When Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars hit the DS earlier this year, it did so to rave reviews, bringing carnage, destruction, and drug-dealing to Nintendo's handheld. Now the game is coming to the PSP, where GTA has already had a great deal of success with the Stories series of games. We finally got a chance to play it on a recent visit to Rockstar's London offices, and we're happy to report that it looks to be shaping up well.
It’s a fairly straightforward port, with a few additions and some tweaks to transfer the touch-screen elements of the original's minigames to the PSP, and to take advantage of the more powerful hardware and higher-resolution screen. Graphically the game now looks perfectly at home on the PSP, with both the action and the drawn cutscenes looking just as shiny as PSP owners would expect them to look. The sound has also been kicked up a notch with extra radio stations built in to take advantage of the fact that the whole game now sounds much better thanks to both remastering and some additional material, including new radio stations.
The minigame challenges remain, and one of our first ports of call was a convenience store to try some scratch cards. Scratching off the relevant panels was just a matter of tapping X rather than scraping with the stylus, and it provided the chance to win cash, guns, armour, or health, as before. The car theft tools were similarly modified, though they were a little more fiddly than we might have hoped. You need to roll the analogue stick around to unscrew the panels under the steering wheels of older cars, or use it to move your PDA's access cable around on more modern vehicles to disable their electronic security. The latter presented us with some problems, as the game required a greater degree of accuracy in positioning than we could manage with the combination of the nub and our fat fingers. We hope that by the time the game hits store shelves, this system will be a little more forgiving.
The missions we played were all fun too--rolling round town in a tank to distract the police while a fellow gangbanger made mischief was enjoyably destructive. Another mission involved tearing up Jamaican gang territory with the aid of a chaingun mounted on the back of a truck, and it was suitably bloodthirsty; seeing rival gang members cleaved in twain by our speeding truck was incredibly satisfying.
The controls feel responsive and sharp--targeting works just as well as it did on the DS, and the driving mechanics have the same autocorrect features, meaning that even with the analogue nub's limitations, weaving in and out of traffic, as well as into pedestrians or the boys in blue, is a simple and fun affair.
The game will be out in late October, and it looks like the team up at Rockstar Leeds still has a little bit of work to do to get the game shipshape for launch. Given the history of frame-rate issues and texture-popping in Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories on the PSP, as well as the recent QA issues with GTAIV's port to the PC, we look forward, with a certain amount of scepticism, to seeing the final build, and we hope that the issues do get fixed as promised and that the game lives up to its massive potential.