Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars PSP PreviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Sep 04, 2009
Grand Theft Auto has traditionally been as big of a hit on handheld platforms as it is on home consoles. And although Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars DS didn't resonate with gamers (sales-wise) on the level that both Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories did prior, it's still one of the best games to hit the Nintendo DS this year. Recently, Rockstar Games announced that the stylish-looking sandbox experience would grace the PSP, as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch. Last week, I got a hands-on test drive with Chinatown Wars on PSP, and although it retains the charming aesthetics of the DS game, what I saw translates well to Sony's handheld as well.
If you're a PSP-only owner, you might have turned a blind eye toward the DS game. You play as Huang Lee, the spoiled son of a Triad gangster who shows up in Liberty City after your father is killed in Hong Kong. In little time -- you're immediately kidnapped from Francis International Airport and left to die in the Humboldt River-- you're pulling off odd jobs for a variety of quirky criminals around town, and dealing in illicit substances. Chinatown Wars, at its essence, combines a bigger (yes, bigger; Chinatown Wars' rendition of Liberty City outpaces the landscape for both previous PSP games by a long shot) world with tighter, handheld-friendlier gameplay and a liberal dose of Drug Wars-inspired minigames.
It's telling that Rockstar Leeds has adapted elements from other Rockstar PSP games to re-program some of Chinatown Wars' touch screen-centric minigames for the platform. Case in point: hotwiring a car. On the DS, you use the stylus to turn a few screws, then twist a set of wires together to start the engine. The PSP exercise is similar to the handheld version of The Warriors, in which you rotate the analog stick to perform the same functions. It's arguably more convenient, since I recall playing through lots of Chinatown Wars DS with the stylus between my teeth for any random minigame encounters.
Also, this new version uses the L button as a modifier for grenade and Molotov tosses. As I recall from an early tutorial mission in the DS game, you throw explosives by flicking the stylus across the touch screen to a desired point. It took some practice and precision; on more than one encounter, I managed to set myself ablaze instead of a building. Using a button, rather than carefully coordinated flicks, provides a more exact (read: ammo-conserving) method to the madness.
Aside from the touched-up visuals (which look mighty impressive on the PSP display), there are other aesthetic nods to the hardware. Huang depends on a PDA to help him navigate the vast urban terrain, much like Niko uses his cell phone in Grand Theft Auto IV. In the DS game, it's completely touch screen-based, and you use the stylus like a Palm. The PSP version has an interface that looks much more familiar to its owners: it uses a XMB-inspired aesthetic to navigate everything from Huang's e-mail to uploading your stats to Rockstar Social Club to toggling the GPS on and off.
I played through a redone version of "Deadly Xin," a mission in which Huang helps Xin, a Triad gangster. Xin's partner is robbing a high-profile bank, and Huang must take the LCPD's attention away from the heist. How? By stealing a N.O.O.S.E. tank from the airport and creating enough four-star mayhem to distract the cops from the real crime going on. As I plugged away artillery shells at police cars and armored vans, I noticed how the tank (though a little clumsy) handled significantly better than a similarly paced mission would have done in one of the "Stories" games on PSP. GTA fans will likely notice that the mission structure in this game is better suited to a bus ride than a plugged-in PSP at home.
Rockstar also promises six PSP exclusive missions, including one big homage to a mission in GTA: San Andreas, which I'll refrain from spoiling. Suffice it to say, I'm a big fan of the prior GTA games for PSP, despite some of their quirks (the missions structure was good for PS2, less for gaming on-the-go), and I've found few games on Nintendo DS this year that have hit the quality level of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. I have a hard time believing that the PSP version won't live up to the quality I've seen from the prior release.