'Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars' Review - Here's Hoping You Didn't Play It On the DS

GTA Chinatown Wars

Released for the Nintendo DS earlier this year, "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" debuted on the PSP this week. The new version of "Chinatown Wars" offers much of the same experience as far as your ability to blow up, assassinate, terrorize and drug-hustle your way through Liberty City's underworld as its DS counterpart, with a variety of tweaks to the graphics and controls, as well as some extra missions exclusive to the PlayStation format.

The Basics

We don't really need to detail the depravities and criminal indulgences that have made the "GTA" franchise so popular, but "Chinatown Wars" does add a few new tricks to the crime game. Along with an impressively robust drug trade that has you buying and selling a variety of narcotics to fund your climb through the city's underbelly, the game also features a host of minigames that make you a more active participant in hot-wiring cars, planting bombs and other nefarious deeds.

The Highs

More Mischief Than You Can Handle

Like previous installments of GTA, "Chinatown Wars" offers an amazingly robust world for you to tear through with reckless abandon. Every mission seems to open up dozens of additional missions, and the addition of the drug trading element provides a great lateral diversion when you want to take some time off from progressing through the game's main storyline.

Every Crime Is A Gamble

The minigames triggered each time you want to hotwire a parked car, plant a bomb on a car, pump gas or even scratch off a lottery ticket are a great addition to the game, and not only make these activities more interactive, but in many cases, add a bit more risk. Most of the minigames have a time limit that, if it expires before you complete the task, will alert the police.

The Lows

It's All In The Translation

As is often the case with translations between two very different platforms, the PSP version of "Chinatown Wars" definitely suffers from the game's DS-focused design. This is especially apparent with the minigames, as many of them were developed to use the DS stylus and split-screen format, and using the PSP's controller nub instead of the stylus is a poor substitute.

For example, early in the game when you're trapped in the back seat of a quickly sinking car, the DS required you to tap rapidly on the screen with your stylus to break the back window. On the PSP, you simply have to press the shoulder buttons a few times to accomplish the same task. The former makes you feel like you're a part of the game, the latter makes you feel like you're playing a game.

Where The Eff Am I Going?!

I'm not entirely certain if this is a problem in translation to the PSP or with the title as a whole, but the camera angles in "Chinatown Wars" quickly became one of the most frustrating issues with the game. Where previous versions of GTA were friendly to high-speed chases, "Chinatown Wars" offers such a narrow camera view of the environment that I found myself constantly smashing into buildings or guardrails at the end of dead-end streets that were impossible to see when you're moving with any speed. The game does offer a few camera options, but none of them really solve the problem.

I Bought a PSP And All I got Were These Graphics

Given the quantum leap in graphic potential from the DS to the PSP, you'd think that "Chinatown Wars" on the PSP would offer a significant step up as far as the presentation of the game—but it doesn't. Sure, things look a little brighter, and much of the game is a little easier on the eyes than it is on the DS, but given what other games have been able to do with the PSP's processing power, it feels like "Chinatown Wars" phoned it in when it came time to consider visual upgrades.

Final Word

Given the choice, I'd rather own this game on the DS. Sure, it looks nice, plays fairly well on the PSP, and should be really enjoyable for anyone who hasn't been exposed to the DS version of the game—but if you've seen how much fun it is on the DS, it's hard to argue for the PSP version.

"Chinatown Wars" is an excellent addition to the PSP library, but I can't help wondering what it could have been if it was actually developed for the PSP instead of ported over from such a different system.

Basically, if you want to get the best experience possible out of "Chinatown Wars" for the PSP, all you have to do is avoid the DS version completely. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" for the PSP, a great game that's even better on another platform.