Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Excellent Isometric Action
Score 9  Clock score of 9Gameplay: 10
Fun Factor: 9
Gfx/Sound: 9
Story: 7
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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is the newest Grand Theft Auto game and the first for the Nintendo DS. It's an ambitious game (aren't all the GTA games though?), the entire Liberty City crammed into a tiny little cartridge, complete with a full story and living, breathing world. I will tell you right now that Rockstar really pulled it off.

There's already been a bunch of content about Chinatown Wars already featured on this site, including my friend's first hour review of the game and my own DS M-Rated Blitz (this game is just one of six games rated Mature by the ESRB on the Nintendo DS). So check those out if you're interested, but here's my full review of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.

What was awesome: Free-roaming sandbox world with a ton of stuff to do along with a huge variety of fun missions. Whether they were driving the story or just developing the world more, Chinatown Wars always felt fun. I remember one mission in particular, where you have to dress up in one of those long dragons seen in Chinatown parades that dance around. The mission itself was at the same time both not GTA at all and yet classic GTA. You're not shooting anyone or running a gangster over, you're simply parading around trying to not raise suspicion. It's fun and a bit crazy - perfect Grand Theft Auto.

Selling drugs - in game. There's a great Dope Wars style game in a game that will have you driving all over town looking for cheap prices on weed so you can unload it to some college kids for mega bucks. Unfortunately, I wasn't really sure what to do with all my money? Just keep buying property I guess. It was a very fun distraction nonetheless.

The graphics are also some of the best I've seen on the platform. The isometric view gives a beautiful helicopter view of the city where buildings reach up at you. The designers utilize this to the fullest extent, creating caverns of skycrapers in some parts of the city and also placing above ground trains in other that zip by and block your view momentarily. You can tell they had a lot of fun developing Chinatown Wars (and also put in a ton of work).

What I liked: The top-down perspective really worked for me, I could never really get into the older Grand Theft Autos (pre III) which also featured this perspective. For whatever reason, it suddenly clicked on the Nintendo DS. Maybe the constant GPS map on the bottom screen did the trick. Being able to ask the game to map you out a route so you can just drive and follow the map instead of constantly trying to go towards a waypoint on a very small mini map is a great feature.

The game is sprinkled with some almost Wario Wario-esque mini-games, though at least they're all related to the action on hand. For example, to steal an unoccupied, parked car, you'll either need to hotwire it or deactivate the alarm. You only have about 15 seconds to perform the short mini-game, but it makes stealing parked cars a little more tedious event and carjacking occupied cars for attractive (surprisingly, it's the opposite in Grand Theft Auto IV, hotwiring just takes a second while carjacking puts you at risk of the driver seriously retaliating!).

Tired of carefully driving down the street, weaving in and out of traffic while making sure not to hit any coppers? Well, Chinatown Wars is here to the rescue! The game features an excellent street align that will have you heading right straight down the street, almost perfectly centered between two lanes. Now you can pretty much just drive straight and not worry too much about hitting anyone or anything. It's pretty subtle though so it's not like the game is jerking your car around like you're playing Halo 3 on the Xbox 360 and trying to aim.

What I didn't like: Well, sometimes you get a bit dependent on the built in GPS map and you'll just find yourself blindly following its routes... which typically end up to be pretty bad if you need to get somewhere in a hurry! Though the game warns you that they're the "fastest legal routes," I found that this game's definition of legal involves nearly no left turns. While doing the taxi-cab missions, I typically paused the game and mapped out the fastest route in my mind before delivering the person to their destination.

I know the game takes place in Liberty City, but I think I was spoiled a bit by San Andreas; where's the countryside? The backroads? The small towns around the city? I miss all those little non-city things that made San Andreas a truly special game in my opinion. I will admit though, the city is big, and it's wide open right from the start. No terrorist attacks blocking off the bridges or sudden drowning syndrome, go crazy!

While I thought the cutscenes were pretty well drawn, I really think they could have used some voice acting. Though I'm sure it would have increased the game's budget by quite a bit, I think it would have been a great addition to an already great game. But maybe that's why they didn't choose to use them, the game was simply good enough on its own without them.

Finally, the game felt a bit short, I know it's a handheld but all of a sudden the credits started rolling and the game was over! I was honestly a bit surprised, the game has a proper final mission and all, but I really feel it could have gone on longer. There's only about five or six mission providers so it just seems like it could have been fleshed out more. Plus we never get to properly use the sword!


Gameplay: 10
Very tight driving controls, excellent shooting mechanism, and a huge world at your disposal. Nothing else to ask for.

Fun Factor: 9
Missions are well varied and we even get some decent DS-based "mini-games." Wish the story was a bit longer as it feels a little too proportional to the size of the platform its on.

Graphics and Sound: 9
I wouldn't have minded some voice acting during the cutscenes, but the game's presentation was top notch.

Story: 7
Pretty typical revenge plot that ends in carnage. I wish there had been a bit more Chinatown culture too instead of just a bunch of gangsters saber-rattling.

Overall: 9
A must play for any Nintendo DS owner who can handle Mature-rated games (which the game rightfully deserves). Lots of action, lots of mission variety, and a huge open world that is still hiding a ton of content just waiting for me to find it. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars took me about eight hours to beat all the story missions and I spent a few more hours exploring the city looking for stuff to do. By the time I "beat" the game, I only had 50% of the game finished according to the completion percentage - this game is huge!

Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars Ling Sword