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Huang Lee hopes to find a more appreciative audience as Chinatown Wars switches to the PSP...
It's a disappointing alternative to seeing how Rockstar intends to give San Andreas the 'Stories' treatment following Liberty City and Vice City, but a port of the criminally under-appreciated DS title (still the highest rated game on the format) is a blast to play, even the second time through.
Compared to the scale and scope of the previous 'Stories' titles Chinatown Wars looks, unsurprisingly, like a step backwards. Four years since Liberty City Stories first impressed us with its depiction of GTA on the PSP, it's difficult to look past the fact that Chinatown Wars is a port of a game that was initially designed around technically inferior and very different hardware. Sure Rockstar has tidied everything up so the visuals don't look as rough around the edges and loose some of the cartoon style through the improved lighting effects, but you won't find the frills such as voice acting that we've come to expect from the series on the PSP. But considering the DS title provided a throwback to the series' roots, Chinatown Wars still manages to provide the same fun and enjoyment that we enjoyed earlier in the year.
Starring Huang Lee, a central character that perfectly fits the GTA mould of being in circumstances beyond his control, Chinatown Wars finds him caught up in a battle for power between members of the Triad gang as he attempts to retrieve a legendary sword. It's classic GTA fodder from here on in with plenty of deceitful characters caught up in a struggle of power, egos, and Kalashnikovs.
The way in which Rockstar Leeds faithfully brought GTA to the DS was striking considering its limitations, but we know the PSP can handle this. The lack of the DS's second screen, which housed a myriad of important functions, makes the general interface a little clunkier and time consuming when it comes to accessing e-mails and checking the map, while the UMD brings a slight but noticeable delay between cut-scene transitions (although presumably this won't be so much of an issue if you download the game via the PlayStation Store onto a memory stick). Mini-games continue to bring everyday actions such as hi-jacking vehicles, making DIY Molotovs, smashing locks and much more, to life in a very 'gamey' fashion. Like the DS version they bring a bit of fun and variety to a GTA game that is markedly different to the series since GTA III exploded onto the scene; however it's difficult to look past the fact that these were designed for a touchscreen and stylus - the PSP's thumbstick is a weak alternative.
But despite these criticisms, the main qualities of Chinatown Wars still manage to shine through. The slight changes that Rockstar Leeds originally made to the format, such as the speedier way in which pursuing police cars are handled, the bite-sized nature of the missions, and the drug-dealing dynamics, are still the primary factors that ensure Chinatown Wars stands out as a remarkably well designed take on GTA for a handheld format.
Rockstar Leeds has also been able to bring a new character into the story, a hoighty-toighty aspiring journalist who needs Huang to provide the action she needs to film in order to advance her career, but is quite happy to lambast poor Huang for his illegal actions nonetheless. The fact that the missions associated with her don't really differ from the rest makes us wonder whether this was originally intended to appear in the DS version, but got cut due to time restraints. But on the whole, you can't complain about the fact that the PSP version boasts an additional story arc that features a handful of new missions.
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