Grand Theft Auto : Chinatown Wars – First Impressions

chiatown1After a long wait, Nintendo handheld users (by which I mean, I) finally got an edition of GTA for the DS.  And it’s about time.  It’s true, the DS lacks the sheer girth of the PSP’s hardware (DO NOT ASK ABOUT MY CONSOLE PENIS LEAGUES), but the original GTA ran on four megs of RAM and a 486 processor.  Why not just throw out a retooled version of that?  It’s been freeware for god knows how long.

The reason is pretty evident when you pick up GTA:CW.  There’s a lot of features we’ve come to expect from GTA that the great granddaddy just didn’t provide – not least GTA4’s new “why the hell didn’t we have one of these before” routemapping feature.  Lock-on aiming, flippable vehicles you can leap out of at the last minute; CW might be DS based and stripped down, but its pedigree is pretty clear.  The engine and general game mechanics themselves play a lot like a souped-up GTA2 – tougher pedestrians and cars, although less of a freeform, sandboxy structure than the original.

I’m not sure placating the spoiled audience is the only reason a direct port wasn’t practical though.  The unspoken rule (actually, may even be contractual) is that ALL DS GAMES MUST INVOLVE TOUCHPAD FONDLING, and this is no exception, including chucking money at toll booths and – bizarrely – rummaging for firearms in bins.  I’m not a big fan of the toll booths in GTA4, but CW’s mockery of my ham-fisted blunderings is borderline unforgivable.  Switching between unintuitive controls is tricky at the best of times, when you’re trying not to crash and navigating a narrow space, it’s maddening.  Especially when some windowlicking dogfucker has decided that B should be accelerate, instead of the universally accepted right shoulder-button.

Which makes Chinatown Wars a mixed bag.  It’s definitely GTA, and it’s definitely a descendant of the classic GTA 1 and 2;  I’d recommend anyone who played the original to pick it up purely for nostalgia reasons.  But it’s retained some of the savvy moves of later iterations, with the GPS and targeting keeping it playable for more recent conversions to the franchise.  Remember backing away frantically, trying to fucking hit someone, ANYONE, with the pistol in GTA1?  It’s just a shame gimmicky touchpad interactions spoil the immersion in what would otherwise be a true classic.

I can’t shake the feeling that this touchy-feely rubbish is tacked on exclusively to make use of the DS’s trademarked gimmick.  I don’t understand why games crowbar this crap in, when there’s easily enough fantastic games out there that genuinely make good use of the touchpad (see Soul Bubbles and Music Monstars) to justify its existence.