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Rockstar Leeds delivers a perfectly tailored GTA for the Nintendo DS...
Taking a break from the 'GTA: … Stories' spin-off series that appeared on the PSP, handheld specialists Rockstar Leeds are back on the case with the groundbreaking series' first appearance on a Nintendo format since the release of GTA: Advance back in 2004.
Following the events of Huang Lee following his arrival in Liberty City, Chinatown Wars focuses on his attempts to retrieve a sword given to him by his father to deliver shortly before his untimely death. In classic GTA fashion, it's not too long before Huang becomes involved in a twisted tale between the various goons vying for control over the Triads, an unfortunate LCPD detective, and even members of a certain biker gang featuring in TV ads at the moment.
Following the PSP outings, Chinatown Wars offers a markedly different departure from the format that we've become used to since GTA III. The isometric camera view that replaces the traditional third-person sparks immediate similarities to the first two titles that kick-started the series. Despite the camera change, Chinatown Wars is by no means a step backwards. You'll immediately notice this by the advanced physics that brings the many different vehicles to life and the traditionally insane jumps and crashes - Chinatown Wars is a fully-fledged 3D title despite the perspective.
With the many control possibilities put forward by the DS, Rockstar Leeds has wisely decided on a setup that uses the best of both. A traditional d-pad/buttons config covers the basics admirably, although the customary auto-targeting issues when it comes to firing are still noticeably apparent. A strange side-effect of this is the fact that it seems to tie-in with Chinatown Wars 'arcadey' nature. There are no covering techniques to master here; in fact thinking too much is often a quick way to death or prison. Instead it's largely a case of running in with all guns blaring approach. Features such as driving and drive-by assistance are more than welcome, only noticeable when you decide to switch them off and quickly miss the benefits that they bring.
With the scope of the DS unique features, Rockstar Leeds has been at their most cunning, creating entertaining little mini-game challenges that perfectly blend into the staple GTA format. Whether it's jimmying locks with a screwdriver to hi-jack a car or putting together the parts of a sniper rifle, Chinatown Wars use of the DS screen provides the perfect respite to its driving/shooting action. We don't want to spoil any of the surprises, but there's no denying Rockstar Leeds has managed to handle an element of the game that could have become gimmicky with absolute conviction and style; everything compliments the GTA format without ever feeling cheap or tacked on. Aside from the mini-games the touchscreen has also been well employed during the main game, with useful links to the map, e-mails and other important information.
The introduction of a drug dealing dynamic is new to Chinatown Wars and underscores the standard format well. Essentially it's simple enough, working on the basic principles of supply and demand. Liberty City is split into areas governed by the ruling mobs and gangs, each of which have a particular penchant for selling and buying certain types of drugs. The challenge is to buy low and sell high, with factors such as CCTV not only serving as Chinatown Wars' secret packages or pigeons, but also having an impact to the price of drugs on the streets – even GTA's most senseless trademark feature gains a purpose.
Re-enforcing the more 'arcadey' approach and the nature of a handheld, Rockstar Leeds has also re-jigged the police pursuits. Like previous titles getting caught trying to hi-jack a car, killing somebody, or other such illegal acts in the view of a cop will notch a star on the Wanted level. This time around the Stars correlate to the number of police cars that give chase, with the challenge of disabling the pursuing cars instead of trying to escape their vicinity. The setup is designed to be swift, allowing the intensity of the police pursuits that the series is famed for, but at the same time ensuring they don't last long enough to drain your battery. Arguably we'd say that the change makes GTA: Chinatown Wars a little easy for ardent GTA fans, but nevertheless, suits the context of the game perfectly and makes for a highly entertaining take on the concept.
But naturally there's thing we've come to expect from a GTA title. Fortunately Chinatown delivers. Although Liberty City is slightly remodeled from its appearance in GTA IV, there's no doubting the sheer scale that Rockstar Leeds has managed to squeeze on a DS cart - fans of GTA IV will instantly spot familiar landmarks and there's a genuine sense that this is a huge city to explore even without GTA IV's Alderney. Visually it's a case of style and technical prowess, highlighted by the camera system that works perfectly. Although we've probably been playing it for too long, the addition of different radio stations and playlists only serves to highlight one DS inadequacy too many for Rockstar Leeds to hurdle, with the same songs beginning to appear pretty quickly. That said, there's few criticisms over the quality coming from the DS' tinny speakers, while the chatter of Liberty City's civilians does provide an effective sense of character to its various streets. Length is also a key element reproduced in Chinatown Wars. Although it's difficult to judge Chinatown Wars length for 100% completion, the main storyline offers between 12-15 hours - so make sure to dig out your charger. If any further need for this DS' credentials as a DS blockbuster were needed, then how about the inclusion of four different multiplayer modes that bridge a gap in the handheld's catalogue.
Perhaps Chinatown Wars biggest quality, however, is the design and nature of the missions themselves. Packed with variety, the bite-sized length ensures Chinatown Wars is played at a fast pace which you'll find impossible to put down - one mission, turns into one more, and before you know it it's some ungodly hour of the morning.
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