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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars PSP Review - -

Gameplay 9.1
Graphics 8.8
Sound 8.5
Value 8.7
Distributor: Rockstar
Review Date:
December 2009
Ho Wong


Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Liberty City - the location familiar to many GTA fans and this is the location of GTA: Chinatown Wars, recently released on PSP.  GTA: Chinatown Wars was exclusively released on DS quite a while ago and critically acclaimed. It was an excellent game and it was amazing what Rockstar managed to fit in.  I never thought that it would ever stay a DS exclusive and with the reasonable but less than expected sales of the DS version, it was no surprise when Chinatown Wars eventually popped up on the PSP.  

Chinatown Wars follows Huang Lee, a son of a recently murdered Triad Boss. During the initial cutscene, Huang is delivering his father's ceremonial sword to his Uncle Kenny when he is attacked and the sword is stolen.  Upon meeting Uncle Kenny, Kenny reveals that he was to give the sword in to the current Triad boss, Hsin Jaomin, in order to garner favour and become his successor.  Huang, on the other hand, is not only interested in who attacked him and stole the sword but also who killed his father. Thus begins Chinatown Wars.

The game is based around missions that Huang must complete, each mission being delivered on Huang's mobile.  Missions usually involve driving somewhere, shooting or blowing something up, but include a lot of other things like stealing, sniping and even defibrillating (one of the missions involve an ambulance). Each mission will advance the story as Huang gets contacted by different seedy characters wanting certain things to be done.

The missions are great fun and have a lot of variety although a lot has been lost in the control system in the conversion from DS to PSP.  Compared to the DS controls, the button/controller combinations seem to be more fiddly - perhaps we are just too spoilt with the DS offering a lot more flexibility in its gestures. Despite this, people who have played other GTA games will be familiar with the general controls as they are similar to previous games.  

Chinatown Wars is viewed from a rotatable overhead view, unlike recent GTA releases, slightly reminiscent of GTA 2. The cutscenes are also well done cell shaded in a comic book style. These scenes are sans voice acting which surprisingly is not really missed.  The graphics from the DS version have been cleaned up with added detail and lighting and the music has been modified to take advantage of the improved PSP hardware.  A suggestion to prospective players - don a set of headphones and appreciate the music and sound effects.  As with a lot of PSP games, one misses out a lot of aural detail when using the tinny PSP speakers instead of a good set of headphones.

The mobile in the game is not only used for receiving mission emails.  You also receive drug emails alerting you to good drug deals going down.  Prices of different drugs depend on the region but at certain times, bargains may be had and drug emails alert you to the location of the dealer and at what time the bargains will finish.  

This controversial side activity is a lot of fun and brings in a lot of dosh,   The mobile also includes a GPS, allowing you to set GPS destinations, with the route then appearing in a minimap on your main screen.  One of the features removed from the DS version is the addition of arrows that appeared on the road, something that made the DS driving much easier.  You do have to concentrate more in the PSP version, as your eyes flick backwards and forwards from the road to minimap and back again, whilst avoiding obstacles and ensuring you make the correct turns.

While driving, there will be many instances when you catch the attention of the police.  Stars will then appear - the more stars, the more police will do to arrest you (with the full complement of stars, expect helicopters and APVs to be on your tail).  Your only recourse is to outrun them such that they crash.  Each crashed police car ultimately removes one of the stars and with the disappearance of all stars makes you a free man.  

The police chases are exciting and strategic as you look for areas where you can force a crash or ram a police car, without slowing yourself too much to allow the police to pull you from your car.  Away from missions, there's a lot more to this game where you can practice with different weapons, order weapons online, be a part time tattoo artist or taxi driver, steal different cars, buy up different apartments and more.  

Chinatown Wars will certainly keep you busy for a long time.  The story is interesting and involving, and the gameplay is fun and diverse.  It is disappointing to know that Chinatown Wars is not doing too well sales-wise on the PSP.  Let's hope that the sales pick up as it'll be a shame if more of these kind of games don't get the development investment that they deserve. If you're looking for one of the best handheld games out there at the moment, Chinatown Wars is worthy of your game time.


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