I was told by Rockstar that this GTA is going to be the most action-intensive in the series, and there’s a good reason for that. The police evasion system has been revamped, and you can’t just outrun the cops like you used to by leaving the radius and laying low. Now, you need to “disable” police cars, one for each wanted star you have. You disable them by causing accidents and blocking their progress in the streets, or by crashing into them and making it so they can no longer chase you. It isn’t about killing the cops, it’s about impeding them, and it’s the only way to get away. This makes for some frantic police chases that are less about speed and more about setting up traps and earning your way out of trouble. It’s fun, and it adds a new element to an already neat process.
Rockstar wanted to use the DS’ capabilities without being gimmicky, so they made minigames that are meant to immerse you in the experience. I sold drugs that I took out of my briefcase using the stylus, I watched the Rockstar rep drive to a gas station and fill bottles to make Molotov cocktails, and I put together a sniper rifle left in a suitcase using the stylus in order to carry out an assassination mission. You can also hotwire cars by using a screwdriver controlled by the stylus to mess with the ignition and get the car running. This is how you use the stylus; it’s all about immersion, and Rockstar Leeds seems to have nailed this one on the head.
What may be one of my favorite additions are the changes they have made to the mission structure. First of all, if you fail a mission, you can now not only restart from the beginning of that mission, but can skip the transportation and be thrown almost immediately right back into the action. This is great considering the handheld nature of the game, but is also a breath of fresh air for those who were tired of finding a new ride every time they failed a mission in GTA IV.
You can also replay any mission that you have completed at any time, a first for the series. Think you can do a better job than you did? Maybe complete the mission faster? Well, now you can earn yourself different medals based on your level of accomplishment, which gives Chinatown Wars potentially more replay value than any GTA before it. Since you can also mark territories on your GPS, you can remember where your favorite stunt jumps, street races and the like are without having to wander around aimlessly.
Odd jobs are back. Did you miss driving taxis and ambulances around, saving people and charging absurd cab fairs in order to make a buck? Well now you can relive those days again in Chinatown Wars, which is great for someone like me who spent a serious number of hours in games like Vice City playing with them, and also great since cash is at a premium in this title.
You can track all of your stats in this game via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and the Rockstar Social Club. You can share your favorite GPS-saved locations here, chat live in-game via an instant messenger application in your PDA, and trade items and weapons with friends you’ve registered. Those stats that you know and love from previous GTA installments are also here, and can be uploaded to the Social Club in order to compare yourself to the rest of the GTA playing universe. Rockstar let me know that doing this will eventually allow you to take part in contests and promotions that they run for Social Club members, a nice incentive since you’re playing the game anyways.
During my own time playing the game, I can tell you that the control scheme feels very familiar. The stylus is not used for movement, so the screen is never blocked, and the face buttons all do what you expect them to, so you should be able to pick this up and get right to punching out a driver and stealing their ride. Rockstar wasn’t lying; I played two very action intensive missions, one where I assassinated someone with a sniper rifle and then had to get away from a three-star wanted level, and another where I drove around a pickup truck while someone sat in the back with a mini-gun laying waste to opposing gangs.
This game looks amazing, plays great, has near endless replayability thanks to the features I mentioned, and is a ton of fun to play. I watched, played and listened for over an hour, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. This may have been the top title featured at all of Comic Con, which is impressive considering the array of next-gen technology and innovation that was on display. That’s another feather in the cap for both Rockstar and the impressive Nintendo DS. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is set to release in March, and if you weren’t excited already, you better get that way soon.
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