Grand Theft Auto has a history that I’m sure not many gamers even remember. I say this because we all know that a ton of gamers who have played the latest additions to the franchise such as III, Vice City and IV think of GTA as a third-person sandbox title with a sense of realism and beauty. However, many of us who grew up running over hookers, killing thugs and stealing cars know better than that. We know that the game’s true foundation was always at the over-head level of play with a top-down style. It was played in a similar fashion as an iconic title like Zelda. Rockstar’s latest installment into the Grand Theft Auto series has finally returned to its roots and it’s a quality that I can say was missed.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars returns to the top-down visual style that allows gamers to view the game world from above. Sure, it doesn’t make everything look realistic, nor does it pull you into the world as though it’s a living, breathing city, but it does make the blood-splattered sidewalk that much more colorful with every squished pedestrian and blown away Copper. Chinatown Wars is a leap back in time with a major step forward and it’s something that has allowed the developers to take advantage of the PlayStation Portables smaller screen through a different visual appeal.
Huang Lee, the spoiled son of a recently murdered Triad boss, arrives by plane in Liberty City with Yu Jian, a sword that Huang’s father won in a poker game and has decided to use as an heirloom, to deliver it to the new patriarch of the family, Huang’s uncle Wu “Kenny” Lee. Shortly after landing, Huang’s escorts are killed by assassins and he is shot and kidnapped. The assailants steal the sword and, thinking Huang is dead, dump his body in the water. Huang manages to survive and informs Kenny that Yu Jian has been taken. Kenny explains that he had intended to offer the sword to Hsin Jaoming, the aging Triad boss in Liberty City, as a means of securing a position as his replacement. Kenny is dishonored and reduced in power due to the loss of Yu Jian, leaving him and Huang working to keep their businesses afloat. (Taken from Wikipedia to avoid spoilers)
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is pretty much the same as the rest of the games in the series – not that, that is a bad thing – but it does bring some new, cooler elements to PlayStation Portable that haven’t been done before on the handheld. Gamers can expect to take part in standard story-driven, vigilante, ambulance and taxi missions. However, something new that hasn’t been done in a long time is probably the best part about Chinatown Wars.
The coolest new feature in Grand Theft Auto is the ability to buy and sell drugs on a mass level. This is going to be your number one way to becoming a millionaire in Liberty City. While standard missions pay out roughly $50-$200 per completion, trafficking drugs can bring in thousands upon thousands of dollars per payout. Like anything in life, the object is to buy low and sell high. Don’t always try to move your stash as quick as possible, make sure that you wait for some heroine fiend to need his fix before selling off your stock. This allows you to optimize profit and ensure that you can continue to buy and sell at a great rate.
The reason why selling narcotics is such a pivotal point to the game is that the weaponry is very overpriced in relation to the money you receive from missions. If you want to stock up on certain types of guns, you need a ton of cash that isn’t easy to come by. That leads gamers down the dark path of selling and buying drugs, which isn’t a great place to be, but GTA: Chinatown Wars makes it a fun virtual reality to live in.
The game play mechanics for GTA: CW is of your standard variety. The face buttons allows you to sprint, steal vehicles, etc. and your shoulder buttons allow you to lock on to certain objects. One of the features I was originally concerned with, however, was the touch features provided by the title on the Nintendo DS. As all of you know, the PSP does not offer a touch screen, thus the developers had to port the title over without that ability. To be honest, I think the mechanics they replaced them with work fine, but they somehow pull you out of the experience as a whole at certain times. As an example, pressing X shoves the screw driver into a screw and then you have to swivel the analog in order to unscrew a panel to hotwire the vehicle. It’s a cool gimmick for the first couple of hours, but it starts to get tedious as time goes on.
Another analog-driven feature is the lottery tickets you can purchase in the game. You use the analog to scratch off the tickets in order to win cash. I’ll admit that this is by far and away the most addicting element to the game, but that just might be the gambler inside me breaking loose.
The Wanted system in GTA has been completely reworked as well, leading to what should have been the original direction of the franchise. Instead of the Wanted stars just piling on one after the other, gamers have the opportunity to knock stars out rapidly by removing pesky cops from the chase. By this, I mean, if you knock a vehicle out of chasing you down, it removes one star from your wanted level. You can continue to do this until the stars are removed and you are then forced to drive perfectly until you arrive at your destination. This definitely helps move along the game at a generous pace and doesn’t bog things down as you’d expect your wanted level to do due to past titles.
As I explained earlier, the over-the-top look that Rockstar gave this title is the perfect direction for the PlayStation Portable’s smaller screen size. It allows a lot to be fit into such a small window without giving up any sort of detail. Liberty City is also filled with a lot of your favorite landmarks from the console version of the game that features the same city. While the cartoonish look may not be for everyone, old school GTA players should feel right at home with Chinatown Wars.
The only complaint in presentation that I could find is the lack of voice dialogue. I understand it’s just a PSP title, but having to read over every bit of dialogue sometimes felt like a chore and took away from the story itself. It’s always nice being able to hear the characters push the story through voice, but it’s not exactly a deal breaker. While I did play GTA on the PSPgo, my loading times were fantastic, however, I have heard reports that the loading times on the original PSP are absolutely absurd, but I can’t confirm that.
PlayStation Portable owners had to endure the same knock that PlayStation 3 owners dealt with for the last couple of years – a lack of games. However, Sony, like the PlayStation 3, has pushed developer support for the Portable to the point where the great games are coming out on a monthly basis. This rings true for Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars entirely as it is without a doubt one of my favorite PSP titles to date. Not only does the sense of nostalgia help elevate the game to that next plateau, but all of the little additions to the series, such as the drug dealing, have helped make it one of the best GTA games to date on any platform.