Grand Theft Auto is a stupendously popular games series that started as a frankly appallingly bad game on the Playstation and always sees you controlling an anti-hero of sorts as you commit crimes and complete missions to earn money and advance. The first two games were rather naff as they had a horrible two-dimensional birds eye view and pointlessly bad controls, but when the series made the jump to 3D the popularity exploded. San Andreas and GTA4 in particular were considered absolute breakthroughs, and with games such as Vice City Stories on the PSP it was inevitable that the DS would be graced with a GTA game.
So, we have Chinatown Wars. You control Huang Lee, a frustratingly gullible Chinese guy who is attacked and left to fend for himself in Liberty City after finding himself in the middle of an enormous gang war between several mobsters including his own peculiar uncle. It's pretty much the same tried-and-tested formula and it works well enough. You have the normal open gameplay, although it's a little more linear in GTA:CW (as it shall be referred to as from now on - I'm too lazy to write Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars every time I mention the title) than in previous games with many occasions where only one mission is available at a time. Rampage killing sprees and races make a welcome return, and there are the usual handfuls of easter eggs to find. You also have a drug dealing side quest and several minigames including the frustratingly addictive (yet easily abused) scratchcards.
GTA:CW is presented in a birds eye view style reminiscent of the first games, although the camera is a lot more active and keeps up with the action nicely. Some of the cars look a little samey but all in all the graphics are very tidy. An unfortunate gripe is that many of the streets look identical - this isn't a huge problem but it does make exploring a little dull.
The audio is... well, bad. Characters do not talk with the exception of occasional pedestrians making cocky comments, the radio stations are frankly wasted with ringtone-esque tracks instead of proper songs, and you'll get fed up of the gun sounds in no time. It's a shame since the humourous talk shows and banter has been a core aspect of the enjoyment previous GTA games provide and I really think that a little more work could have made the game far better.
But how does it play? Well, surprisingly well. The controls are brilliant even if the auto aim does have an annoying habit of latching on to totally the opposite of what you were intending to shoot - why, for example, the game deems innocent civilians more worthy of a bullet than armed mobsters trying to load your sorry Chinese ass with AK47 bullets is totally beyond me. The cars handle nicely, even the boats feel like they control accurately (although they take a while to get used to). The touch screen is used well, even if it does feel a little forced sometimes.
Missions are varied depending on who you're working for, and the difficulty curves nicely. There aren't very many though, which is a shame - it only takes a few hours to beat the story missions if you ignore money making on the side, and the rewards aren't very good at all. There is plenty left for you to do once you're done though - aside from the races and rampage missions you can do the usual ambulance and police missions. You can also deal drugs to make a lot of money fast.
Did I say fast? I mean REALLY fast. The drug dealing is incredibly easy because you are basically told where to go to buy cheap, then where to go to sell high. This sounds fine and it was at first, but it got to the stage where I was absolutely invincible because I had full ammo for the SMG (for a small complaint, I never had to change my gun aside from when the game made me - the SMG served for the entire duration of the story missions, having one gun totally outshine the rest defeats the point in having other guns...) and this made the game far too simple. Carrying on with this, the game has a very irritating habit of telling you exactly what to do to beat the missions. Fair enough, you might say, but a fantastic example of how this is bad would be...
I had a mission where I had to stop powerful weapons being traded in fear of them being used to attack one of the gang leaders I was working for. I drove to the harbour and sure enough the weapons were handed over to the enemy. They got into a boat and started escaping. The obvious thing to do would be climb into a boat and start after them, and sure enough one was handily moored nearby. But as if what I had to do wasn't completely 100% clear, the game outright freakin' told me "get into the boat and follow them". What, because there's going to be one person dense enough to not know that..? It makes the entire game feel like one enormous tutorial, and this effect is added to when the game finishes with the ultimate anticlimax.
Aside from the relative ease of the game and short story, the game is still brilliant fun and probably one of the most solid titles on the DS. While it doesn't match up to previous recent GTA games it's still worth a play.