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Jeremy Jastrzab
21 Oct, 2009

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

PSP Review | Hang on a sec... We've been here!
About six months ago, the Grand Theft Auto franchise made its debut on the Nintendo DS. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was built from the ground up for the DS and while influenced by the old top-down GTA games on the PC, it inherited a lot of the modern flair from Grand Theft Auto IV. However, it was the over-the-top nature of the story and the crafting with the DS in mind that helped the game stand out.

Realising that they had hit on something, Rockstar have now re-released the game for the PSP, and are currently developing versions for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Unlike the DS, the PSP already had two GTA titles in the form of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, though both these titles essentially aped the console versions, but so did most PSP games. So the release of a GTA game on the PSP is nowhere near as big a deal as it was for the DS.

In short, players who already own GTA: Chinatown Wars on the DS have little reason to come back to the portable Liberty City. Namely because it is essentially the same game. You play as Huang Lee, the spoilt son of an ex-Triad (re: dead) boss tasked with delivering a ‘family heirloom’ to his Triad uncle in Liberty City. Of course, you’re ambushed and robbed upon arrival, where you then need to work with your uncle to retrieve the heirloom, find your father’s killers and help a variety of freaks and weirdos along the way.

Has there ever been a game to kill off a main character so fast?

Has there ever been a game to kill off a main character so fast?
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As mentioned in the last review, the story in Chinatown Wars is much more comical and tongue-in-cheek rather than the more serious nature of the console counterparts. The dialogue, while not as clever, is ridiculously over the top, rather crude and worth a guilty laugh. Overall, while the story is much simpler and less intertwined with moral ambiguities, its looser nature is much more suited to the handheld format. The PSP version adds an extra weirdo for you to work with, but otherwise, the story is unchanged from the DS version.

Content wise, the DS and PSP games are pretty much identical, bar a few extra missions on the PSP. All the crazy escapades of the story are intact, such as driving around town in mini-gun mounted car, dressing up as a dragon in a parade or taking out a gang by using a rocket launcher... while riding a helicopter. Outside of the story, you’ve got numerous side missions, the narcotic trading economy, the mini games and all the features that made Chinatown Wars. The only thing that players may notice in general, is that Chinatown Wars has a cast that is a lot smaller than its console counterparts.

The problem with porting the DS version to the PSP, is that the game was originally built with the DS in mind. As such, while the games are fundamentally identical, there have been advantages and disadvantages to bringing the game from two screens back to one screen. Chinatown Wars for the PSP reverts to one screen, so the in-game view along with all information such as your health, ammo, current weapon and map have had to come back to the one place. Thankfully, there is enough real estate on the PSP screen for all these things to fit just fine.

This was easier on the DS.

This was easier on the DS.
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Moving around in the top-down world with the d-pad was fine on the DS, if somewhat imprecise. However, the analog nub on the PSP is much better suited simply because it’s more precise. The same can’t be said for driving though, as it would have been nice to use the d-pad but it is being used for changing camera angles and radio stations instead. Also, the grenade/Molotov controls are much easier to use and not as distracting as the DS touch based controls. Otherwise, most in-game control aspects remain as they were on the DS. So while shooting and moving is effective, it can still be ungainly in some close combat situations for both systems.

Two of the aspects that aren’t necessarily better off are the mini-games and the PDA. Previously, the mini-games were well suited for the DS touch controls and were fairly engaging. Now, the face buttons are the only feasible replacement. This causes the mini-games to lose their dynamic nature and devolve most of them into a button mash, which makes them much easier. There is one delightful game where you’re tampering with a Tonks’ car, and on the DS you had to ‘figure it out’, while you could probably get through it on the PSP with your eyes closed. While the developers have done a decent job of converting the PDA to be used with face buttons, it’s still an inferior alternative to the touch-based controls on the DS.

Unfortunately with ports, and this applies across the majority of developers, is that even if they’re made some time after the original, they never seem to improve upon the original game. Often, the only ‘improvement’ is additional content. Case in point with Chinatown, as to why the overtly sensitive and erratic police weren’t toned down, or why there still seems to be three policemen on every block. While the issues that were outstanding in the DS version were fairly minor, it’s still disappointing that PSP ports (and other ports) rarely are given the chance to improve upon the original.

Ooo, nights and lights.

Ooo, nights and lights.
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GTA: Chinatown Wars is still a very good portable game on the PSP. However, there are a few annoyances and inconsistencies that have come through. Aspects such as load times that were all but non-existent on the DS have crept onto the PSP version. Sure, they aren’t long and won’t be noticeable to those who only play the PSP version, but it is disappointing. Furthermore, there are a few minor bits and pieces not up to scratch, such as text-less cut scenes, slow responses in the PDA and the occasional inconsistent control input.

The graphical and audio presentations have definitely improved though. Going from a cel-shaded presentation, all the structures in the game are pretty much in full 3D now, while the characters now have more shape to them. The style has been retained so it doesn’t initially look that different. Well, not until you put the two versions side by side. Still, things like weather, night and day and fire effects are much more prominent on the PSP, and all the animated stills have been redrawn to make sure they fit in. The audio tracks and sound effects are much richer and clearer on the PSP version, and there have been some new ones added as well. So, you’re going to have to play a little longer before they start repeating too much.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars still works on the PSP for the same reason that it did on the DS. It’s just about as close as you can possibly get to a console experience on a handheld. Furthermore, the top-down perspective allows for a much more ridiculous and over-the-top play experience and almost feels like this is how GTA should be played. While overall it’s no better than the DS version and there are some minor quirks, the PSP version of Chinatown Wars ought to be considered by any fan of the series that hasn’t already experienced it on the DS.
The Score
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the PSP may be no better and not much different than the DS version, but it's definitely worth a shot for any GTA fan who hasn't played it yet.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Content

Debut trailer for GTA: Chinatown Wars on PSP
09 Oct, 2009 Now the other half can see what all the fuss was about.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Preview
15 Sep, 2009 Didn't think we'd be back this fast.
4 Comments
4 years ago
Anyone know when the iPhone version is released? I'm very tempted to pick this version up but not if I can get a portable one in a manner of hours/days/weeks.
4 years ago
I'm still not sure whether to pick this up on release or wait until it's cheaper. I should wait until I play it before passing judgement, but it just seems like it's going to be a step back (and hence, not worth $70) after playing LCS and VCS which were brilliant, even if they were essentially the same as the PS2 iterations. But at the end of the day, it's GTA, so it's a must play.
It's a different enough experience to the other PSP GTA games to justify a purchase. The story is pretty crap, but otherwise it's a fantastic game.

There's no way I'm buying the PSP version as I own the DS one though. The game loses half its charm with no touch screen controls. Even the small things like flicking change in the toll booth with your stylus, or tapping the glass to break free from your submerged car were great. All these little things add up.
4 years ago
Toneiiblue wrote
Anyone know when the iPhone version is released? I'm very tempted to pick this version up but not if I can get a portable one in a manner of hours/days/weeks.
Soon.

I was going to by the DS version while Big W have it cheap, but will wait now I know the Ipod port is due soon.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  20/10/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Rockstar Games
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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