Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was an odd release back in 2009. Rockstar decided to take its grittiest and most adult title and release it on a family friendly Nintendo platform. While the game didn’t end up selling very well, it was a critical success. Chinatown Wars was ported to the PSP later that year, iOS the year after, and now you can experience this mobile gem on Android.
Don’t let the smaller size or old-school look fool you: this is just as complete of a Grand Theft Auto experience as any of the console versions. It’s a tremendous game, both in scale and in fun. Chinatown Wars doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the series, but what it does is put the full GTA console experience directly into the palm of your hands. You play as Huang Lee. He is on his way to Liberty City to deliver a symbolic sword to his uncle after the death of his father. Unfortunately for Huang, he’s ambushed as soon as he arrives. His sword is stolen, he ends up tossed into the harbor, and thus begins his Liberty City adventures. Initially, you complete tasks given to you by your uncle, but it doesn’t take much time for you to meet other characters who also require your services. The game then continues like other GTA games, with missions that involve killing people, stealing cars, driving criminals around, and a slew of other illegal activities.
From the start, the entire city is open for players to explore. In classic GTA fashion, if you see a car, simply take it and drive – there may be some repercussions, of course, but anything with wheels is yours to take for a spin. Almost everything else you do in Chinatown Wars revolves around your PDA (remember those?!?!): waypoint selection on your GPS, email tracking, ordering weapons. The system is well designed and makes it easy to get from place to place. When you receive a message from one of your contacts to meet up, you can simply tap on the link at the bottom of the note to add their waypoint to the GPS and find them easily.
Chinatown Wars also features a surprisingly fun and robust drug economy, although one that does bear a striking resemblance to the classic graphing calculator game Drug Wars. You will spend a large amount of time in Chinatown Wars buying and selling drugs all over the city. During your time in Liberty City, you’ll befriend drug dealers who give you tips about where to find the best bargains and the neediest dealers. The drug-trading mechanic is integrated so well within Chinatown Wars that it really is more than a mini-game, it’s an integral gameplay system.
The game’s presentation style is similar to Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2. The viewpoint is placed squarely above the action. However, unlike in those older games, the visuals are nearly entirely 3D: buildings, cars, and obstacles are fully rendered in 3D. This is important to note because the 3D objects interact and react in the same way you would expect them to in the console versions of GTA: cars flip, jump and tumble if you’re a little wild on the gas pedal; light poles topple over into traffic. So while the game takes a classic direction in the way it’s presented, the way different elements interact is entirely modern.
While Chinatown Wars does feature customizable touchscreen controls and physical controller support, the lack of a solid targeting system when playing with the virtual joystick holds the game back a bit. When you hold down the attack button to shoot or punch, you simply end up attacking whoever Huang is facing, which can be frustrating when you are facing off against a group of enemies. Currently, there isn’t a way to cycle through targets, and the only way to stay locked on one target is by holding the attack button which often results in wasted ammo. It seems like there is a lot of lost potential in not embracing a more precise targeting mode.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is overflowing with things to do. There’s so much to the design that it’s impossible to list everything there is to experience. The game continues the series’ legacy as the premiere “sandbox” game, and though things have changed a little on the shift to a mobile platform, it is still a game that should not be missed.
But is it Hardcore?
A complete, feature-rich Grand Theft Auto experience right in the palm of your hand.