If you’re ready to deal some cocaine, please raise your DS stylus. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars hits the DS on March 17. With it, comes a whole new rap sheet for Nintendo’s handheld. Rockstar Leeds has spent nearly two years putting Chinatown together and built a fully rendered Liberty City in the process.
Gamers play as Huang Lee, a spoiled scion of a fallen Hong Kong Triad boss, who heads to Liberty City to supposedly avenge his father’s death. But more than anything, he tries to ingratiate himself to his uncle - a key member in the Liberty City branch of the Triad. Up to this point, Huang has just been a partyboy living off of family money. Once you get control of Huang, it’s more about making your bones as a true soldier which includes everything from killing off rival gang members to earning mountains of cash moving illegal drugs.
As with any GTA game, every car you see on the road is fair game to hijack. The top-down view takes a little getting used to as there’s no change the perspective. But the driving is a pretty simple experience. The developers stayed true to form by throwing in different handling values for every vehicle. A van doesn’t handle like a car and a van with a safe full of stolen loot in the back, handles even less like a van. Speaking of vans, I got to experience the entire demo in the back of a tricked out Ford E-250 complete with 22-inch rims and custom velour interior tricked out for Rockstar by DUB Magazine.
For general gameplay, the D-pad steers Huang around the Liberty City (both on foot and while inside a vehicle). To jack a car, just hit the X button. From there, the control scheme closely mimics that of GTA IV. Hit B to step on the gas. The Y button throws you into reverse and the right shoulder engages the emergency brake for slick J-turns. The A button serves as your default fire while on foot or in a vehicle. The touchscreen comes neatly into play with mini-events like using the stylus to assemble a sniper rifle from parts found in a briefcase and cracking the lock on a safe.
To call Chinatown Wars "feature-laden" would be an understatement on par with calling glaciers slow. An in-game economy let's you to make cash selling the six kinds of drugs in the game. Prices fluctuate due to your actions, so gamers can squeeze the most out of a deal by leaning on the competition or messing with the cops. Even more, you can buy guns for other players or wire them your own cash via Wi-Fi Connect. Global leader boards will reflect stats so everyone’s going to know whoever out there has the biggest hoard of cash in Chinatown.
Overall, Chinatown Wars looks pretty sick. The save features built into the game insure pick-up-and-play gaming suited for handhelds. But I’m guessing a lot of gamers are going to fall into Liberty City for more than a few continuous real-time hours at a time. Rockstar is kicking out some obscene value for $35 in this DS title. It’s graphic to the point where if you see a child picking the game up, you should probably hit them with a wrench. It will do less damage to their overall well-being and you can explain later. Mario is going to either have a hard time defending his turf or develop one hell of a smack habit.