December 11, 2008 – Built on controversy, Rockstar Games now commands the respect of gamers everywhere. The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series – once the focus of heated social debate – is now a household name. However, Rockstar once again created a stir this past E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) with the announcement of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for DS. Considered by many to be a platform for kids and casual gamers, the handheld will soon clash with one of the most hardcore experiences around.
It’s highly unlikely many folks are, at this point, unfamiliar with the GTA formula, but just in case, here’s a quick run down: You’re a thug. GTA puts you in the role of some anti-hero, and by completing various missions, you’ll progress the game’s story. Missions generally consist of delivering packages, chauffeuring other characters around, and…killing people – lots and lots of killing. But as its namesake implies, stealing vehicles also plays a large role in the overall experience. The thrill of the chase and the variety of cars, boats, and aircraft – these things are all distinctly Grand Theft Auto.
However, GTA’s main appeal undoubtedly comes from the level of freedom the games offer players. With each new installment in the series, Rockstar has given gamers more to do, more to invest in, and undeniably, tons of value. It’s so good to be bad.
When Chinatown Wars was initially announced, it perhaps wasn’t a big surprise to many, but it remained a mystery as to how Rockstar planned to fit what is generally a massive experience onto a relatively tiny DS card. Were they merely going to offer DS owners a mini-game collection based on irreverent activities? Was Chinatown Wars simply going to be a short, offshoot story – a mere shadow of its console brethren? Rockstar answers with a resounding “No!”
What we will end up with is pretty much the full Monty. Chinatown Wars will offer a living, breathing city – one with day and night cycles, random weather, pedestrian A.I., as well as car chases, shoot-outs, and more of the sandbox freedom that ultimately catapulted GTA to greatness. There are also quite a few gameplay and presentational elements unique to DS, and for Rockstar, it was an opportunity to make a GTA game like no other.
This time around, you’ll play as Huang Lee. He is a member of the Triads (gang), and after his father is killed, Huang is tasked with delivering the Yu Jian (a treasured family sword) to his uncle, Wu. During the first mission, Huang is attacked and robbed of the sword, and the thrust of Chinatown Wars becomes one of vengeance and retrieval of the Yu Jian (Nintendo Power, vol. 234).
As the name suggests, this GTA centers around Chinatown (a fictional version, of course), but players will also have access to many other areas of Liberty City (the focus of past games in the series). The game is being developed by Rockstar Leeds (GTA: Vice Stories, GTA: Liberty City Stories – both for the PSP), and they have come up with a somewhat unique way of presenting the GTA scope on the DS’ limited hardware.
Beginning with GTA III, the games have been played from a behind-the-back perspective (though there have also been options to adjust the view), and it was a change that brought the experience to a whole new level of immersion. Previous games were played from a top-down view, and though both GTA I and II offered fun gameplay romps, they were more arcade-like than what we have today.
Chinatown Wars takes a decidedly different tact than either of those two formulas and instead puts the perspective at more of an isometric angle. You’ll still play from a third-person view, but mostly top-down, á la The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. The graphics are fully three dimensional and cel-shaded, but as Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser told Nintendo Power in a recent interview, character models and other certain gameplay objects have been exaggerated so as to better fit the game’s scope on the tiny DS screens.
Never happy to sit on their laurels, the game makers have implemented a host of DS-centric mini-games that are as likely to cause controversy as past games in the series. You’ll use the touch screen to hotwire cars, make bombs, as well as design tattoos for your character. These are all great ideas that should make for good fun on DS. However, there is one particular addition to Chinatown Wars that is sure to create a renewed moral outpouring. You’ll be able to buy and sell drugs – presumably for a profit – and from the screenshots we’ve seen, the list includes, acid (LSD), heroin (with a nice little syringe pictured in the inventory list), and “weed,” among other things.
Another interesting addition to Chinatown Wars is the PDA. Using the touch screen, you’ll be able to keep track of various bits of info regarding your surroundings, including the going prices for certain drugs.
Barring a major run-in with the ESRB, Chinatown Wars will offer an impressive GTA experience on DS. In a recent interview with the game’s head of development, Gordon Hall, 1Up reported that the main game will clock in at around 20-30 hours, and closer to 70-80 for full, 100-percent completion. Hall discusses the team’s extreme attention to detail, going back to optimize gameplay any time they experienced even minor dips in the framerate. We’ve heard staggering numbers regarding the amount of code hand written for the game, and if there’s one thing we’re banking on, Chinatown Wars will be like no other DS game currently available. Keep your eyes on Cheat Code Central for more about this mammoth undertaking as Chinatown Wars nears its release early next year.