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GTA: Chinatown Wars PSP Review

By Jeff Buckland, 10/28/2009

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When Rockstar Games announced they were going to be bringing a new Grand Theft Auto to the Nintendo DS, many were expecting something similar to what we got with the GBA port from years back. That is, they expected 2D top-down graphics and a pretty neutered experience, with possibly a little bit of extra touchscreen functionality and some extra info on the second screen. What we got was vastly different, with a fully-3D world and many of those little details that make GTA so unique and compelling, all stuffed into the DS' little package.

Months later, a PSP port was announced. I wasn't expecting much from it, either, mostly in that a turnaround this quick probably meant just dumping the DS game onto the more powerful PSP. But after having played it for hours and hours, I can say that GTA: Chinatown Wars is fantastic on the PSP and feels like it's right at home.

In Chinatown Wars, you play a young Asian gangster named Huang Lee. He's in Liberty City to deliver the family's sword to his uncle, the new head of the family, after his father was killed. Of course, in true GTA fashion, you've barely landed at the airport before you're robbed of the sword and left for dead. You'll now have to deal with your furious uncle and make some new friends in Liberty City's underworld just to stay alive. You'll get to participate in the new drug trade system that has you traveling the city to buy low and sell high, and the crazy number of new missions (and crazy characters that deliver them) are just as good as what we've seen in past GTA classics.

Chinatown Wars is played from a top-down perspective, something that fans may not be happy with, but the limited range of view has allowed Rockstar Leeds to add a ton of detail to what is visible. The texture quality, lighting system, and overall detail is higher than you might expect. Even some of the technical issues on the DS, like the way textures would sometimes fail to load if you were traveling fast, are pretty much entirely eliminated - even while loading from the UMD on my original PSP from years back. But if you've already moved to the PSPGo or just don't want the disc anymore, Chinatown Wars is also available to buy on the PSN store for download.

One thing I was disappointed with at first was that the compromises Rockstar made to get Chinatown Wars working on the DS, like cutscenes with text instead of full voice acting and MIDI-style music rather than full licensed tracks, are kept up here on the PSP. But in true Rockstar fashion, they've still made the most out of these, with great graphic novel-style cutscenes and a pretty solid little soundtrack overall (Deadmau5's tracks are probably my favorites).

You'll also find that the focus in Chinatown Wars has been placed solidly on gameplay rather than on massive amounts of atmosphere and style - it's a nice contrast to a game like GTAIV where so many more hours were clearly spent on flash instead of substance. The new balance of gameplay versus atmosphere works well on the portable platform, and I think you'll find the variety of missions, while being pretty standard for the series, are still implemented in a much more fun way than you might expect after having played past GTA titles. From fitting cars with bombs to drug deals gone wrong, you'll find that many of the classic missions get new twists and end in some amusing conclusions when Huang Lee's at the helm.

Most of the touchscreen elements of the DS version of Chinatown Wars have been adapted for the PSP's more conventional controls, and overall I am impressed with how well these bits worked out - the only exception for me is the annoyance in trying to make money with lots of scratch tickets. The excellent PDA system has been brought over to the PSP, using a new interface that resembles the PSP's own Home Screen system for sorting all of the options and features you can dig into.

The multiplayer features included here are also fun, although it's just local wi-fi only. Still, the cooperative scenarios are much better than just doing one-on-one deathmatches, but either way, the better online functionality comes through the Rockstar Social Club site. Linking the game with your Social Club account not only allows you to compare stats with your friends, but you'll also gain access to wacky new missions and get to work towards new clothes and even a bulletproof vehicle. On top of that, the PSP version of Chinatown Wars includes some new missions exclusive to Sony's portable platform. They're really fun, but it's Huang's interactions with a new character that make these new missions some of the best in the game.

What surprised me most about this version of GTA: Chinatown Wars is just how much it feels at home here on PSP. The huge variety of missions, solid story, and great visuals and details make up what I think is the best portable Grand Theft Auto yet. With solid online functionality and great action that looks fantastic for the PSP, it's difficult not to recommend this to anyone that can get their hands on Sony's little system.

Overall: 91%



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