Chinatown Wars seems like a return to Grand Theft Auto series’ 2D beginnings, but it’s far from that. The action is viewed from a top-down perspective, and the action from the actual previous games on consoles translates perfectly well. Chinatown Wars has a lot of similarity with GTA IV than it does with earlier games, and improves on the formula that made those games so successful with great features, incredible storyline, competitive multiplayer, and great minigames.
Set in Liberty City like GTA IV with the exception of one island, Chinatown Wars revolves around a power struggle within the Triad gangs from the perspective of Huang Lee, who just lost his crime-boss father. Huang flies to Liberty City from Hong Kong to avenge his father, and gets caught predictably in the war between those who want to take power for themselves. As Huang, you advance the story by undertaking missions for a number of different characters within the Triad organization, as well as for some people outside of it. Many of these missions involve killing people, and not getting caught by the cops, but there are many missions that use touchscreen and put it to use as a very well thought aspect of gameplay.
Chinatown Wars plays as you would expect from GTA IV, which is quite an achievement. Basic controls for movement and car-jacking are mapped to the same button positions that they are on other platforms. The on-foot and vehicle controls are similar, so GTA fans will find the control learning curve extremely easy. Autotargeting is available to make the game easier to play for drive-by shootings and a steering assist feature automatically straightens up your vehicle so that it is parallel with the road being driven on. A handy feature is superimposing GPS onto the streets themselves with yellow markers that are actually a welcome addition than having to deter to the map at the bottom of the screen.
Using the touch screen is something Rockstar Leeds does seamlessly without making the action seem dull or tacked on, but it does come with its problems. One downside to Chinatown Wars is in the attempt to replicate the GTA experience to the DS exactly. Fewer buttons give way to using some weapons by utilizing the touchscreen at the most dangerous moments of the game, which makes the stability of the entire gameplay unstable. Having to use the touch screen to both switch between weapons and to throw projectile weapons such as Molotov cocktails, and grenades is cumbersome.
There are a lot of weapons in GTA Chinatown Wars, and the Liberty City Police Department is a constant danger, and they readily give chase if they witness you doing anything inopportune. Similar to previous GTA games, a rating scale of between one and six stars lets you know how many police cars will be chasing you. The more trouble you cause the higher your rating, and the higher your rating the more cops will chase your untoward position down.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is surprising in some aspects, although it still has some problems that keep it from being great. Rockstar Leeds has fit the entire GTA IV Liberty City onto the tiniest fragment of the DS cartridge, which is quite a feat. The game does not feel like a scaled-down handheld version of a GTA game. It feels like a great progression for the series that introduces great design and features that never made it to the console predecessors.