Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (DS)

Time for a quick little GTA:CW review. What I really liked about the game was that for the first time in a long while it felt like a full blown original game on the system. Most other games either boil down to simple puzzle mini-game stuff or cheap rip-off of titles from the big consoles. GTA:CW on the other side, while not 100% original, knows that its not running on a big console and doesn't try to emulate GTAIV. Instead it goes back to a more cartoony style of the original GTA PSone titles and for most part success quite well with it.

Car chases are over the top ridiculous with a new mechanic that lets you crash policecars into buildings and objects to get rid of them, giving it a nice Micromachines/Matchbox feel. It never feels realistic, but its always fun. Fighting with weapons is just as over the top, with flamethrowers, miniguns, molotov cocktails and chainsaws being at your disposal. The AI never looks good in those fights, but it doesn't have to, because the game does a good job of just throwing enough of those dumb enemies at you. Mission design provides quite a bit of variety and a drug trading system gives you something to do between the missions.

What I however probally like the best in the game is how it uses the lower screen. There are a few useless mini-games on there, but they are used rarely, most minigames are ok and some minigames are actually kind of cool. I really like how you can pay the toll by throwing coins while driving, its a really nice way to give a game more interactivity without interrupting the core gameplay. Most of the time however the lower screen isn't used for minigames, but as a fully functioning PDA/GPS system. You can read mails on the thing, define a routes you want to drive, look for people to trade drugs with, order weapons in a online shop and all that stuff. You also can switch weapons on it and throw grenades. It is great to finally see a game that uses the screen for extending the core game, instead of trying to replacing it. Thinking about it, the whole use of the lower screen is actually quite close to what I experimented with in my WindstilleDS prototype thing, so no supprise that I really like it.

But with all things pretty, there are of course a few ugly parts too. The most ugly being the story. While I like the way the story is told technically, via decent looking static-image cutscenes, the dialog is just awful. I don't mind profanity in a game, but here they are just trying to hard, every sentence is filled with it and you don't really meet a single friendly character in the game (well, there is tha girl, but that gets killed like 15 minutes into the game...). Which of course kind of makes you question why the hell you work for those guys in the first place. On top of that the plot just isn't interesting either. So it boils basically down to doing random jobs for random people for random reasons, to bad that they didn't come up with something more interesting.

Another thing that feels badly broken in the game is the virtual economy. Drug trading can make you thousands of dollar in a single deal, while solving missions hardly pays anything. When you can get a hundred times the money for simply driving from A to B, instead of solving a complex mission, it just doesn't feel right. On the positive side of things, I however had quite a bit of fun with it, in the beginning I once ran out of money, leaving nothing for drug trading and me stranded driving a taxi around to get some money in the pocket again, followed by me buying all the safe houses I could find, since drug traiding really pays once you have enough money to invest.

The last three issues aren't GTA:CW specific, but apply to all GTA titles and its annoying that they are still not fixed. The first one is the lack of reset points in the missions. You can easily restart missions and skip the cutscenes by just pressing a button, but you don't have any reset points in the mission itself, which gets really annoying when you die close to the end of it. The other big issue I have with the series is a direct consequence of former one. As you don't have any reset points, all the missions are all extremely simple and short. Its annoying to have such a huge world, but then only missions that can be solved in 5 minutes and are completly local in scope. It would be much more fun to have a proper quest system and some persistantce in the game instead of just missions and no persisntance. The final issue I have is simply that the game doesn't give you anything to do once you are done with the main quest. You can still drive around, find some hidden stunt jumps and trade drugs, but there really isn't much of a reason to do so. Once the story is over you won't receive any new mail for new missions and the whole world just runs kind of dry. It would be nice if the game would auto-generate new missions or something to keep things interesting, but it doesn't.

Overall, is not a perfect game, the story is just to bad for that, but its a really fun game for the 12 hours it lasts and for the first time since Mario64DS it felt like a full game making it to the DS, it makes great use of the hardware without feeling gimmicky or ugly.

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