Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Review

posted 2/2/2010 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
One Page Platforms: iPod
I’ve played many different iPhone games. I’ve played mind-bending puzzle games like Electric Box, cute fighting games like Inkvaders, crazy simulation-like games like Amateur Surgeon, artistic games like Zen Bound, ported games like Duke Nukem 3D, action games like Canabalt, and the list goes on. Most of these games have done quite well in the App Store. They all suite the premise of the iPhone very well: they’re easy to pick up, and easy to put down.

The experience of these games, however, is not at all comparable to playing a console or PC game. The level of story, action, versatility of gameplay, immersion and general intrigue that inhabits games of the larger platforms is altogether lacking in iPhone games. Although in some ways the competition will be impossible for Apple to breach, app developers just need to be a little more creative. Or, they can take a few hints from the already existing handheld game devices. So for iPhone gamers looking for a bit more immersion and a bit more actual gaming in their mobile lives, you can look no further than Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars at the App Store.


Playing as protagonist Huang Lee, you land in Liberty City from Hong Kong carrying the sword that belonged to your recently deceased father. Your plans for delivering it to your Uncle Kenny are thwarted as the gangsters who were meant to escort you there are jumped and leave you for dead. Managing to drag yourself to your Uncle, he informs you that his reputation and plans for becoming the Triad boss are at stake. He needs your help in ensuring this position, and redeeming your family’s honor.

Like any true GTA title, this plot will lead you to a hefty amount of fighting, racing around in various cars, and delving into severe gang wars involving various mob families.


Anyone who says the GTA franchise is mindless killing and murdering is really sadly mistaken. There is so much more more to GTA to appreciate. The level of humor in the dialogue of Chinatown Wars is so appropriate it hurts. You play the unenthused “rich kid” dealing with various characters and odd jobs whilst more focused on finding your father’s killer and his stolen sword. You’ll meet a fellow rich kid, with his head probably screwed on not quite as right as yours. Your uncle flaunts his mighty “I’m your elder” finger in your face, and his rivals attempt to get you working for them with the assurance that their cockiness is not misplaced. There’s even a crooked junkie cop you’ll be doing jobs for. You greet all of them with your fine tuned sarcasm, making for witty transactions with the various character types.

Gameplay relies on completing missions for the various characters to stifle any perception of weakness on their behalf. For you, it’s more of a means to an end towards finding answers about your father. If you know GTA, you pretty much know what these missions entail: you’ll be hijacking cars and goods (usually drugs), blowing up buildings, protecting people, and killing others. Your Uncle also sets you on the path toward drug dealing, and you’ll be making quite a few deals and contacts along the way. For a bit of extra money on the side you can also partake in a few odd jobs: picking up taxi fares, doing tattoo work at the local parlor, or undertaking random missions you find along the way. The mini-games are surprisingly a lot of fun, and short enough to not feel intrusive on the main storyline.

Rockstar took the game towards a graphic novel look that looks great on the iPhone, and fits the content it represents. Even though the screen resolution is high and the graphics can look pretty, squeezed into such a small space as the iPhone’s screen really makes it difficult to tell to begin with. You can’t really do much about that, though, and I’d rather carry my small-screened cell phone around than lug a clunky mess.
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