Many people feel that GTA IV was a step backwards for the series. By sacrificing the comic storyline for something more believable, the feel of the game was very different to the beloved GTA trilogy.
Now comes GTA: Chinatown Wars, a DS exclusive set in GTA IV era Liberty City, but with the light hearted tone of GTA III. It is also, coincidentally, the only 18 rated game in the system, and happens to be one of the very best DS games out there.
Chinatown Wars follows the story of Huang Lee, a spoilt rich kid from China travelling to Liberty City to deliver the ancient sword of his recently murdered father to his uncle Kenny. In typical GTA style he gets robbed and left for dead, giving him no choice but to work with his uncle to avenge his father’s death, win back the sword and reclaim his family honour.
The story is suitably ridiculous, but it is backed up with some terrific tongue-in-cheek writing and colourful characters which will keep you amused right from the start. The comedy which was lacking in GTA IV is very much present here. Make no mistakes about it, this is classic GTA gameplay reborn on the DS, and Rockstar Leeds have somehow made a host of DS-centric changes which enhance Chinatown Wars more than enough to distract from any graphical downgrades.
The most impressive aspect is just how much has been squeezed onto a DS cartridge. Two-thirds of the GTA IV Liberty City has been included, and while changes have been made, parts of the city are instantly recognisable.
The game also utilises a cel-shaded style and a camera angle somewhere between the original top-down approach and GTA III, both of which fit the DS perfectly. The only notable GTA trademarks which are not here are the radio stations and cutscenes, but their absence is a small price to pay.
DS specific enhancements all utilise the touch screen to great effect, and feel like natural additions to the franchise. Stealing a parked car now involves completing a minigame before the alarm goes off, the GPS system works flawlessly, and the drug dealing sidequest is a brilliant distraction which should really be included in future versions.
The driving has also been tweaked to give a more arcade feel, and police chases now require you to run them off the road, Burnout style. It is far from a perfect system, but is less flawed than that in GTA IV.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is better than it has any right to be. The clever DS additions, well written storyline and sheer amount of content here makes this a must buy for any DS owner mature enough to play it. It may well be the best DS game ever released.