Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has proven to be among the very best titles on all three handheld platforms: DS, PSP, and now the iPhone. Even though we’ve played it in previous forms, Chinatown Wars still has the same ‘wow’ factor it did the first time we played it. In fact, it’s been enhanced due to extras only possible on the iPhone. Despite being a port, we can say that it’s one of the very best games available on the App Store, and sets the bar extremely high for other major developers.

If you’re new to GTA: CW, here’s the lowdown. You play as Huang Lee, the son of a recently assassinated Triad gangster, who is flown out to the infamously dangerous Liberty City to deliver Yu Jian, the family heirloom sword, to your uncle, Wu ‘Kenny’ Lee. However, upon arrival, two men ambush you and drive you into the water, leaving you to die while they steal the sword.

After escaping this near-death experience, you find yourself face to face with Wu. As one of three contestants in line to become the next Triad leader after Hsin Joaming (the current leader) steps down, Wu was going to offer the sword to Hsin to gain his favor. Now Hsin is angered and Wu has lost any chance at gaining the title he strives for. We won’t spoil the exciting and surprising story any further, but expect for the situation to quickly spin out of control.

Another sunny day in Liberty City.

Playing through the entire storyline will likely take about fifteen hours. Most of the gameplay involves stealing cars, driving through Liberty City, evading police, and warring with rival gangs, but a wide variety of missions keeps things fresh the entire time. These range from helping a Triad boss win a street race by rigging the other cars, to blowing up stores with molotovs (or preventing them from burning down). No two missions are alike, making it a joyride the entire way through.

Completing the campaign doesn’t mean you’ll run out of things to do in the game. Side missions, extra jobs, and unlockables are at your disposal, and completing them all will take days. Some of the jobs available include working as a policeman, taxi driver, ambulance driver, drug smuggler, and tattoo artist, but the list goes on. At any time you can take a break from the campaign to go out on a drug deal or roam around for fun.

This iPhone iteration of GTA:CW combines the touch-based functionality of the original DS game and high-quality graphics from the PSP port to make the best version of the game yet. The minigames for carjacking, scratch cards, molotov making, and tattooing feel at home on the touchscreen. We were skeptical about how the d-pad controls would work at first, but fear not: they work just as well as any physical controller. Rockstar even provides the ability to customize the controls to suit what you feel comfortable with.

We must have gotten our wires crossed.

Our greatest fear prior to GTA:CW’s release was that the profanity, drug dealing, and violence would be dramatically cut from the game, hindering the experience. Luckily, it remains untouched. Fans of the franchise will still find everything they have come to love: witty writing, incessant cursing, and a cast of morally screwed-up characters. The 17+ rating is there for a reason, and shouldn’t be overlooked if you are thinking about buying this for a younger child.

Since the DS version, Rockstar has revamped the five available radio stations with tons of new music. However, in the iPhone version you are no longer limited to what they have preloaded into the game. By creating an iTunes playlist named GTA and syncing it to your device, you can play your own music through the new ‘Independence’ station. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of iPod integration, but it makes a huge impact on the game’s fun factor.

If you haven’t bought GTA:CW yet, you should. It’s one of the most complete iPhone games to date, and its mature storyline is not to be missed. Even if you’ve played Chinatown Wars on another handheld device, buy it again: it’s Liberty City in your pocket.

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