Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Game Review)


System: Nintendo DS (Exclusive)
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Genre: Action/Sandbox


“Grand Theft Auto on the DS!? Psh, yeah right, have fun with that. lolololol”

This is what many “hardcore” gamers are saying about Rockstar’s latest GTA adventure, Chinatown Wars. It’s an all too common belief that an open-world Sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto has no chance of being anything other than a miserable experience on the Nintendo DS, especially when the games turned out lackluster on the PSP, a far more powerful handheld system capable of rendering graphics far superior than Nintendo’s little handheld that could. In the eyes of the masses, there is no way a Grand Theft Auto game could be a rewarding experience on the Nintendo DS.

The masses are sadly mistaken. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is leagues above the disappointing PSP efforts, despite the lack of graphical power, and is more than worthy of your time and money. Chinatown Wars is a full-featured GTA adventure that packs the same masterful storytelling and thrilling gameplay you’ve come to expect from the series into a single cartridge, and it manages to throw in several new features than enhance the series as well as put this at the top of the Nintendo DS’s library.


In GTA: CW players take control of Huang Lee, the rich and spoiled son of a prestigious Triad boss who is mysteriously murdered by a group of unknowns. It is now Lee’s responsibility to deliver his father’s most prized possession, an ancient sword which was won in a paltry card game, to his Uncle in Liberty City. Upon arrival Lee is ambushed, shot, robbed, and dumped into the river. From here the story is pretty straight-forward with a few twists and humps that keep you guessing, but nothing that will blow your mind.

The story itself is pretty solid. Dialogue can range from absolutely hilarious to slightly boring, but there is always a light-hearted feel to it that keeps the game from being too serious, which is always a good thing in GTA games. You’ll meet an exceptionally strange cast of characters that make you feel like Huang is the only semi-normal person in the Triad underground of Liberty City.

The thing that makes Chinatown Wars such an absolute blast is the gameplay. Its controls handle almost exactly like the console counterparts which is astonishing. Rockstar really poured a ton of effort into creating a “real” GTA game on the DS and it shows.

Perhaps the biggest and most addictive element of GTA: Cinatown Wars is the ability to peddle drugs at your own free will. Making money while risking a prison sentence has never been this fun. Running from dealer to dealer to stock up on your stock while selling to other gangs who pay more for your crop can quickly become your main activity in this title. And it’s easy to put the money to use buying up the various safehouses throughout Liberty City since the entire metropolis is unlocked right from the get go.

But managing an entire drug empire on your own would get a little overwhelming without some kind of assistance. That’s where the PDA comes in. It handles absolutely everything. Email, GPS navigation, drug connections, and buying up ammo and arms from the Ammu-Nation are just a few of the services your PDA provides. And its slick interface will make you wish the DS was a real gadget that could do all those things in real life because Rockstar was able to make it function in such an amazing and believable manner.

One more awesome innovation is one that could only be done on the DS–touch screen mini games. You still have mini missions like Rampage and Rescue at your disposal, but now some of the most boring tasks are made fresh and fun since they are now handled through touch screen interactivity. Hot-wiring cars, defusing bombs, filling up Molotov cocktails, and even bashing out the window of a car you accidentally (or purposely) drove off of a ramp into the bay are just a few examples of things that are handled through the touch screen. They aren’t necessary by any means, but they are fun and give the game a bit more personality.

grand-theft-auto-chinatown-wars-graphicsThe only problem with the controls is that the lack of analog input makes moving feel a bit stiff. The D-Pad works fine, but it’ll take a little getting used to before you can maneuver as comfortably as possible. The lack of an analog stick also hinders your ability to drive as accurately as you could, but the game has an awesome feature that automatically aligns your car with the road so you’re not constantly tapping left or right on the d-pad trying to straighten yourself out. Alas this is more of a problem with the DS than it is a problem with the game, so it really is invalid to rating this software, it’s just something you’ll notice.

The game’s visuals are far better than I had ever thought they’d look. Sure, the game is no Dementium, but keep in mind all of the land this game has to cover. Miles and miles and miles more of city, country, and ocean span across the cartridge and are all loaded without slow down or graphical lag without loading screens. This is a fact  that makes the DS rendition of GTA an absolute technical marvel.

The game does revert back to the series’ roots and take on a birds’ eye view of the playfield, and this is a truth that morons criticize about the game. It plays excellent, the top-down view works great, and it looks fantastic. I honestly believe that the only people griping about the game’s top-down perspective or the un-detailed graphics are either Sony fanboys or idiots who haven’t played the game.

Cut-scenes are played out through comic book-like pictures with the occasional motion–a wink of the eye or a nod of the head. I would have much preferred full-motion cut scenes, but we are talking about a DS game here. I keep forgetting that when looking at everything else this game has to offer.

GTA’s audio design has always been one of it’s fine points. The fine crunch of bones under a tire. The random shouting of prostitutes and pimps as you drive by. The sounds of gun shots tearing through a rival gang member’s flesh. Ahh, it’s brilliant.

grand-theft-auto-chinatown-warsChinatown Wars is no exception. Weapons, the engines of cars, the sounds of innocent bodies slamming against the hood of your car, everything is recorded in detail. There are a few sacrifices that had to be made to fit the game onto a DS cartridge, though.

For instance, remember how I told you the cut-scenes were played out through pictures? There is also no voice acting. All dialogue must be read, which is perfectly acceptable for a DS game and I am not whining about it, but it makes some of the more subtle humor in the witty dialogue harder to catch than having the script read by voice actors.

Some other minor complaints include the generic music. I know that Chinatown Wars obviously had no where near the budget of its console-based brethren, but the music in the game is just plain annoying. I always find myself turning the radio off immediately after entering a vehicle.

And one more thing some picky people might notice is that all vehicles have the same horn. Cars, motorcycles, boats. They are all the same.

As far as entertainment value is concerned, GTA has the potential to be an 80+ hour game if you’ll let it. Getting lost in side missions and paying close attention to your drug dealings, local multiplayer, detailed stat tracking, plenty of weapons, miles of city to explore, and this is all on top of the 15-20 hour campaign mode. Easily worth the 30 smacks you’ll lay down for it.

Final Words:

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is not only good on the DS, it’s as good as any of the console offerings and a far better experience than any GTA games for the PSP. A deep, clever and epic storyline unfolds as you build a drug empire and adventure through a huge city, all while working your way up through the Triad ranks.

GTA: Chinatown Wars is a huge game and I know I left a ton of information out of this review. There is just too much for me to cover. Hell, there is too much for anyone to cover, really. Just take my word for it, if you are the kind of person who loves deep and involving games with addictive gameplay, great stories, and tons of entertainment value then this game is for you. Pick it up and see for yourself how much there is in this game to love.


  • It’s a real GTA game. On the DS
  • Peddling drugs to buy safe houses
  • The story lasts a minimum of around 2o hours. And that’s before you factor in anything else
  • Local and online Multiplayer modes
  • A technical marvel


  • Turn the radio off!
  • Cut-scenes would’ve been much better with voice acting

Score: 9.2/10 (Amazing)

Gameplay: 9.75/10 (Amazingly deep. They took the console GTA experience and put it on the DS)
9.0/10 (An absolute marvel. Runs smooth and has no load screens while adventuring)
Audio: 8.25/10 (Annoying and generic music on the radio. But everything else is done great. No voice acting)
Entertainment Value: 9.75/10 (So much to do!)

11 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Game Review)

  1. Pingback: Twitted by NintendoWiiAlot

  2. Pingback: GoNintendo » Blog Archive » GTA: Chinatown Wars - review- What are you waiting for?

  3. Great review Zac. I really want to pick this game up myself. I’ll probably get around to doing that whenever the heck I get a DSi.

  4. I’ve been on the border with bying this game for quite some time now and I think this may have convinced me to finaly get. Good review.

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  6. Uhhh, you’re insane. This game is nowhere near as good as the PSP ones, they were amazing if you got into their story lines.

  7. Pingback: Everyview » Blog Archive » [Game News] GTA: Chinatown Wars Loses DS Exclusivity, Heads to PSP

  8. Pingback: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars | Game Glist

  9. Great game! It is for the ipod, too. walking/driving is infinitely beter with a vitrural joystick.

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