Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

When thinking of moving a large open world and graphically impressive game such as GTA from the home consoles to a handheld your mind tends to wander to other dumbed down ports that have preceded this. Many developers would maybe think of using the franchises name and shoehorning it into a type of game that would be easier to present on the DS. But that wouldn’t be Rockstar, having previously shrunk liberty and vice city down onto the PSP they have now done the unthinkable and shrunk Liberty city onto a cartridge for the DS.

Chinatown wars follows the story of Huang Lee who after his father’s death enters liberty city and must retrieve a stolen family heirloom. A tale of crooked cops, gang wars and a new leader for the triads follows your story through GTA:CW.


Taking inspiration from the early GTA games this DS version reverts back to an overhead view of the action. Not quite the bird’s eye view familiar to the PC titles but a slightly closer angled overhead view. The Cell shading applied to the graphics gives the game a nice clean look and helps to make smaller elements such as weapons easily identifiable. The top screen handles all of the action with the touch screen taking care of your PDA, GPS and other in game interactions.

Running and driving around the city will be familiar to anyone who has played the previous GTA games down to even using the same button layout for many of the in game actions. Combat uses a lock on system which helps to refine your aim and make sure you hit the intended target. Driving obviously being of great importance to a GTA game thankfully feels great and loses some of that loose feel that irritated players in GTA4. Initially the vehicles feel like they turn a little too easily, but weaving in and out of traffic soon becomes second nature. Interestingly there is an option to turn a steering assist on which helps to straighten your vehicle out in relation to the road and rather than feeling artificial is subtle enough to feel natural and useful.

The touch screens many uses in this game thankfully benefit the experience rather than detracting from it. The GPS contains a map of Liberty city but touching it pauses the game and zooms in allowing you to plan your route by setting a way point. Simply double tap on your destination and the route is highlighted for you (Tip: In the options turn on “Top Screen GPS” as it makes navigating the city a lot easier). The PDA has a similar interface to an iPhone allowing you to easily scroll between options such as emails and ordering weapons. Emails which either offer missions or drug trades tend to always finish with a link which automatically highlights the location on your GPS and sets a route towards that location. It is these little touches that have such a great impact on the overall experience.


The touch screens other uses for in game interactions could have easily become irritating yet are short and varied enough so as to remain entertaining and involving. Parked cars require one of three methods to hot wire whilst taking a moving car avoids the need to do so. Other uses for the touch screen involve piecing together a sniper rifle before an assassination and searching through dumpsters for hidden weapon stashes. The variety throughout the game continues to surprise and entertain you in ways that will genuinely be missed when going back to GTA on other systems.

The main missions provide around twelve hours of gameplay but the side missions are so entertaining they could easily double that. Usual staples of a GTA game are included with police car, taxi, ambulance and many more all present. The most interesting new addition though is the drug trading. Rather than a simple mini game thrown in to provoke controversy it becomes an interesting ongoing objective and great way to earn money. Dealers can be found all over the city each specialising in buying or selling various narcotics. Your aim obviously being to buy your drug of choice and to sell it for more than you paid. This is such a good way to make money that your funds from drug dealing quickly eclipse the money you gain from completing missions. Emails containing tip offs come through to your PDA and often encourage you to become side tracked on the way to new story missions. This also adds a new dimension to getting busted by the cops as doing so will see you lose all of the drugs on your person meaning possible losses of thousands of dollars.


In doing so much to push the DS to its limits something had to give though and that was the sound. It is unfortunate that in the game being so impressive in all other areas that the music and speech or lack thereof is so noticeable. Radio stations are still available and remain distinct yet obviously do not contain the soundtracks we have become used to from the GTA games. Cut scenes use a comic strip style and in combination with the lack of speech lose some of the character present in the recent home console GTA’s.

These small points only have a minor impact on what is easily one of the best DS games available though; impressive in so many ways that you cannot imagine another developer attempting to emulate what has been created here. In pushing the DS to its limits Rockstar have not only made a great DS game but crafted an experience truly worthy of the GTA name.

HI Score: Presentation, Missions, Side Quests, Touch Screen uses

Lo Score: Music, Lack of speech

Final Score: 9 out of 10

    • Sparky
    • April 14th, 2009

    Definitely the best game on the DS (and possibly the game of the year so far?) and worth more than a 9!
    I was a little sceptical at first, thinking it would be like the original top down GTA (which was also a great game), but Rockstar have certainly pulled something special out of the (body)bag.
    This game is one of the few that has made me laugh out loud (a bit embarassing on the tube) and also makes excellent use of the DS’s capabilities.
    At the moment, all I seem to be doing is buying and selling drugs – I find I can get a couple of deals into an 18 minute commute.

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