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CVG
26 Reviews

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Review: Seriously good takeaway

Even with a fraction of the power of its home console brothers, Rockstar's DS debut is - as Apple would say in its iPod ads - one of the funnest Grand Theft Autos ever.

Chinatown Wars returns to GTA IV's Liberty City, which is rather surprisingly replicated completely on DS bar one island. Spoilt rich kid Huang Lee, following his father's death, travels to "the worst place in America" to deliver an ancient sword to his Uncle Kenny, thus ensuring his family's control of the Triad gangs.

Things don't go to plan and you're robbed and left for dead, leaving the family heirloom in unknown hands. It's now down to Lee (you) to reunite the family and recover his dead father's sword from the gangs of Liberty City.

Off the bat Chinatown Wars feels like a new take on the original 2D GTAs, although the 3D town has to be seen in motion to be believed. Sticking to the formula, cops, traffic and pedestrians all go about their daily routines, while flashing chevrons beckon you inside Burger Shot and Ammu-Nation.

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A 3D re-imagining of the series' retro past would probably have been enough, but the DS's touch screen injects a fresh take on many a GTA hallmark. The simple task of hotwiring a car has now been transformed into an inventive touch sequence involving screw drivers, wires and immobiliser codes.

The stylus also comes in use in other areas; lobbing a Molotov cocktail or grenade is done by positioning your pointer on the lower screen for the perfect throw trajectory. Even simple mishaps like plunging your vehicle into water are made fun with a windscreen-smashing escape routine.

Chinatown Wars thankfully excels in its excellent mission design compared to some of GTA IV's by-the-numbers missions. Its little brother opts for a more action-packed, streamlined set-up, which means you spend less time immersed in the itty-bitty details of the world and more time blowing shit up.

You'll be sabotaging opponents' car engines before a street race (jamming a fish in the radiator) and in another you'll be fitting a tracking device, piece-by-piece, onto a cheating wife's car.

Some of our favourite early missions (not too spoilerific) include sneaking onto the back of a loaded truck to lob goods onto a perusing triad car with the touch screen, and another that had us hijacking an ambulance in police custody, driving carefully so as not to initiate a defibrillator touch screen scramble. There isn't any real 'go here, drive this person there' repetition that occasionally made the console versions veer into dull territory.

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That's not to say there's any less of a GTA experience here. The size of the city and depth of content on offer is immense. Rockstar North could certainly learn from Leeds' excellent pacing.

Chinatown Wars isn't without an issue or two though. Fiddly combat lock-on - GTA's Achilles' heel - often decides to target the dog down the street instead of the bloke shooting you in the face, which can be frustrating in massive battles and changing weapons with the stylus on the touch screen is too time consuming during heavy fire fights.

What it loses in HD glory it more than makes up for in attitude, reclaiming some of that tongue-in-cheek silliness lost in recent current-gen and PSP series entries. Obscene weapons like the chainsaw and mini-gun are back, plus the arcade-enthused blood bath that is the Rampage challenge, which dares you to cause as much carnage as possible within a time limit.

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