April 9th, 2009
This is the second round of shared commentaries between myself and Steven O’Dell from the Raptured Reality blog regarding the recently release GTA: Chinatown Wars. You can read the first part of our conversation here.
Daniel: I reached 25% progression on my last play through before I started to write this response.
On the story, it’s pretty pathetic. What surprises me is how long some of the pointless dialogue dribbles on. It’s intended that the gatekeepers to the missions come across as arrogant criminal hypocrites. They’re meant to be annoying pricks because literally they are annoying pricks that murder and beat people, but in Chinatown Wars they roll around in it too much. Yes, we know that the Chinese guy is going to protect honour through means of murder, theft and villianary but why does he need an extended script to get this simple message across. I remember the characters in GTAIII were frankly too busy to bark orders, they just told me to piss off (often literally) and the game filled in the gaps. I was originally bothered that Rockstar had to promote the protagonist Huang Lee as an spoilt, mature age brat, fortunately though he doesn’t have an exerted amount of character, and is fine.
Hmmm…the Chinese angle. Yeah I reckon that I’ll probably discredit any cultural investigation. Most of the cast is Chinese, making it feel like GTA: Shanghai, although in Shanghai they don’t speak like typical American thugs. Beyond some minor cultural tie-ins, the cast could be re-skinned as Americans and it wouldn’t make a difference. Not sure why the Chinese are at war with the Koreans though, I guess Chinese living in America haven’t caught onto the latest K-Pop/K-drama phenomena sweeping Asia. ^_^
I wanted to ask you if the game’s map is a mirror of GTA IV, that is a smaller, pocket-sized mirror. Also, in terms of scale, how do the size of the two game worlds compare? Obviously GTA:CW is smaller, but to what extent?
I found it interesting that the whole map is free to roam from the beginning. The lack of restriction sometimes loses me actually. I head in one direction and then realize I’m lost in a district I’ve never visited before. It plays around with the dynamic, don’t you think?. In previous games you use to familiarize with the game world piece by piece, now it’s delivered all in one gulp. Is this troublesome do you think? The missions tend to congregate in pretty close proximity, but drug tip-offs can send you from one island to another, and with the police on high alert it can make the venture out a little risky I find. A game like GTA encourages the player to explore at will, and with no constraints, I lack familiarity with the environment, it’s a bit concerning.
Steven: I’m also at 25% completion at the time of writing this response and, to put it simply, I agree on the story so far. I’m leaving myself open to the idea that it is still early days and it has the potential to go places, but until it does (or does not), it’s just been the excuse to participate in and tryout the unique missions we’ve already discussed. The characters aren’t compelling at all, including Huang Lee who as you know, we play as. It is like his role in the story so far is to throw in a one-liner here and there, to interrupt the boring and long ramblings of the characters that give you missions. Perhaps I am spoiled by GTA IV’s narrative so it will be interesting to see whether Chinatown Wars’ one improves or continues to be there for the sake of acquiring missions. There seems to be a disconnect between what the characters talk about before a mission and then the objectives you end up doing as well. I know that has been the case in all of the GTA games but I guess the boring dialogue just makes it more obvious or something.
To answer your question about the game’s map, it is fairly similar to the Liberty City in GTA IV though there are of course subtle differences and changes in Chinatown Wars’ version. The entire state of Alderney (where downloadable expansion The Lost And Damned takes place) is missing, so that’s one big omission there that I assume was made due to technical reasons. Roads sometimes branch off in different directions as well, though for the most part it isn’t a problem for me because it is mostly similar to the GTA IV version. In fact, I felt right at home as soon as I fired it up (one of the first things I did was go for a drive to see what was or wasn’t different) and had no hassles realizing where I was within the city. Reading about your unfamiliarity surprised me actually, though obviously you haven’t played GTA IV like I have. I found that having the GPS display on the top screen as well as the bottom one, helped in the areas where I did get confused or lost, though. Having the entire city open to explore isn’t unique to Chinatown Wars, it was all open from the beginning in GTA IV as well so it feels no different here, though I understand where you are coming from about gradually learning the city. I never thought about it like that before you mentioned it though, which I will put down to my photographic memory. Going back to the story, then, have you met the two characters that appear at around the 25% mark yet – the ones who look like they could lead the story into a more interesting area? I’m looking forward to seeing where these particular characters take the game and I seriously hope the story starts to pick up as well. Though, if it doesn’t, I’ll still be happy to continue exploring Liberty City and participating in all the side missions.
Daniel: I probably wouldn’t hold out much hope for the story. I don’t think I’ve run into those two characters you speak of, is it before or after the point where the Korean gang enters the narrative? Story-wise I’m around that mark. I’ve been spending a good half of my play time hunting down the hidden security cameras, buying property and partaking in rampages, the latter which I thoroughly enjoy. I can’t help but feel that I immerse myself quite heavily in these distractions as a means to better familiarize myself with the boundless environment. As I said in the last response, I don’t feel completely comfortable with the territory, at least as much as I did with the other games, due to the game world being fully open from the start (rather than gradually revealing itself). My familiarity is now spread over a much larger surface area and is naturally thinner than it would be if that area was contained.
I think this has other implications too. For example; exploration is meant to be one of the game’s freedoms, yet with such a large area to explore, I feel that my “off-time” out of missions to just mess around and explore has to be managed, otherwise I’ll explore endlessly and it’ll get tiresome/I’ll get lost. This for me, places a burden on what I consider to be the strongest element of this series. It’s by no means a flaw I don’t think, just how I’m personally responding to this change.
While we’re looming over some complaints I wanted to know what you think of the PDA system which manages your missions, map, drug trade and so forth. This tool plays an integral part in the exploration element, and it mostly works effectively. I have a couple of quibbles though and wanted to know if you share them.
I find myself wishing that you could just guide the mini-map on the bottom screen, rather than it prompting the larger map to appear. I usually only want to see what’s around the local area, I only need to peep over at the next few blocks. Secondly, I wish that there was a quick launch to the inventory of your drug stash, at the lower right hand side of the screen. I rarely ever need to quickly check the mission ‘brief’, and the inclusion of a quick launch into the stats menu is simply unfounded. There’s no reason for me to want to quickly activate my statistics. In contrast I have to slide through the menu to reach the Trade Info and from there tap through to see my inventory. It’s clunky. The Contacts and Music options are also useless inclusions that clutter up the interface. I just find these things slow down the flow a little. Any harsher criticism on your side of the fence?
Steven: The two characters were Hsin and the cop and, after playing a little more of the game since my last response, I agree with what you’ve said. To be a quarter of the way through the story and not interested in it whatsoever is, well disappointing to be honest. Again, perhaps I am spoiled by GTA IV’s narrative but unless something unexpected happens, Chinatown Wars’ story will just serve as the provider for the game’s unique and interesting missions and nothing more. This doesn’t bother me as much as I originally thought it would, though; Chinatown Wars seems to be a combination of all of the fantastic elements from the series. It has the fun factor covered by random Rampages, races initiated by entering certain vehicles and a return of the Vigilante, Ambulance and Fire-Fighting missions. It has exploration covered thanks to the hidden cameras, not to mention the unique situations and interesting places you can stumble upon. And, as we’ve discussed previously, it takes full advantage of the DS’s features to make an exciting game. Honestly, we don’t need the story to be decent but I still can’t deny that it’s a shame that it has been relatively boring so far. That could change though so we’ll see how it goes.
Returning to exploration for a second, I have to say that I haven’t had the desire to explore as much in this game. That surprises me a little because I always explore my games thoroughly and the GTA series has always been one of the most enjoyable to gradually explore. It’s not that the city is boring, far from it in fact, but rather I think that because I am already so familiar with Liberty City thanks to GTA IV, I just don’t have the urge to see what I already have.
I agree with you on the location of some of the features in the PDA, specifically the drug trade info you mention. Bringing it up to see who is selling a certain drug cheaply, or who wants to buy a bunch of something I may have, is clunky and I definitely wish it was more accessible. It does work how it is, but I’ve found that I am buying/selling drugs a lot more than I expected to and having to bring up the PDA, slide to the right menu and then click through a few times becomes tedious after a while. Especially when I then usually back out of it all, bring up the map and then look through the list of dealers to find their location on the map so I can set the GPS waypoint. It wastes a few minutes and I agree that your inventory should have a shortcut option on the bottom screen instead of the Brief menu option. Another minor criticism I have is the music. It’s not bad, so don’t get me wrong, but it is repetitive and I wish there was a little more to it. I realize that the DS’s limitations are probably the reason for that, so it isn’t of major concern. Other than that, I guess my biggest gripe is what I’ve already discussed above, the story, so there’s no point repeating it here. So, a random question for you: how do you feel about the cars, the handling (do you use the assists or not?) and the visibility while driving on the top screen?
More discussion to follow shortly.