It's not often that one of the best games for a particular platform fails to achieve sales expectations.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was an exemplary title for Nintendo's DS handheld - it had action, complexity, additive traits and detail never before seen in a DS game. Unfortunately for developers Rockstar, it was also entirely lacking in Italian plumbers, which could explain the apathy of DS owners worldwide. They're a fickle bunch, you see. Take away your heavily licensed stereotypes, and you may as well just game on an iPhone.
We trust no such platform snobbery exists within the realm of Sony's PlayStation Portable user base. It's a development avenue that Rockstar have ambled down before, with their excellent Leeds development studio producing such classics as Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, so it was always on the cards that PSP owners would get a punt at Chinatown Wars eventually. The only real issue here is whether Rockstar have managed to capitalise on the extra processing power, screen resolution and storage space that the PSP brings to the party.
The differences between the DS and PSP versions are largely cosmetic. If you haven't already, have a read through our DS review - it contains all you need to know about the gameplay and mission structure you'll find in both the DS and PSP versions, as you won't find too many differences between them. We have been advised however that the PSP version will include more missions, the details of which will have to wait until the game is released towards the end of October.
As you now move and interact without the assistance of the touch screen and stylus found on the DS, the PSP's analogue nub has taken over control authority. You'll use it to hijack and steer vehicles, as well as setting bombs, and although I've never been a huge fan of the analogue PSP controls, with a little bit of practise all manner of high-speed idiocy is possible. It also makes for a more inclusive gaming experience when you don't have to worry about moving your fingers off the buttons. The mini-games on the DS were heavily stylus dependent however, so our only concern here is whether the analogue nub will allow for the level of complexity inherent in the original title.
The city environment is now presented in more detail - Rockstar have gone over the game engine and added all manner of additional graphical effects that were simply not possible on the DS. Buildings now have internal lights that will turn off and on at appropriately random times throughout the day/night cycle, and characters appear in more detail with crisper lines and more pronounced shadow effects. This is all part of Rockstar's "bloom self-shadowing" and "enhanced, fully dynamic real-time lighting" suite of additions. Just smile and nod.
It wouldn't be a Rockstar game without a huge focus on music, and with the extra capacity of the PSP comes additional tracks as well as remastered originals from the DS version. All in all, we should see approximately a hundred more minutes of in-game audio, spread across seven new radio stations. This really shows the relative difference in capacity between the DS and PSP, and does nothing to convince us that Chinatown Wars shouldn't have come to Sony's platform first.
Having played both versions of Chinatown Wars, it's clear that the PSP edition will present the game world in a more detailed manner, and as it is set to contain a lot more in the way of mission content it's obviously going to be a strong title for Rockstar and Sony. The GTA series just seems to suit the nature (and the fan base) of the PSP ahead of the DS, and although we may have some concerns as to how the excellent stylus mini-games will make the transition, PSP owners probably just won't care.
Rockstar Leeds have shown time and time again that they're the last word in mobile game development, so we have no reason to suspect that Chinatown Wars for the PSP will be anything but a well structured and hugely entertaining romp through the back streets of Liberty City. Watch out for it on October 23rd.