On top of using the PDA for menial tasks, you'll also discover that many of the missions will require you to use your stylus for one reason or another. Some of these touch screen mini-games add to the chaos of the action. For example, in one mission you'll be tasked with stealing an ambulance carrying a man you desperately want to keep alive. As you drive through the busy streets of Liberty City, you'll constantly have to make sure that your patient doesn't flat line. In order to do this, you will periodically have to pump his lungs, as if you were performing C.P.R. on the poor fellow. All this is happening as you are being shot at by the police, which means that to keep this guy alive you're going to need to take your eyes off the road for a few moments. All this results in the sensation that I'm actually going back and forth trying to keep this guy alive, all while outrunning the cops. The urgency is duplicated perfectly, and I really felt a sense of accomplishment when it was done.
In another exciting mission, I'm trying to take down a bunch of boats on the high seas. There's just one problem, my boat keeps dying. To complete the mission I have to not only make sure I'm blowing up the enemy boats before they take me out, but also fiddle with the engine by using the touch screen display. There are a few variations on this idea, and when it's done well it can really add to the tension of the mission.
Unfortunately not all of the touch screen implementation is as successful. Most of the touch screen activities are nothing more than mundane tasks, such as hotwiring cars, fixing boats, bashing locks, destroying other people's property, cutting into the fabric in the car, trading drugs and even selecting your weapons. Some of this these activities are admittedly interesting, but the novelty gets old when you're forced to do the stuff over and over again. Most of these touch screen bits could have just as easily been mapped to the face buttons, touching the screen doesn't add much to the overall experience.
Beyond quibbling over the silliness of some touch screen components and the way the game looks, the reason Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is easy to recommend is because it's so well put together. It doesn't hurt that Liberty City is gigantic, giving you plenty of area for you to explore and discover. The story is also captivating from beginning to end, even if the limited card size meant no voice acting. And while the music this time around is a little weak (especially for a Grand Theft Auto game), it's hard not to be impressed that the developers were able to shrink so much detail into such a small package.
What impresses me the most about this package is all of the new gameplay rules that have been implemented specifically for Chinatown Wars. A perfect example of this is the way the police chase after you. While having the cops tail you is nothing new to a Grand Theft Auto game, the way you deal with them this time around is both new and perfect for the smaller screen. Instead of just outrunning the police (which I quickly learned is hard to do from the top-down perspective), your job is to smash the police cars up so badly that they can't chase you anymore. To do this you need to get a few Burnout-style takedowns, enough literally "X" out a car and take your wanted level down. This is just one of the many ways that Chinatown Wars manages to set itself apart from the rest of the franchise, which in a weird way actually makes this game more endearing.
It wouldn't be a proper Grand Theft Auto game without a bunch of extra mini-games and missions to get lost in when you're bored of the story. Chinatown Wars has a great mix of new and old diversions, such as earning money through pretending to be a cab driver, police man, fire man, or any number of other professions in Liberty City. There's also a large emphasis on buying and selling drugs, which is the easiest way to earn money in this lawless city. And in a Grand Theft Auto first, you can actually go back and replay the story missions to see if you can earn a higher score. The rest is still pure GTA, so expect to collect hidden items, crash through billboards, drive a go-kart, race against other speed junkies and even get juiced up with the Rampage missions. Yup, this is a Grand Theft Auto game.
When Rockstar Games unleashed Liberty City Stories on the PSP, it shocked the world (or maybe just me) by including robust multiplayer support. Since then Rockstar's developers have been incorporating multiplayer support into all of their Grand Theft Auto games, and Chinatown Wars is no exception. You and a (local) friend can play a number of intriguing events multiplayer, using the system's Ad Hoc Wi-Fi. These competitive modes aren't all about running and gunning, in some modes you will be rushing around trying to earn as much money before time runs out. In another mode you'll be trying to protect the base while gang members attack from all sides. There's also a run racing mode which has more than a passing resemblance to a shrunk down Midnight Club Racing. All these multiplayer modes are fun, it's just a shame you can't take them online and play with more people.
When it comes down to it, there's no question that Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a fantastic entry on the Nintendo DS. The story and atmosphere is perfect and the controls take advantage of the portable's limited buttons and hardware. I found myself scratching my head throughout the game wondering how they were able to fit so much in, but the talented developers at Rockstar Games managed to fit a full Grand Theft Auto game into this tiny little card. It's not perfect, but this is likely to be the very best we can hope for on the Nintendo DS. Chinatown Wars definitively proves that not only can you make a Grand Theft Auto game on a Nintendo system, but it can rock your socks off.
While it may look and feel a little different from the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV and Liberty City Stories, Chinatown Wars proves to be yet another solid entry in Rockstar Games' popular franchise. The game does suffer from too many touch screen mini-games and a slightly outdated look, but those problems are easy to overlook when the product turns out to be this good!
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