Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
GTA: Chinatown Wars on the DS was unbelievably amazing, cramming the whole of GTA IV's Liberty City (bar Alderney) onto Nintendo's slender, diminutive portable console. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Rockstar want to spread the joy to even more handheld users, converting the game for iPod Touch, iPhone and PSP.
We recently went along to Rockstar to check out the PSP version, which we're assured is much more than just a straight port of the original DS title. For those unfamiliar with the game, Chinatown Wars is a tribute to the GTA games of old, adopting a top-down, isometric viewpoint reminiscent of the first three titles in the series, Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto: London and GTA 2.
However the game utilises a full 3D engine, lending a tangible solidity to the world while allowing you to fully rotate the camera. The entire presentation is bold and colourful, boasting chunky cel-shaded visuals that hark back to the pure fun and anarchic roots of the series. OTT action is the order of the day here, although there's still a cracking story to follow, told using stylish comic book panels that fit the Chinatown Wars' look and feel perfectly.
You play as Huang Lee, a member of a Triad gang whose father - a Triad boss - is killed. Huang arrives via plane in Liberty City with Yu Jian, a sword that his father won in a poker game. While attempting to deliver the precious heirloom to his uncle, the new Triad boss, Huang is attacked, shot in the head and fed to the fishes.
Somehow, he manages to survive the ordeal and is contacted by high-ranking Triad members all competing for aging boss Hsin Jaoming's place. Cue a typically deep and involving GTA tale, where Huang must learn the identity of his father's killer and retrieve Yu Jian. Chinatown Wars is a full-fat GTA title with a great story to match, no mistake.
For the PSP iteration, the handheld specialists at Rockstar Leeds have not only used the increased power of Sony's console to enhance the graphics, they've also uncompressed the audio adding two hours of new music to the playlist, which all sound fantastically crisp and clear. In fact all of the game's assets have been completely redone, so the animation is much improved, vehicle handling has been tightened up and the upgraded visuals are not only much sharper, there are incidental flourishes like bloom effects and better night time lighting in the mix.
More importantly however, is the hard work that has gone into making Chinatown Wars feel like a PSP game rather than a hastily converted DS one. New missions and redesigned mini-games make Wars feel right at home on the platform with only the analog nub, D-pad, face buttons and triggers as input. Where previously the touch screen and stylus had you fishing guns out of dumpsters and pouring petrol into bottles to make your own Molotovs, the PSP controls have been adapted to give you the most tactile alternative possible using a combination of buttons.
It all works surprisingly well, feeling perfectly suited to the format, which is no mean feat considering how divergent the DS and PSP handhelds are in terms of their capabilities. During our hands-on with the game, we play several of the revamped mini-games, utilising the shoulder and face buttons to play the aforementioned dumpster search and Molotov making diversions, all of which work very well indeed.
The third side mission we sample is much more than a diversion - it's Chinatown Wars' drug dealing section, which is actually an in-depth way to accumulate quick cash through buying and selling six different (real-world) drugs. CCTV cameras act as the game's hidden packages, but destroying them also lowers the price you need to pay to purchase from the dealer in that area, so there's strategic worth in locating and shooting them all down.
After we've had a chance to experience a handful of the absorbing mini-games, we play a couple of the actual story-driven missions, one of which involves driving around the streets with a minigun-toting maniac poking out of the car's sunroof. A chaos meter pops up in the top left corner with the objective of filling it achieved by tearing rival gangs to shreds with hails of bullets.
Excessive violence ensues as bad guys are ripped in half by the minigun fire, scattering their separated legs and torsos across the streets. Blood and viscera are strewn all over the place and cars explode in erupting balls of bright orange flame. We're barely two minutes into playing Chinatown Wars' story and already we're having an inordinate amount of fun while cackling like a maniac. Clearly this is every bit as brilliant as the DS game.
For the next mission we're commandeering a Rhino tank and going on a massive rampage, shelling cop cars and running roughshod over civilians and law enforcement alike. Sadly, that's all we get to play for our all too brief hands-on session, as the PSP is wrestled from our clammy grasp and we're shown the door.
Chinatown Wars' imminent arrival on PSP is fantastic news for players who might not have the chance to experience it on the DS. The added material and enhancements mean that it's also far beyond a lazy port, which is why come October 20th if you own a PSP, you'll undoubtedly want to add this to your collection.