Most people will argue that the original top-down Grand Theft Auto games are nowhere near as good as the third-person versions out recently. However, for some reason the top-down style works on the Nintendo DS installment of the series Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.
The game is played almost like an offspring of the older, top-down versions of the series, with the camera pointing down at the in-game character and the use of the DS’ face buttons and D-pad to control the character and the vehicles, and the newer versions of the series, the player has extensive use of a mini-map that comes complete with a GPS, email, and weapon-ordering system. The story plays out like most other Grand Theft Auto games, with the player doing various missions for crime bosses all while weaving an ever increasing web of deception. This installment of the series, as the title implies, focuses on the Chinese gangs, which no other GTA game has done before, and a power struggle for control of the gangs after the death of the main character’s father.
One of the most surprising aspects to the game is how emotionally powerful the cut scenes are, even without voice acting. Previous games in the series are well-known for how good the voice acting is, usually having Hollywood stars voice the main roles in the game, such as Ray Liotta playing the main character in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Chinatown Wars has absolutely no voice acting in it whatsoever, not even lyrics in the music played on the car radios, but the writing is so well done, one hardly notices the lack of speech. The cut scenes, and the in-game graphics themselves, play out like a comic book, with a cartoony feel to them. This is a stark contrast to the content in the game. A good example of this is one mission where a contact cuts out the heart of another character. While the player is never directly shown the cutting out of the heart, the screams of pain and the sound of flesh being cut open are clearly heard, complete with a hand holding a bleeding, human heart as the next frame of the cut scene. The typical “mature” GTA content was not held back for this version.
The only negative aspect of the game is the lack of variety in most of the missions, but this can be said of all GTA games. A majority of the missions have the player go from point A to point B to steal a car, kill somebody, plant some sort of explosive, or a combination of all three. This is made a bit less annoying by the “reasons” the player is sent to perform the various tasks, all ranging from legitimate excuses to the inane, such as being forced to take out street racers because they are “cheating” by using race cars in the street races.
Overall, the game is very well done, with the cartoony graphics working for the small DS screen. The controls are tight, and driving is made a bit easier with the inclusion of a “snap-on” feature, which straightens the vehicles to the flow of the road. The lack of voice acting may throw one off at first, but the quality of the writing more than make up for it. Although unable to live up to its most previous predecessor, Chinatown Wars is still an amazing game and perfect for anyone looking for a new GTA game, or those older gamers looking for an adult game for the DS.