Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Updated Impressions: Touching (the Screen) Is Good

We get one more look at Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto experience for the DS.

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Rockstar's upcoming Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is quite possibly the most shocking entry in the famed series to date. But, if you know GTA, it isn't for the reasons you might think. While the game offers the immersive experience you'd expect from a GTA game thanks to a meaty story, a colorful cast of characters, and the Liberty City setting, the most shocking thing about the game is that it has shaped up as well as it has on the Nintendo DS. We got one last chance to take a tour of the town recently and were mightily impressed by how Rockstar Leeds has made use of the DS's unique features.

All the mayhem you've come to expect from the GTA series now fits in your back pocket.
All the mayhem you've come to expect from the GTA series now fits in your back pocket.

As we mentioned in our last look at the game, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is serving up a hybrid GTA experience that marries the immersive experience pioneered by GTAIII with an overhead camera that recalls the first two games in the series, albeit in proper 3D. The look is a good fit for the DS hardware capabilities, but the gameplay also makes use of the hardware's unique features. The game's touch-screen mechanics are smartly implemented, actually making sense in gameplay, and are doled out in short bursts.

Although some of the touch-screen mechanics have the minigame simplicity that comes with most stylus-driven activities, they fit into the bigger gameplay picture pretty well. Whether you're assembling your own sniper rifle from component parts, picking locks, making your own Molotov cocktails, hot-wiring a car, or tattooing someone--to name just some of the touch-screen mechanics--your actions feel organic and contextual to what's happening. In addition, using the touch screen to select weapons, toss Molotovs, or use the features of a hijacked car, such as a fire engine's water hose, while in action in the top screen, are nice touches that work well from what we've played so far.

In addition to taking advantage of the touch screen, we have to call out a cool little touch that many may miss: the game's microphone support. While not essential to gameplay, it's a cool touch to be able to whistle for a taxi when you're near one. One tip: Use your judgment when playing the game out in public as you may get an actual taxi or get smacked if you're in mixed company.

From what we've played, it seems like there's a lot to like in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. The game looks to be offering an authentic GTA experience that has never worked on a cartridge-based handheld (yes, we're glossing over GTA for the GameBoy Advance). The sheer amount of content and the smart use of the DS hardware should make for a compelling package that we reckon very few people outside of Rockstar's development studios would have thought possible. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars ships next week for the DS. Look for our full review then.

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