Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Game of the Week: Grand Theft Auto - Chinatown Wars (Part I)

On my commute home from work today, I managed to defibrillate a patient 3 times to keep him alive, all while also driving the ambulance as fast as possible to avoid the entire police department, who just so happened to be chasing me, blocking the roads to cut off my escape, and shooting at me with automatic weapons from helicopters. I got the patient back to where I was told to drop him, and the boss, so happy I got him there alive, proceeded to cut his heart out and laugh maniacally about it.

Put the kids to bed – the Nintendo DS has a brand new bag.

Take 2 Interactive, parent company for Rockstar Games has released Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for everyone’s favorite touch screen handheld game system, and in doing so has breathed fresh life into it again for hardcore gamers over the age of 15. I knew the game was rated M, and that it was so for all the things that make GTA games rated M – violence, drugs, sexual situations, a plethora of swear words, and plenty of situations no child could possibly understand. But still, this is the DS – surely on Nintendo’s family friendly handheld, a console so hugely popular and such a big part of children’s lives that some schools in Japan require the students to have it, the over the top adult antics would be muted in comparison to the home console versions?


Now, I’m a fan of the GTA series, and always have been – but since the series moved to 3d with GTA:3 for the PS2, I feel that there are plenty of problems with many elements of the core gameplay (maybe not driving, but melee attacks, shooting controls, target locking, hit detection, graphical glitches, etc.). It seemed that the more seriously the series took itself, the more the games were trying to say as satires, the less the developers focused on fixing the basic controls of the game. Missions where you’d only have to drive were always fine, but anytime you had to get out of the car and interact with other characters under pressure of mission parameters was a maddening trip into control hell – in all of GTA:3, it’s 2 sequels, and GTA:4, there were plenty of missions that I had to do over and over again – mostly, it seemed, because the controls worked against me. As cool as the games were, I pined for the good old days of GTA and GTA:2, with their bird’s eye view of the action, simplistic controls, and sheer fun factor as they never took themselves too seriously. So, when I heard that Rockstar Games was going back to basics for the DS game, I was ecstatic – and so far, the game has not disappointed me at all.

The lightly cell shaded look the game has is cool as hell, and makes Liberty City more aesthetically appealing than its GTA:4 counterpart in HD on the home consoles. The map of the game is huge for a handheld – it is, for the most part, 4 of the 5 boroughs of Liberty City from the GTA:4 map. It has Broker (Brooklyn), Dukes (Queens), Bohan (The Bronx), and Algonquin (Manhattan). Even the Roosevelt Island and Liberty Island facsimiles are here, leaving only the electronic version of New Jersey out. I’m cool with that.

Cut scenes play out as motion comics, without vocal work – and I think that helps it, as all the characters are so over the top the acting would probably detract from the intended comedy – and it is very, very funny. But, this does not mean there are no voice overs in the game – random passersby will say things, continuously catching me off guard. Prostitutes ask if you want a piece of their pie, dealers ask if you want to get fucked up, civilians scream for social uprisings. And the audio cues in the game, from tire squealing to gun play to flatlining patients in the back of your ambulance, are excellent.

to be continued.

+ Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars UK Review [IGN]

- Goodchild

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