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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Review

A whole world in your hands

For too long now, we've had to look on jealously as other formats get all wrapped up in Grand Theft Auto fever. With the arrival of Chinatown Wars, the DS can now boast a GTA title that's every bit as compelling, impressive and fun to play as its home console cousins, if not more so.

Yes, you heard us right, Chinatown Wars is as entertaining as anything that's been released on home consoles that are many times more powerful than the DS. While some may suggest that hosting a Grand Theft Auto game on DS would prove to be a restrictive watered down experience, we'd argue that the opposite is true.

Click to view larger image
Chinatown Wars demonstrates that a laser guided focus on filtering down what makes a great game series great can reap impressive rewards. This GTA is leaner and a more streamlined experience than any of its recent iterations and it's all the better for it. Make no mistake: the emphasis here is on all-out action.

By leaner and streamlined we don't mean that it's a less complete GTA experience. Developer Rockstar Leeds has simply prioritised the best elements of past titles and polished them up to a shine. It's taken the trademark car chases, mission variety, chaotic gunplay, hidden bonuses and searing satirical view of the criminal underworld and distilled it down into Chinatown Wars. For us, it represents a Grand Theft Auto experience in its purest, most enjoyable form.

Rockstar has pitched the action perfectly to match the new top-down perspective and art style. There's less importance placed on plotlines and character, and a renewed sense

of chaos, marking a welcome return to the old school mayhem of the original games.

While you still get the very real sense of being in a living, breathing Liberty City, Chinatown Wars is very much a game, not a simulation or interactive movie. There's a few obvious examples of this, one being the return of rampages - all guns blazing free-for-alls where you cause as much carnage as possible in a set time. Even during a bread-and-butter escape from the police, the focus on action at the expense of realism is, frankly, a welcome one. The new police evasion system emphasises this further. Rather than running away, it's often quicker (not to mention more fun) to shake them off your tail by just ramming them off the road.

On A Mission

Working on the assumption that everybody reading this has played a GTA game before, you'll know the overall structure by now. Working through missions is the core of the game, but as ever, there's plenty of other distractions to keep the experience from turning into a slog.

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Let's tackle the missions first. In a series that has often been accused of running its 'drive here, shoot man, drive back again', formula into the ground, Chinatown Wars does a good job of mixing things up. Perhaps most significantly, the addition of touch screen interludes means that each mission comes with the potential of introducing something completely new, whether it's cracking a safe open or assembling a sniper rifle on the bottom screen.

So, with Rockstar Leeds mining the touch screen for extra nuggets of gameplay, the promise of more mini-games to come means that progression through the missions rarely becomes a chore. And besides, there's plenty of other stuff to do.

The driving mechanic is solid, and quite right too, given the amount of time you'll spend driving. There's a subtle auto-correct handling system which helps you to blaze through traffic with relative ease. You can turn it off if you like, but it's worth sticking with. It's also worth heading into the options screen via your touch-screen PDA to tweak the extent to which the camera zooms out at high speeds. Though the map helps considerably when in hot pursuit, the busy traffic can be tricky to avoid when you've really got your foot down. Each car has a different feel to it and the bikes are agreeably mental - super-fast, super-dangerous and super-satisfying if you find a ramp and get a decent run-up.

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Comments

51 comments so far...
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  1. ultra_slb Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 11:22

    I think im definetly gonna buy this one.. looks pretty good, im not sure about the visuals though

  2. markdean2012 Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 14:00

    as i pre-ordered this game a week a go, it arrived today and i can tell you it's really good so far, the visuals take a while to get used to, as does the bird's eye camera, however that doesn't stop it from being a good game, which it is :D

  3. DBZFan355 Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 15:49

    Great Game! I think it should be 4th in the DS top 20.

  4. Callum D Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 16:40

    I'm lucky, I got this on tuesday, it was the American version though. I think I'm stupid for importing these games when all I need to do is wait a few days.

  5. funmaker11 Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 17:02

    What's so negative about "Dangerously Addictive"? :o

  6. promaster Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 17:03

    On metacritic this game is rated on average the best game to come out on the ds beatin chronotrigger and mario kart. i will probs get it now

  7. koopamaster Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 17:23

    I'm suprised at how positive these reviews are. I might get it.

  8. -mohsi- Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 18:01

    Great Game! I think it should be 4th in the DS top 20.

    I'd say 1st or 2nd from what I've played so far :) Done 30%

  9. -mohsi- Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 18:01

    Great Game! I think it should be 4th in the DS top 20.

    I'd say 1st or 2nd from what I've played so far :)

  10. hulkbuster Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 18:27

    94% WOW :!: are be out side gamestation at 9.00am tomorrow four my copy :!: .

  11. Eternal Darkness Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 18:48

    Cool so getting it, wait a bad point 'dangerously addictive', whats so bad about that?!?

  12. Shikea Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 20:48

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.

  13. funmaker11 Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 21:23

    BTW, how much (unnecessary) sexual content does Chinatown Wars have?

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.


    IGN, GameSpot, EuroGamer. :wink:

  14. Dark Toad Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 22:42

    This may well be the first DS game I purchase for over two years.

  15. Meow Mix Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 02:03

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.

    Your wit amazes me.

  16. worst nightmare Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 08:38

    I was printing this review out for my friend (I hate GTA games) and then my broke.
    Bum.

  17. D3KU_JUDD Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 13:16

    It looks awesome.

  18. Don_Corleone Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 18:20

    So far, so very, very good.

    How they stuck all this on a little DS cartridge is beyond me.

  19. ShadowofPain Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 20:46

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.

    Every review so far has given this +90% and this so far has been rated the best DS game ever.

  20. Shikea Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 21:06

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.

    Every review so far has given this +90% and this so far has been rated the best DS game ever.

    I never said the game was bad, I was saying ONM are poor reviewers.

    Shikea wrote:
    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.


    Your wit amazes me.

    And the fact your idiocy is so extent you cannot tell the difference between the application of wit and a simple statement of distrust amazes me.

  21. TheCakeisalie123 Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 21:29

    Its ridiculous that you get a credit card to get $10,000 and Ammunation guns early if you buy it from GAME. LOL

  22. ChrisONM Friday 20th Mar 2009 at 22:47

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.


    Mind letting us in on why this one isn't credible?

  23. peteflea Saturday 21st Mar 2009 at 00:26

    Its ridiculous that you get a credit card to get $10,000 and Ammunation guns early if you buy it from GAME. LOL

    considering how much you get for selling drugs in the game 10,000 really isnt very much at all , iv only done bout 3% and i have 15,000 and i didnt get the 10,000 starter money :)

  24. peteflea Saturday 21st Mar 2009 at 00:30

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.


    Mind letting us in on why this one isn't credible?



    chris, if it helps i think the ONM reviews are awesome.

    why are people saying there not sure about the visuals , take it from me the game looks fantastic and runs smoothly ,

    p.s thanks for the animal crossing keyring thingy in the last issue :)

  25. peteflea Saturday 21st Mar 2009 at 00:34

    Great Game! I think it should be 4th in the DS top 20.


    sorry , i dont mean to be spamming messages but i keep thinking of stuff i want 2 write lol ,,, i promise this is my last :)

    back to the point , if you would put this game 4th what are your top 3 ?????

  26. TheCakeisalie123 Saturday 21st Mar 2009 at 07:33

    Its ridiculous that you get a credit card to get $10,000 and Ammunation guns early if you buy it from GAME. LOL

    considering how much you get for selling drugs in the game 10,000 really isnt very much at all , iv only done bout 3% and i have 15,000 and i didnt get the 10,000 starter money :)

    Did you order it from GAME?

  27. x50.50x Saturday 21st Mar 2009 at 11:29

    Can we have some constructive negative points please? This is beyond a joke now. It's been three years since you marked TP down for 'No voice acting' and now you're calling this game 'dangerously addicting'.

    If there's nothing bad about it then why isn't there a higher score? I don't want to see this in the 'BEST ONM DS GAME EVAR' in a few weeks time when it hasn't been rated to that standard.

  28. Frayed Saturday 21st Mar 2009 at 20:22

    ONM, you have the most idiotic views on bad points. How is addictiveness bad? If anything it's good! And another review I will refer to is your Animal Crossing Wild World review where your only negative point was that there are too few hours in the day! If anything, you can sort out all of your daily chores on AC within two hours maximum. And the time you have to play it is not anything that should affect your enjoyment of a video game for christ's sake.

  29. MarioThePenguin Saturday 21st Mar 2009 at 23:38

    ONM, you have the most idiotic views on bad points. How is addictiveness bad? If anything it's good! And another review I will refer to is your Animal Crossing Wild World review where your only negative point was that there are too few hours in the day! If anything, you can sort out all of your daily chores on AC within two hours maximum. And the time you have to play it is not anything that should affect your enjoyment of a video game for christ's sake.

    They did it for a joke. theyre obviously joking when they say 'arent enough hours in the day' and they dont mean 'dangerously addictive' in a bad way. In fact, they put it negative, to make it more positive than if they had put it positive :shock:

  30. Paper Luigi Sunday 22nd Mar 2009 at 08:53

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.


    Mind letting us in on why this one isn't credible?

    There a bit to nice, I think.

  31. Onna76_NL Sunday 22nd Mar 2009 at 15:46

    I pass, no fan of GTA to begin with, plus this looks like another overrated game. When I look at those screenshots graphics looks pretty "mweh" to me. I've seen much better than that on the DS.

  32. DrSpoony Sunday 22nd Mar 2009 at 15:55

    Ive not really been to keen GTA, but I just love the way they have done this one, the visuals in my opinion look really nice, and the gameplay seems to be fun.
    Im gonna probably get this.

  33. punkmario Monday 23rd Mar 2009 at 00:28

    Meh. I'll wait for a credible review thanks.


    Mind letting us in on why this one isn't credible?

    Red Steel - 91% thats all we're saying,

    your the official magazine, i havent bought a wii game since brawl, bar the snk arcade collection and thats only cause its cheaper than buying an MVS or AES which is what id rather do, why cant we have a real game from nintendo, seems like only 3rd parties are going for the hardcore market now, mario
    & luigi 3 is just to trick people to come back so they have something to play on DSi

  34. Shortay Monday 23rd Mar 2009 at 00:29

    Can the reviewer explain the single negative point to me please? I don't understand how CW being "Dangerously addictive" makes the game worse.

  35. gils Monday 23rd Mar 2009 at 09:14

    This is such a great game, nintendo owners and rockstar should be proud.
    The depth of the game is amazing, how have rockstar fitted all this on a ds cart, I've already spent many hours on just on drug dealing,let only the missions.

    You get a real sense of the city being alive, you see the police chasing criminals,rival gang memebers shooting it out, as well as enviormental changes such as weather and day and night.
    The use of the stylus is used extremely well, whether its used to hotwire cars or putting petrol in bottles to make molotov's

    I think this is the best games on the ds and one of the best/if not the best GTA game in the series
    95% IMO

  36. tomonm Monday 23rd Mar 2009 at 11:43

    Can the reviewer explain the single negative point to me please? I don't understand how CW being "Dangerously addictive" makes the game worse.

    It doesn't really! It's only meant as a light-hearted comment and isn't meant to be taken too seriously.

  37. x50.50x Monday 23rd Mar 2009 at 18:06

    Can the reviewer explain the single negative point to me please? I don't understand how CW being "Dangerously addictive" makes the game worse.

    It doesn't really! It's only meant as a light-hearted comment and isn't meant to be taken too seriously.

    So care to explain why the game didn't recieve a perfect score?

  38. DavidVM Monday 23rd Mar 2009 at 21:50

    Another light-hearted "negative point" should be; why aren't they doing a San Andreas Stories for the Wii if they've done such an amazing job with this (which I hope they have because I just bought a DS off ebay especially to play this)?

  39. rabbit545 Tuesday 24th Mar 2009 at 05:22

    Can the reviewer explain the single negative point to me please? I don't understand how CW being "Dangerously addictive" makes the game worse.

    It doesn't really! It's only meant as a light-hearted comment and isn't meant to be taken too seriously.

    So care to explain why the game didn't recieve a perfect score?

    absolutely no game will ever get a perfect score, theres always going to be bad points in any game be it slow down, repitivness, or just plain tediousness,
    anyway back to the point this game is a really good adaptation of the gta series and has reignited my faith in it after the rather poor gta4, people complaining about the graphics should realise that the screenshots are of the action or of the cut scenes when you play the game the graphics are smooth and yeah sure the camera angle is not always perfect but its good enough, i also like the removal of the secret packages and insertion of cctv cameras to destroy much better and feels much more rewarding.
    the drug dealing side to the game is also quite innovative as it means that there are never really any major money problems, one down side for me is the fact that all the islands are open from the start i kinda liked unlocking the islands as you progressed it gave me a sense of achievment

  40. jgri8105 Wednesday 25th Mar 2009 at 15:16

    i will get this game when it is a bit more cheaper as i never have any money, i loved gta san andreas (xbox version) and will be looking forward to causing chaos in liberty city :D

  41. LuigiWare Thursday 26th Mar 2009 at 16:25

    It fully deserves all the praise it's getting, Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars is a truly fantastic game. There's never a point where you get bored of the main story and even if you don't want to rush through the missions there's vigilante missions, taxi driving, rampages as well as drug dealing. This game truly is the best game on DS.

  42. Swixer-Swaxer Thursday 26th Mar 2009 at 18:02

    Gonna get it with my DSi along with Chrono Trigger on DSi release date.

  43. LeslieLu123 Friday 27th Mar 2009 at 15:10

    Great review. The game truly does advance the GTA series and make the DS look a whole lot sexier. They've got a cool site up at www.gamestopchinatown.com too.

  44. graemedowie23 Sunday 29th Mar 2009 at 02:37

    Wow this game is great, I have only played through to the safe house at the start but i love the intro when you get drove around the city to get dumped haha hats off rockstar.

  45. Brawlftw Monday 30th Mar 2009 at 18:41

    What's so negative about "Dangerously Addictive"? :o

    Lol, it's true. I'd agree with the score given, but I am really annoyed at some of the claims made in the review that the gameplay in chinatown wars is as good as that in san andreas or gta 4, which just isn't true.

  46. IAMnoob Friday 3rd Apr 2009 at 13:57

    what is the wi-fi like?

  47. graemedowie23 Thursday 9th Apr 2009 at 10:26

    2nd post on this game haha

    having now played a fair portion of this game i have to say this game is amazing. i have played gta 4 on xbox and it left me feeling flat. this gta is so much fun and fresh feeling and actually feels like a game and not a chore to mumble through the latest offering of the latest popular game..... yyyyaaaaaassssssss its so great hahaha

  48. mastersword267 Tuesday 14th Apr 2009 at 10:08

    I pass, no fan of GTA to begin with, plus this looks like another overrated game. When I look at those screenshots graphics looks pretty "mweh" to me. I've seen much better than that on the DS.

    i got this on sunday and in 4 hours it broke, but those 4 hours were magical, it IS the best ds game ever GTA 4 was overrated (ot bored within 2 days) but this is absolutly brilliant- BUY IT! BUY IT! BUY IT!

    I got the 2nd copy for 12.99 on amazon.com (bargain)

  49. mastersword267 Sunday 19th Apr 2009 at 17:46

    got 2 copies- both fake :cry:

  50. dantdj Friday 29th May 2009 at 11:47

    personally, i think that this is a great game. What really annoys me is the fact that people are moaning about graphics. What do you expect from it? ps3 graphics??? People have to learn that the graphics are never going to be like the home consoles, or indeed, the psp because the ds has not got the technical power to pull it off! graphics don't make the game , people, the gameplay does.

    Anyway great magazine ONM. keep it up!

  51. skullkid666 Thursday 15th Oct 2009 at 05:38

    i love this game my only suggestion is that they should keep adding extra missions for download

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