Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

In terms of open-world portable games, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better than Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.

A lot of people seem to forget how the Grand Theft Auto series started. At first, there weren’t large cities to explore, glamorous voice actors to listen to, a deluge of pop culture references to laugh at or complete soundtracks to sing along to, but more importantly, there weren’t any three-dimensional graphics. Chinatown Wars is a game that takes the series back to its roots without getting rid of some of the best aspects of Grand Theft Auto. So while the overhead camera and 2.5D visuals might take some time getting used to, this is still the GTA we all know and love and in portable form. And that’s a tremendous achievement.

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Deviating from the main missions is always fun in Chinatown Wars.

One of the best parts about the GTA series has always been the noteworthy and tongue-in-cheek narrative. In GTA Chinatown Wars, you play as Huang who has inherited a legendary sword from his father and you’re supposed to deliver the weapon to a patriarch of the family who lives in Liberty City. Apparently, your father was a Triad boss and he won that sword a long time ago in a card game and since then, it has become a family relic, but a lot of people are interested in the weapon and they’ll do everything in their power to take it away from you.

So what else has changed apart from the story? For starters, there are several mini-games. Whenever you steal a car, for instance, you need to use a screwdriver in the ignition lock and twist it and turn it to start the car. Other mini-games include molotov-making, looking for hidden guns on dumpsters, setting up bombs, opening safes, hot-wiring cars and so on. There’s also an overhead perspective that works better than you’d expect, a comic book style that’s used to tell the story, cel-shaded visuals, a PDA to read missions in the form of emails, a GPS to plan your route without having to go to a menu to look at a specific location and more. Interestingly, there aren’t that many concessions (apart from the graphical standpoint, of course.) The lack of voice acting is probably something that will catch your attention, but it makes a lot of sense for this throwback.

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There are multiple mini-games and most of them are put to great use.

Additionally, the wanted level has been reworked this time around. Whenever your star level increases, you can hide from cops or make them crash to lose stars. This makes the difficulty more forgiving which gives you more chances to make mistakes or cause raucous without worrying about the cops busting you or dying as part of a chase, so this immediately removes one of the most annoying parts about the series. Despite looking old, most of the “classic sensibilities” have been either completely removed or modernized. For instance, you can hold the restart button to restart a mission if you lose, die or get arrested, which makes it easier to get back into the action.

But that’s not all in terms of novelties, since there are several new mechanics to take into account. There are drug dealing mechanics that allow you to buy and sell drugs, such as acid, methamphetamine, coke or speed. Sometimes the police will raid the place where the illegal transaction is taking place and you need to hurry to your apartment to stash the drugs or you’ll get caught. Although this was probably one of the most controversial aspects of this game, the way in which it works is so simplistic and silly, that I don’t think most people will take it seriously once they see how it works.

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Shooting in this game is delightfully entertaining.

The radio stations are pretty good and varied, but since there’s no voice acting in this game, some of the memorable and hilarious radio programs, commercials and more importantly, radio personality Laslow are nowhere to be found in this game. Other than that, there are stations for pretty much every major genre, including alternative rock, jazz, funk, house, heavy metal, reggae and traditional Chinese music, among others.

Apart from the main content, you’ll also unlock different side missions. Some random people on the streets give you random missions and most of these are unexpected and hilarious, you can destroy 100 packages to unlock weapons and finally, there are also paramedic, vigilante, cop, noodle run, rampage, racing and firefighter missions. There’s also a zombie survival mission called Hobotron which is a parody of arcade game Robotron and is tremendously funny.

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Glad to see that the most hated thing in video games is still helicopters.

Don’t let the game’s perspective fool you, despite its “throwback” look and feel, this is a modern GTA game. On top of that it looks amazing for a PSP game, terrific cel-shaded cinematics, great sense of humor, missions are fun, varied and short, there are new mechanics to take into consideration and the developers got rid of some of the most frustrating aspects of the series. In terms of open-world portable games, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better than Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.