Grand Theft Auto brings back its roots with overhead glorious mayhem

User Rating: 9.5 | Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars DS
It might be surprise many to find that GTA: Chinatown Wars is actually the forth forth GTA game to appear on a Nintendo system. Really, it's true. You could well be forgiven for forgetting the previous titles, GTA1 and GTA2 were developed by Tarantula Studios (now owned by Rockstar and used for game testing) and GTA Advance was the work of Digital Eclipse (Now found porting old arcade games). Not a great legacy for those who know the series from it's portable versions, because they were an unplayable shambles, with the possible exception of DE's GTA Advance which was at least playable. It seems Rockstar have learnt from these mistakes and put their own team into making Chinatown Wars, and it shows.

Although CTW (China Town Wars) has been developed by the same folks who brought us the PSP's GTA stories games you won't be getting the same style of 3D game, instead you'll be getting the traditional overhead view, mixed with some familiar features from GTA4. Despite the overhead view not everything is sprites and fixed cameras, instead the world is rendered in 3D and the overhead view had a little tilt to it, unlike the early GTA games, which gives a good feeling of depth. The overhead viewpoint does have some downfalls, the most obvious of which being view distance. Having a second screen with a map available at all times does a lot to help you know when a corner is approaching, but races can be a little extra frustrating if you don't know the route. Also the ground combat just doesn't work as well from above and you won't find yourself entering many buildings during missions. One of the clearest worries about putting a 3D GTA onto the DS is performance and thankfully Rockstar sidestepped this issue nicely, the game looks great and runs smoothly despite all of things going on.

Each generation of GTA brings with it more complexity, new features are added and there's more to do even if it isn't immediately obvious, such as kidnapping the passenger of the car you just jacked. GTA:CTW pulls in a lot of these new features from GTA 4 and although the mini-games are strangely absent most of the other new content is along for the ride.. You can still take taxis for a shortcut around the still rather large city (you can even hail the cab with the DS microphone if that's your thing) and you pay tolls by throwing money into the bucket using the touchscreen. The DS features get used whenever possible, it does seem a little forced in places and it can be a little jarring at first when you quickly have to switch from traditional D-pad controls to hot-wiring a car on the touchscreen, especially when you've got a squad of cops baring down on you. Some of the touchscreen events are as simple as smashing a lock or playing scratch cards to get health or items, apparently in this Liberty city your burgers must be earnt! Other times you might be using the touchscreen to assemble a sniper rifle, screw in the barrel, lock in the sight. After all that has been said in the past by criminals blaming GTA for 'training them to kill', manually assembling a sniper rifle feels a little creepy but Rockstar have always thrived on controversy. When you're just getting around town the touchscreen is barely used unless you want to change the radio station, throw grenades or use a vehicles special weapon. Using the touchscreen for grenades works well and offers great accuracy but it can be one hell of a balancing act trying to steer with the D-pad, aim a tanks turret with the touchscreen and accelerate/break with the right buttons. It's a pity that the darts, bowling, pool or any of GTA4's other events are absent from CTW as I'd love to see a drunk driving touch screen event, but the removal of these events also comes with the removal of constant phone calls from your buddies wanting to hang out, which isn't a bad thing. Instead you'll be spending your free time with a little drug trafficking on the side

Missions don't pay squat in Chinatown, so you'll have to make ends meet elsewhere. Although GTA: CTW does have small side missions as well as the classic taxi missions, vigilante etc. nothing puts cash in your pocket quicker than a little dealing. You'll start off by picking up some cheap weed and selling it for a minor profit and later move up to selling harder drugs like heroin, for larger risk, but also larger reward. As you drive close to a dealer he'll be bookmarked on your map and he'll later send you messages to let you know if he's has got any good deals going, either buying or selling. The drug dealing is an interesting distraction and it forces you to explore the city to find new dealers. The drug system pays off so well that you may find that towards the end of the game you're making more money in a single deal than you did on every one of your missions combined. There's a small risk when doing deals, sometimes you'll hit a bust and instantly score a two star wanted rating, which can be a bigger deal than previous games. Getting busted by the cops will not only cause you to loose weapons and cash, but also to loose any drugs that you don't have stored at your safe house and this can happen pretty easily until you get the hang of the way the police work. Just outrunning the police won't get them off your back, instead you have to disable their cars by ramming them, unless the AI has one of its moments and randomly crashes into a barrier at high speed. Two stars can be a big deal if you have a large stash on you and running back to hide in a safe house is often the safest option. One nasty tactic now used by the Police is how they seem to manage to jump half the screen to your car door, yank it a few times and bust you right there, as if they jumped to your door by using a secret grappling hook. Until you learn to bail and run you could likely find yourself spending a little more time getting acquainted to Liberty Cities inmates than you'd like. Just like GTA4 all these statics of your failures can be synced with the online Rockstar Social club through the wonders of the internet and shared with any friends you've added through multiplayer..

Previous information on GTA CTW has been a little confusing regarding multiplayer, so to be clear: there is no Wi-Fi play whatsoever. Wi-Fi is used to trade, exchange messages, map locations and other fundamentals, where as any multiplayer gameplay requires local gameplay with multiple cartridges. Because of this we were not able to test the multiplayer functionality and cannot comment on its quality.

Presentation is kept at Rockstar's usual high standard, interfaces are clean, art is well stylized, music plays from one of several radio stations while you cruise around town. However some sacrifices had to be made to shrink GTA to cartridge size. Voices are restricted to just the pedestrians in the street and their inane chatter and abuse, cut-scenes are told with text and static images, radio stations play little midi tunes all day without the humorous radio presenters or ludicrous adverts. It's wrong to criticize GTA: CTW for these omissions, in fact, the way they were able to create a GTA game despite these restrictions is impressive. The cut-scenes tell more like a comic book and the dialog as well as story tell a good plot that makes the game well worthy of its title. The radio also has different styles of music under each of its station, while I personally haven't recognised any of the tunes they're still good tracks.

GTA CTW does almost everything right in bringing the GTA series back to the handheld. With around nine hours of well greatly entertaining gameplay, this should be in the catalog of any GTA fan.