Previews// Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

'Slaying With Fire '

Posted 13 Feb 2009 16:32 by
As with most highly playable DS titles the real pleasure only starts when, five minutes in, those little squirts of serotonin* in your brain make you do that little smile to yourself. You feel excited, genuinely excited for a change that here in your hand is a game that is going to keep you blissfully occupied for the next six months of bus and tube and train and plane journeys. Here is a game that is going to make your hum-drum existence liveable again for a while. Thank Christ for that!

Huang Lee?s PDA, displayed on the bottom touchscreen, is vital to the entire experience, performing a similar function to the phone in GTA IV. It gives you access to maps of Liberty City, emails, weapons and an online version of the Ammu-nation store, via which you keep your ammo and weapons stash at your safe-house topped up.

It?s back in the relative sanctuary of the safe-house where you can plan your next mission, selecting it from photos on a whiteboard with the DS stylus. You don?t have to find your safe house every time you want to quit your gaming session though. You can either just flip the lid closed and then the next time you open it you?re back into the game exactly where you left it or you have the option to save and quit at any point in the game. A small point, but a vital aspect of the game?s design and a good example of the attention to detail gamers demand from Rockstar.

The online elements of the game sound like they are going to make you want to replay your favourite missions again and again, in order to trump your mates on the leader-boards at the Rockstar Social Club. Or just text to check how much they are buying their bags of bugle for on the in-game PDA.

This brings me to what is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the game (and, strangely, for me, the least interesting aspect). The drug-dealing.

While the Rockstar-composed funk, soul and jazz soundtrack combined with the perfectly created missions and cool little (car-jacking, safe-cracking, Molotov-cocktail making) mini-games combine to create an almost perfect just-one-more-go game, the need to deal dope, acid, coke, heroin and so on to make money to progress further is possibly the only aspect of the game that seemed a little ?overplayed?.

It is fun, don?t get me wrong. But it will not be fun enough to make me want to repeatedly return to the game. But then again, I'm not a fourteen year-old. Shame.

Still, the quick-to-grasp controls are a joy, the driving is quick and smooth, the combat is hectic, there is a real feel of a living city around you (with non-player-characters chattering away to one another and moaning that you?ve been so rude in running them over). Crucially the timing of the missions just feels spot on.

Of the three or four missions I played for the purposes of this preview, my favourite by far was ?Slaying With Fire?, in which you get to lob bombs out of an (on-rails, auto-piloted) helicopter at unsuspecting mooks down below, taking out trees, cars and hordes of Korean gangsters, by flinging the explosives with a swift flick of the DS stylus in the appropriate direction.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is out on March 20th.

I expect the usual slew of ?ban these evil games? tabloid stories to also hit around the same time?

Notes
* Of course, serotonin can't actually be squirted as it comes from the Pineal gland which, as we all know, is an endocrine gland: ?Any of various glands producing hormonal secretions that pass directly into the bloodstream. The endocrine glands include the thyroid, parathyroids, anterior and posterior pituitary, pancreas, adrenals, pineal, and gonads. Also called ductless gland.?
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