June 15th, 2009
Close to 8000 words later, Steve and I are finally wrapping up are group discussion on Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. This final installment has been slow off the blocks since I accidentally wiped my save file when switching off the game while saving. It was a foolish move, I admit. If you take anything away today, besides are concluding thoughts, be sure to remember to follow those warnings about turning the power off while saving.
It’s been a good run and I’d like to thank Steve for participating with my on this little experiment. Be sure to take a squiz at his blog Raptured Reality. Hopefully we can do this again sometime.
Daniel: That’s a great summary of Chinatown Wars, very fitting. It is this stop gap in the franchise that sucks everything together and spits it out in a new and interesting way. Chinatown Wars also seems like the ideal title in the series for any newbie looking to become acquainted with the franchise as a whole. The gun club is just opposite the airport (far right hand side of the map) by the main road.
The end game is actually quite good, there’s a series of missions that build up to an exciting conclusion and the story actually ends on a positive note; the bastards get what’s coming to them – all of them. Huang gets a lead and proceeds to chase down the suspects, once he narrows it down, the game features a series of set pieces that act as boss battles. Kicks the game off on a high note. So I was rather impressed with how the game concluded.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is a contemporary incarnation of previous games and plays accordingly. It’d be fair to speculate that the framework for the original titles was built to avoid rendering the large city in 3D, if that’s the case, Chinatown Wars realizes this design and retools it. Having the city rendered in 3D makes the game feel relateable to GTAIII onwards, yet since the camera remains overhead, the feel of the original games is also present. It’s an game that balances the feel of both varieties in limbo, metaphorically represented by the camera both is halfway between overhead and low. The latter allowing the 3D models to stand out, the former to give a pseudo 2D appearance. As we’ve discussed, it’s likewise for the mechanics; a mix and match of previous titles.
What the game does differently or completely new from the previous games is what gives the title a unique identity and strengthens it as a whole. The flashy graphical style is the epitome of all this. It’s a style of it’s own that is unique to this installment. The driving mechanics are tweaked and feel inspired by other games but unique in it’s own right due to the slight assistance it provides. The narrative too, it’s lite and full of jokes yet presented in a series of transitioning renders with text. Finally, the DS interface is what marries it all together and individualizes the title more than anything else.
The feeling is therefore a combination of those from the prior games. The game feels like a huge world of mayhem contained within such a concentrated space. The new graphical flair makes the on-screen drama visually stunning, it’s a greater feast to the eyes giving the intensity of chase sequences a unique exuberance. The camera allows you to witness everything in close proximity, emphasizing the contained feel of the game. The camera locks the player away from the action. This feels a little constricting but serves to remind the player that this is indeed a portable title and there are restraints imposed. It’s not a bad thing, but it comes with the property and instills any feelings attributed to the hardware. Overall, GTA:Chinatown Wars feels like a culmination of clever concepts wrapped in a visually attractive package uniquely geared for portable play. What’s your final take?
Steven: My final take is a fairly obvious one given the things I have said in our previous exchanges; GTA: Chinatown Wars is an impressive game both in the technical achievements Rockstar Leeds managed, as well as how fun and exciting it can be given the completely different platform it is on. Before playing it, I did not think a Grand Theft Auto title could work on the DS and it was nice to be proven wrong. Before playing it, I didn’t know what to expect and as a result, I had no expectations going into the title. I came out of it surprised, impressed and with an even deeper level of respect for Rockstar as a whole for doing what they did with the game.
Chinatown Wars is to me, as I’ve mentioned before, a summary of the entire franchise, with Rockstar using it to make a clear and concise example of what they believe GTA is about. They mixed and matched various elements of the series to demonstrate the core of the franchise whilst also proving that it had legs, that it was open to experimentation. You could almost call it Grand Theft Auto: Greatest Hits.
Sure, not everything was as enjoyable as it could have been, with my main gripe being the story and how irrelevant it was. Characters were boring, their dialogue more so and all they were useful for was providing my next mission. Even the end of the game, while fun to play, wasn’t all that compelling (I guess we disagree there). The ending was predictable and I totally saw it coming. The story just didn’t seem to be a priority this time around, which is disappointing for me after seeing what they attempted with GTA IV. That said, it does not detract from the experience at all. Sure, it may be disappointing, but you soon forget about it once the actual missions start thanks to the unique and varied objectives we’ve already alluded to. Taking full advantage of the DS’s features proved to be beneficial to the game overall and I sincerely hope that from now on, all GTA games contain the same level of variety that Chinatown Wars does.
Overall, I am happy to have played this game and I’m eager to see where Rockstar take the franchise next. It begins with the second downloadable episode for GTA IV, The Ballad of Gay Tony, and no doubt I will have some opinions on it once I’ve played it. Beyond that, I’m keen to know if they keep offering different perspectives within Liberty City, or whether they choose to go in another direction again. I’d also like to see another DS game in the future, though after the lack of buzz surrounding the title and the lackluster sales, I’d understand if that wish doesn’t come true. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for participating in this exchange as well as sharing the experience with me. It was fun and I hope you enjoyed it too. Hopefully we can do it again sometime.