GTA Chinatown Wars iPhone review

This image described by iPhone, games, Gaming, App Store, game, gta chinatown wars, GTA, new, IMG_0354 

 The GTA series is considered by many to be the pinnacle of console gaming. The possibility space offered by its boundlessly ambitious sandbox range is unrivaled and the succinct balancing of its many complex interlocking systems, make for some of the most heart-stopping sequences of unscripted action to ever appear in a game. 

Everyone has their own GTA story to tell, the incendiary mix of car chases, street brawls, shoot outs and death defying stunts sees to that. But step away from the game’s chaotic playground and into its tightly scripted single player heart and you will find a game that can tell its own stories too, often with an incisive wit and knack for keen observations of the real-world zeitgeist.

Contrary to popular public opinion, GTA sports genuine cause and effect clarity and context as well as nefarious flamboyancy and predilection for brutality, the combined result of which is nothing less than profound satire. 

Yep, you could say GTA has it all. So how is it possible to fit the game that has everything into a device as pocket friendly as the iPhone? It’s hard to believe, but Rockstar has achieved the impossible and done Chinatown Wars (originally released on the DS, then the PSP) proud, keeping its unique take on the series intact and tailoring it to Apple’s handheld wonderfully (for the most part).

But first of all, what is Chinatown Wars all about? The game starts with a monologue from the game‚Äôs protagonist, Huang Lee. The spoiled son of a recently murdered Triad boss, Huang Lee finds himself thrust from his cosseted life, into the grimy underbelly of Liberty City and its endless turf wars between warring gangs. 

Upon arriving in Liberty City, Huang is accosted at the airport by hired assassins who shoot him and leave him for dead in a watery grave. He miraculously survives however, but wakes to find the sword he was carrying (a family heirloom that Huang’s father won in a poker game) has been taken, leaving him with nothing to offer the new family patriarch, his uncle Kenny. We don‚Äôt want to spoil it for you so that‚Äôs enough about the story. 

It‚Äôs a great start for a narrative that unfolds neatly alongside a raft of portable friendly missions. All of the GTA staples are here – you spend plenty of time ferrying human cargo about, getting into scraps with local gangs, taking part in street races and trading drugs on street corners. 

As ever, its the accompanying dialogue and tense interactions that provide that all important context, fleshing out Huang‚Äôs character and taking GTA Chinatown Wars into a league that genre imitators comprehensively fail to emulate successfully. 

That’s the area where GTA Chinatown Wars excels most. The controls on the other hand are a bit more rough and ready. Everything is handled by some very economically laid out on-screen buttons, a sensible approach. Even so, driving feels occasionally jittery and gun fights are a little on the wooly side.

This image described by iPhone, games, Gaming, App Store, game, gta chinatown wars, GTA, new, IMG_0344 

The developers have taken every possible measure to counteract this however. For example, there is an option to allow the game to automatically align any car you are driving with the road you are on, which allays some of the constant wrangling with the steering. Similarly, the auto target in gun fights is very generous, skipping seamlessly to the next target as soon as one is dispatched.

It does work well to an extent Рindeed, it’s hard to see how Rockstar could have made better use of the iPhone’s interface. The result of all the hand holding however, is a game that feels slightly less direct and immediate than other GTA iterations, a necessary but nonetheless disappointing casualty in scaling the game to fit the iPhone’s screen and interface.

Luckily, the mini-games, brought about for certain actions, such as hot-wiring a car, or rummaging through dumpsters for weapons stashes, work brilliantly on the iPhone and despite the loss of the DS’s second screen, the visible play area never feels cluttered during these sections.

One of the elements that really takes this title bravely into the portable realm is the inclusion of skippable sections. If you die or fail on a mission, you can skip the journey to the mission start point on your subsequent attempt and even skip whole sections you have played already. This skillfully sidesteps one of GTA‚Äôs longest standing annoyances, namely  the need to tiresomely trudge through sections you have already played. 

Graphically, GTA Chinatown Wars is a gloriously pretty game with a finish and attention to detail more common of an under the TV release. The cell-shaded, thickly outlined characters and cars really pop on the iPhone’s screen and the city itself is bustling with life, clicking along smoothly no matter how busy the screen gets or how intense the action. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that, on a 3GS at least, we didn’t come across a single loading screen when moving between different sections of Liberty city Рan impressive feat for such a minutely detailed effort.

The music is perhaps less impressive. Gone are the data intensive radio stations made possible by a DVD disc and in their place are a selection of almost incidental jazz, dance and muzak tracks. While inoffensive, GTA Chinatown Wars‚Äô audio element contains little of the character and sassy self-awareness that the series is famous for. Indeed, this element of GTA has always been one of the series‚Äô main conduits for feeding humour into the experience, via the various debate shows and adverts aired on the radio stations, and it‚Äôs noticeably lacking here. 

That said, one feature the iPhone version does boast is the ability to create your own custom radio station from your iPhone‚Äôs music library, simply by creating a new playlist in the iPod section of your iPhone and naming it ‚ÄúGTA‚Äù. 

This image described by iPhone, games, Gaming, App Store, game, gta chinatown wars, GTA, new, IMG_0352 

There are some other minor gripes to consider. The iPhone’s screen size has necessitated an extensive armament of menus for coping with the game’s impressive array of options. This is handled via a distinctly iPhone-like PDA (the Badger) which you can use to access information at any time. Some important elements, such as the save and load game options, are buried several menus deep, but again, this is a minor annoyance and one that the seamless autosave function goes a long way towards addressing.

The manner in which cops are shaken off is also cunningly tailored to the handheld experience. Instead of simply outrunning the police, you can ram them and run them off the road, the number necessary to dispatch corresponding to the number of stars in your wanted level. It’s exciting, challenging and less protracted than some of the series more lengthy flights from the law.

Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars bears the unmistakable mark of quality from a studio famous for obsessing over the standard of its output. Where necessary compromises have been made, forward thinking compensations have been put in place to counter them – some with more success than others.

The end result is an occasionally flawed game that still stands head and shoulders above the majority of what the App Store has to offer. Indeed, in many ways, the iPhone version of GTA offers the series as a whole some lessons that should be remembered (especially where custom soundtracks and skippable sections are concerned). 

All in, this is unmistakably a console game on your mobile, a triumph of nuanced design and intelligent implementation that will have iPhone doubters eating their words for months to come. The time for debate about whether the iPhone is a proper console has ended and GTA Chinatown Wars is the proof. Go and get it now.

This image described by iPhone, games, Gaming, App Store, game, gta chinatown wars, GTA, new4 out of 5 stars

About Marinas Fencers