retains its reputation as a great place to explore and cause mayhem. 

There are also a handful of multiplayer modes, including street races, the capture-the-drug-van stash dash, and a cooperative defend the base game. The selection is decent, but you'll have to do all of it offline. Online functionality is limited to info and item trading. 

It's nice to have extras, but you'll want to spend most of your time furthering your criminal career in the single-player game. And if the feel seems off, numerous options like a zoomed-out view while driving or on-screen GPS arrows let you adjust the experience to your liking. 

The top-down perspective gives Chinatown Wars a different look and feel when compared to recent GTA games, but you may be surprised how much things feel the same. Despite the isometric perspective, driving and shooting translate well, with different cars having different handling and a lock-on targeting system. If you do get wasted or busted, a trip skip feature lets you pick up where you left off.


The game makes smart use of the touch screen, letting you toss molotovs or grenades with precision or play quick-and-easy mini-games. You'll run into different types of car security systems, dig through dumpsters for hidden weapons, and perform other gangster activities like setting car bombs. Absolute precision with a stylus isn't usually required, so a quick finger will serve you fine.


Like other GTA games, your progress is more or less linear. You'll often have a choice, but you'll need to hit key missions in order to move forward in the main story. The ride is thankfully interesting, and while you're essentially a glorified errand boy, fun is often one of your job perks. 

There are side jobs and optional missions available at all times, but if you're anxious to get to your missions you can hail a taxi and get right to the point. Whether you're playing for a few minutes or a few hours, it's easy to find something to do in Liberty City.

Chinatown Wars features a PDA interface that feels right at home on the DS, and provides plenty of information and functionality. Most importantly, the scaled-down presentation still looks and feels like GTA. The overhead view and cartoon look works well and falls right in with the art style you'll see on the front of any GTA game. 

Musical variety is covered thanks to five radio stations. While they don't have lyrics or DJs, they do offer a strong instrumental soundtrack for your life of crime. Dialogue and plot are delivered through humorous text and pictures that deliver GTA's humor and style with no hiccups. Voice clips are reserved solely for pedestrians, making exploring Liberty City-- the real point of playing a GTA game--interesting and immersive.

Chinatown Wars boils Grand Theft Auto down to its basic elements and wisely goes with what works. The game also makes wise use of the DS hardware without requiring too much back and forth between the control pad and the stylus. Most impressively, the game takes cues from the series' 2D past and incorporates modern amenities from recent installments, letting it live up to its legacy and stand on its own. If you have a DS and don't mind killing, drug use, language, and violence, you should definitely visit Chinatown.

Source: Rockstar Games