Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Hands-On

We get our first hands-on with the miniaturised version of Liberty City in this DS-exclusive game.

While Grand Theft Auto has previously been on Nintendo's Game Boy platform, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars marks the first time the franchise has appeared on the Nintendo DS. The good news is that from our hands-on time with CTW so far, it seems the game not only captures the unique tone and flavours of the much-heralded series, but does so while introducing new and genuinely entertaining ways of interacting with the gameworld. In our hands-on time with a preview build of the game, we used the DS touch screen to do everything from nimbly racing timers to creating Molotov cocktails, hot-wiring cars, and assembling a kit-form sniper rifle.

On-foot missions are presented in an isometric, top-down view.

The game takes place in the Liberty City you've come to know and love, complete with Dukes, Broker, Bohan, and Alogonquin boroughs. While the locations are familiar, you're going to be looking at them from an entirely different perspective. The most obvious change in GTA:CTW is the game's camera. It falls halfway between the classic top-down view of the original Grand Theft Auto and that of an isometric third-person action game, with the camera zooming in and out as dictated by the action onscreen. The environment initially appears quite flat, but once we found out we could twirl the fixed camera, we saw buildings and vehicles rendered as full 3D objects. Our Rockstar tour guide explained that while the city is modelled as closely as possible on the maps from its console big brothers, some minor tweaks had to be made to accommodate the new gameplay. Therefore, while you'll drive under overhead train tracks (which become transparent as you pass below) there are no split-level roads. Progressive game streaming also means that despite the city's enormity, you'll never bump into a load screen while crossing zones or driving across town to complete a mission. Pedestrians have their own individual AI routines, and following them around you'll observe them heading to and from work, eating hotdogs, and getting into fist fights with total strangers on the road. Full day and night lighting cycles and dynamic weather effects are also present here.

As the game's name suggests, Chinatown Wars focuses largely on Asian crime syndicates and rival gangs scrapping for turf control. You play the role of Huang Lee, the son of a syndicate boss who is killed during a triad power struggle. The game opens with you returning home to Liberty City to meet with your uncle, Wu "Kenny" Lee, to pass on the family's Yu Jian sword--a priceless family heirloom Huang's father won in a card game.

Animated cutscenes with accompanying text explain the backstory as you make your way home. On arrival at the airport, you meet some of your uncle's bodyguards, but before you can even get your bags off the carousel, a bloody shoot-out takes place and you're hit. Left wounded and presumed dead in the back of a car, you regain consciousness in time to find out you're being disposed of as your vehicle careens off the road and plummets into the harbour. It's here that the actual gameplay begins, and you'll immediately be introduced to some of the new stylus-driven interactions with the game. Naturally you'll need to escape the rapidly sinking car, and with doors notoriously difficult to open underwater, you opt to smash the rear window. You'll do this by rapidly stabbing at the DS's touch screen to chip the glass. Though it didn't appear to be velocity sensitive, a few strikes were enough to get us out of our waterlogged coffin and back on dry land.

Thankfully you still have a wide array of weapons in your arsenal.

Naturally, the first thing you want to do is get to your uncle's place and fill him in on the details. This is a GTA game, so there's no real surprise that since your ride is totalled you need to liberate one conveniently sitting at the docks. During our time with the game we stole some cars with screwdrivers, but we also found some with electronic security systems that needed to be hacked before they could be started. Once you get to Kenny's restaurant, Sum Yung Gai, you'll find out that the family sword has been stolen. A subplot unfolds, and though he's family, Kenny seems set on finding the sword not to rightfully return it to your kin, but to pass it on to triad mob boss Hsin Jaoming, with the purpose of winning his favour so as to assume his role when he retires.

Kenny hooks you up with an apartment that you use as your central hub for day-to-day activities. Here you'll be able to manage your contacts, take jobs, and store your drug stash. Once completed, any mission can be replayed at will using the whiteboard at your apartment. Though we didn't see the stats and scores in action, we were told that they will hook directly into the Rockstar Social Club, so you can compete with and compare yourself to friends as well as share in-game items. Given that the mission length tops out at around 10 minutes each to maintain the portability of the game, you'll also have a PDA that lets you save while out and about as well as line up missions without retuning to home base.

All the vehicles we came across included GPS to help point you towards where you need to go. There's also the option to turn on a giant yellow arrow indicator so you can stay focused on the road and not your minimap. The GPS will calculate the fastest legal path to your objective, but you can always take your vehicle off-road through parks or back alleys. The system is also smart enough to redraw on the fly if you deviate from the suggested path or take a wrong turn. Burnouts make a return, and by holding the B and Y buttons you'll streak fire and whip the rear of the car around with a temporary speed boost. It's incredibly useful for getting out of a pinch in a hurry or to take out errant rival gang members who are in the way. Multiple radio stations make an appearance in each car, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding cruising or fleeing tunes to suit whichever situation you find yourself in.

Controls are handled using the face buttons. X will let you enter or exit vehicles, B accelerates, Y reverses, and the right shoulder button locks up the handbrake to perform tight turns. The D pad is used to steer. When you're on foot, the A button shoots your selected weapon (chosen by opening a submenu on the touch screen), which can also be fired while inside cars for drive-bys. The right shoulder button locks onto targets. Like the gameplay, the city is interactive, and if you take the time to search red dumpsters scattered around the capital, you'll often find weapons and other goodies.

We saw several missions during our time with Chinatown Wars. The first, Streets of Rage, introduced us to a crooked cop named Wade Heston. Trying to both crack the Korean Wonsu Nudong crime family and keep the Internal Affairs department off his back, he seeks out your help. A hot tip tells you the gang might have your family sword, so it can't hurt too much to team up with Wade even if you have different agendas. After finding his apartment abandoned, we got an e-mail from Wade telling us that he was caught in an ambush. Once we located him, we faced a miniboss fight of sorts that saw us pinned down behind a wall in an alley as a guy with a minigun ripped the place apart. Since running out would get us shredded, we used grenades to stun the guy before scampering between cover and eventually taking him out. It's not the most complex puzzling we've seen, but it's a nice addition to straight run-and-gun shooter gameplay.

The second mission we played had us protecting a shopfront from a firebomb attack by rival gang the Spanish Lords. After barricading the street by stealing cars and parking them strategically at the choke points, we waited for the gang to turn up. The action kicked off pretty quickly after their arrival, and we were involved in a heated gun battle. Setting cars on fire with a hail of bullets proved to be particularly helpful to keep them at bay. It was then simply a case of picking them off from range with our assault rifle.

The third mission, One Shot, One Kill, saw us driving a limo to a hotel to perform an assassination. Once we had parked and entered the building, we found a briefcase. Inside was a rifle in pieces and in need of assembly. By dragging and dropping the pieces together with the stylus, we got the basics assembled, but we still needed to rotate the stylus to screw in the barrel, insert the cartridge, and attach the scope. Moving into a first-person perspective, we were given instructions on acquiring the target--a man in a white shirt--and lining up our shot. Naturally, once we had completed the deed we attracted a little unwanted attention. We were immediately awarded a three-star wanted rating and needed to find a car to get the hell out of Dodge.

Meet Huang Lee, the protagonist of Chinatown Wars.

The wanted system for CTW has been changed up a bit. Instead of outrunning cops until they get bored and go away, each star rating you add increases the number of police cars you'll need to destroy before you can get away. Running them off the road or into oncoming traffic to cause head-on collisions usually does the job, and you'll be off scot-free soon enough.

Drugs play an integral role in this game. They're your primary source of income, and by buying and selling them across the city you'll build up your cash reserves, which you can then use for buying weapons. Illegal trafficking isn't without its dangers, though, and the game features its own mini-economy. Buying low and selling high has never been easier, and by following the upwards-pointing green arrow when trading one type of drug for another you can turn a tidy profit. Video cameras scattered around the city make trading near them risky and increase your chances of being caught but also up your profitability. Like with GTAIV's pigeons, you will need to destroy the cameras to achieve 100 percent game completion, and while doing so reduces your risk of getting busted, you'll also bring down your ability to earn. Trading with other dealers is never smart when within eye line of the police, but wherever you do a deal there's a possibility it could go sour, forcing you to flee if you want to keep your wares.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars looks to be a unique take on the well-worn franchise while adding a new twist to the control system and interactivity with the city itself. You don't have long to wait now, with the game due to hit shelves in mid to late March this year.

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Discussion

361 comments
luigi13579
luigi13579

Seems like it will be pretty good. I'll definitely look into it. And metalkid, there are a few 3D DS games out (Mario 64 DS to name one), so it can obviously handle 3D graphics. They might not be very good 3D graphics, but they're 3D graphics nonetheless. However, graphics are one of the last things I look for in a game. I want to play a game and have fun, *not* sit back and admire the graphics. In short, I consider the gameplay and fun factor of a game to be much more important than the graphics. If you would rather play games with amazing graphics and absolutely terrible gameplay, then go ahead. It would be a better use of your time than trolling here.

huzybatan
huzybatan

hopefully this games gud still gonna get it though the last gud game i played was zelda on the ds advance wars dual strike was brilliant

vivi168
vivi168

seems to be good. i might buy it if it's good rated

Silverslash
Silverslash

bring backs those good ol classic times = gta 1 and 2 rox!

Dark5tar1
Dark5tar1

i agree with FunkE3 i didnt think that this game would be good especially after GTA IV but i already am getting this

FunkE3
FunkE3

At first hearing about this game i felt kind of skeptical but after seeing all of this i know im definitely buying this game now

Dark5tar1
Dark5tar1

awesome i am so getting this for my ds

johnnystarr
johnnystarr

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

blazamane
blazamane

This game will make me put down my PSP - Dust off my DS and get some real hours racked up

1musketeer
1musketeer

I will always prefer the Xbox 360, but this actually looks like a great game to get for DS fans. GTA freakin' owns woo!!!

raptor400k
raptor400k

Well, I think this game should stick with the DS, though it would be cool if it gets on PSP. Anyways great graphics, detailed world and better than satisfactory combat system will make this a must by. I love how rockstar is trying its best to make this game big and give it life like GTA4 and well I can't wait to see the results, now where did I put my wallet.

so_hai
so_hai

mmmm... Not for me I don't think.

Omega189
Omega189

GTA: CTW sounds better all the time.

Spybreak
Spybreak

I'm so pumped, I loved the old school GTAs.

ELICBELICBOOM
ELICBELICBOOM

Its another style from the psp versions dude.

Nintendo2Brawl
Nintendo2Brawl

it looks good i think it will much better than the psp versions

LIZMASTER138
LIZMASTER138

i want this so bad cant wait till march 17 damn this game looks good!!!!!!!!!!!!

frazzle00
frazzle00

I own both a PSP and a DS and I personally feel that the DS is a much better console. It has a great collection of unique titles as well as updates of older classics, which all work excellently as portable entertainment. The PSP on the other hand seems to be saturated with gimped PS2 ports; if I want to play a PS2 game I'll do it in the comfort of my home, thank you very much. One thing the PSP is great for is emulation. In fact that's all I use my PSP for :P. On to the topic at hand, GTA:CW looks great. The cell shaded graphics may be simple but they're stylish and aesthetically pleasing (you can't say that about either PSP GTA title). If the gunplay is good, and the game doesn't become a repetitive chore (like previous GTA titles do), it'll definitely be a worthwhile purchase.

robsta24
robsta24

I enjoyed gta ,1,2+ gta london member that? I have owned 3ds's a psp, a 360 and now a ps3 which i think enables me to comment, this looks good for the ds which says it all coz ds makes occasionally good games that ppl get bored with very quickly. while playing the top down versions of gta all i did was wish 4 a 3rd person version, this will sell in its millions coz every man, woman,child and dog owns a ds coz there cheap and the ds doesnt have 1 big hitting game

RicoCochello
RicoCochello

cant wait 4 this, and yh it probly would look better on the psp but u would have to w8 2hrs 4 it 2 load lol. iv gt a psp aswell, it doesnt need this, its got gta lcs and vcs, the nds does defo need an 18+ game, FINALLY

figo16v
figo16v

Hmm may consider getting a DSi if this is half as good as Vice City Stories.

packardcaribien
packardcaribien

I think it is actually coming along nicley. I myself don't plan on buying it since i don't have a DS, I only buy Sony ( Childhood lessons on brand loyalty stick with you). I wouldn't say it's standard 3TA-Esce 3D, but it ain't no GTA I Top down 2d game. Shun those who have "Dunn Reecerh" (pointing fingers too metalkid9)

Darrius117
Darrius117

playstation fan boys are so angry i had psp but a there was a lack of good games on it so i sold it now saving my money for dsi I LOVE XBOX 360

Zig_Zag_Zap
Zig_Zag_Zap

Looks great can't wait! P.S. Metalkid9 get a life seriously go hump a tree if have nothingelse better to say. Also to all those psp fan boys saying "PSP RULES OMFG THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON PSP" if you have nothing nice to say please gtfo =)

Mancinaboyz
Mancinaboyz

it would look nicer on the psp, on the D.S it looks like a crappy old sega game

harkusrex
harkusrex

I had both PSP and DS....i had originally got the DS for Advance wars days of ruin (one of my fav series of all time), but i ended up loosing my psp while drunk in a cab. So now i play more DS games and have grown to enjoy some of the other title on offer. This looks like it might be one of them. shame i cant get the games copied thou.

QuickFade
QuickFade

Metalkid9 = Ultimate fail I think someone's jealous that the DS is getting a nice original game for once. I'd bet a lot that he's a Playstation fanboy, they're always the hostile one's, but I guess that's what playing generic, crappy games does to your mind. btw pixeled? You mean Pixelated? And where did you do your research? 4 chan? Can't wait for this or the Lost and Damned (that's right, I'm an Xbox fanboy too) it's gonna be a good few months.

computerT
computerT

grafics isn't everything. I stil having fun with doom, duke nukem, gta, gta advanced. I have more funn with these games then some modern ones. it is simple math, if 40% of the ds owners buy this it well be +-30 milj. sales, psp wouldn't get near that amount. ps this game will be downloaded like crazy.

Razlses
Razlses

@metalkid9 look at you pretending be a gamer, you just like how a game look, if its is 2d it sucks? Well you are very childshi to think that. @Mist00 In psp GTA you can end it in 30~40 hours with 100%, in this one takes 70-80 to complete with 100% just like the San Andreas.

walterwong1996
walterwong1996

The gameplay looks pretty good, but i think that the graphics kind of ruin the experience.

Mist00
Mist00

rockstar should have made this on psp; it would have looked better and would have had more space but i guess companies have to think more about about revenue than a good product especially in todays market and by the way i do have a ds

mikeagoulas
mikeagoulas

Could you please tell me your source of information ? I mean credible source of info not stuff that comes straight from Nintendografixsuckzlololol.com

mikeagoulas
mikeagoulas

from 1up.com "As for the in-game visuals, they initially seem reminiscent of the early GTAs' top-down perspective, but they are made up of full 3D models, with a camera that rotates in 3D." end of story my son.

metalkid9
metalkid9

i dont even need to argue this, its just entertaining and funny to see ignorance in people

metalkid9
metalkid9

go play your pixeled games lol

metalkid9
metalkid9

you can think whatever you want in your own little worlds haha but the fact doesn't change buddy

mikeagoulas
mikeagoulas

@ metalkid9 Hahah, you made research my a$$. This game is in full 3d no matter what you say. Rockstar leeds said that there isn't a single prerendered animation in the game. Nintendo is making so much money because their games are worthy and their gameplay rocks. Too bad the sales of PS3 and PSP that count on multimillion polygon games with useless eye candy are going down the cr@pper.

welshy023
welshy023

Man those pictures are misleading. I have a uncle who worked on the game and he said it looks NOTHING like that.

scottyg_20
scottyg_20

metalkid9 I can't see how you did your research, please explain. You say the 'engine' is 2d? and blame the hardware... engines are software... how is that possible? Also, there are quite a few 3d games for the DS... have to admit most aren't great. But games like metroid, that star wars game.... All 3d my friend. Crap graphics, but i know a 2d side scroller when i see one lol. I'm not saying this GTA is 3d, i haven't read enough to know, but who frigging cares. If graphics are the only important part of gaming for you then you are missing out!

metalkid9
metalkid9

plus i did my research before posting so you can go and see for yourself

metalkid9
metalkid9

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

halofanatic12
halofanatic12

metalkid if you hate it so much why are you here posting comments do you think we care about your opinions on the ds?

metalkid9
metalkid9

ds is the biggest piece of crap ever created, there is no doubt that i will ever buy this crap. i cant believe nintendo actually makes money off the pixel machine. the engine is pure 2d and you can only create 3d with the 2d cuz its not based on a 3d

slayer5383
slayer5383

This game looks great and i will probably get it. But please rockstar make a GTA for the Wii. it would be awesome.