Released earlier in the year for the Nintendo DS, Rockstar Leeds' latest title, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, makes its way to another portable platform, the PlayStation Portable. Now featuring improved graphics, amongst other things, this iteration of the Grand Theft Auto franchise reverts back to its roots, while also incorporating some of the newer elements.
Huang Lee is a spoiled rich kid who finds himself in a rather awkward situation. Following the death of his father, a Triad boss, he arrives in Liberty City to deliver Yu Jian, his family's heirloom, to his uncle Wu "Kenny" Lee. However, shortly after landing, he is ambushed, has the heirloom stolen and is left for dead by the assailants. He miraculously manages to survive and starts off on a quest to bring his father's killer to justice, while also trying to regain Yu Jian.
The story is typically gritty, and Huang Lee makes for a great lead character due to his sharp tongue. There's no voice acting, but the dialogue, accompanied by an artistic storyboard, makes this a relatively minor issue. It helps to develop the story successfully and overall, players will feel rather satisfied with how things pan out. It's not the typical rags to riches story, and this really works in the game's favour because there is a real impetus behind why Huang is doing what he is, something which allows players to become more connected with him as a character. The rest of the cast really help with this through their supporting roles, and even though some of them are only around for a short period of time, their involvement seems crucial.
The gameplay in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has more in comparison with the first few games in the series, sporting a pseudo top-down look. It makes for an interesting experience, especially when compared to the newer 3D games. For the most part, it feels perfectly natural and it shouldn't take players long to get used to the new perspective. However, there are some distinct problems. Driving, in particular, just feels really awkward. Due to the perspective, it's very difficult to see what's approaching and in fast cars, players will often find themselves crashing unless they drive down the middle of the road. When having to look at the GPS is added to the equation, it just makes things worse, although it does highlight that drivers should never take their eyes off the road. Having said that, actually gliding around corners, and getting from A to B unscathed does promote a sense of satisfaction.
The combat also feels slightly awkward as the targeting system, which has been adopted from Grand Theft Auto IV, doesn't seem to work half the time. Upon selecting a firearm, players have the option to either blind fire, which will attempt to lock-on to the closest enemy in the players peripheral, or they can lock-on and cycle through targets. The problem is that the game seems very temperamental about when it wishes to lock-on, and when it doesn't. Cycling through the enemies also poses a slight control nightmare, as it's performed using the d-pad, which causes issues since the analogue stick is used for movement. It's generally easiest to use the blind fire option, but sometimes this will cause Lee to target objects, such as cars.The original version included lots of new elements, specifically gears towards the touch capabilities of the Nintendo DS. Most of these also appear on the PSP in some shape or form, but they are generally controlled by the analogue stick. While perhaps not as hands-on as before, they are still a welcome gameplay element and generally help to make the game much more engaging. Hot wiring a car while having the police hot not far behind really adds to the pressure, although some of the other interactions, like filling up petrol bombs, don't really translate that well.
Another new gameplay mechanic involves the law enforcement. To escape the police, their vehicles must now be taken out, something which can be achieved by making them crash into buildings, etc. Each wanted level adds another vehicle which needs to be taken out, so having a wanted level of five, means that the player must take out five police cars. This then puts the wanted level down to four, with four police cars. It can actually gets really tedious after a while, and doesn't really promote a mad panic to try and escape the police, as it's generally easiest to just drive around a block again and again until the police cars crash.
The graphics have had a complete overhaul and now take full advantage of the increased aspect ratio. Overall they actually look really good with the only thing that's probably sub-par being the actual characters themselves. The framerate is generally pretty solid, although there are a few instances of slowdown, and sometimes the textures fail to load. However, given the huge scale of the game, it would be rather harsh to criticise the game for a few graphical glitches here and there. Sound is generally pretty good, with there also being a good selection of radio stations to listen to while driving.
Accessing Huang's PDA, which is actually used to drive the story via e-mails, shows that the main storyline is only a short portion of the game. There is plenty to do, with drug dealing an interesting aside. It's one of Huang's main avenues for collecting cash, and can actually be quite profitable if tip-offs are responded to. Taxi and Vigilante missions also return, as well as driving challenges. There are also hidden items to collect and some extra missions upon completion of the Rockstar Games Social Club missions. In short, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars offers replayability in huge doses.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a great addition to the Grand Theft Auto franchise. While it does revert to a style that's similar to the series' original roots, many features synonymous with the newer iterations are still present. However, the game isn't without its faults, as some of the gameplay elements don't work that well, but a compelling story and likeable lead character, combined with a ton of replay value make Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars a very strong title on the PlayStation Portable.