It would be easy to write a review of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars filled with cynicism and comparisons. It is after all, more or less a direct port from the most critically acclaimed DS game ever and it is also very typical of the GTA series from a gameplay perspective.

In a world where time is money, I could end the review right there and you’d have a decent idea of what to expect. 9/10. Must have. Thanks for coming.

But for those of you who have already played the game on the DS, there lies the question of why you should even consider picking up the PSP version, and there are a number of reasons.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the game from a newcomers perspective. Chinatown Wars takes the GTA series back to its roots and tilts the players’ viewpoint from a third-person perspective to an almost top-down view, but none of the street-smart violence, cutting humour and underbelly atmosphere from recent releases has been omitted.

Set once again in Liberty City, the same world displayed in GTA IV (with the exception of one island – Alderney), you play as Huang Lee whose seedy, prostitute-loving crime-boss father has recently been murdered. So Huang jumps on a plane from Hong Kong and jets to Liberty City to avenge his father and deliver a precious sword to his uncle. Within minutes of arriving, Huang is abducted, thrown in a car and driven off a wharf, presumed drowned and his sword stolen.
From here the story begins as Huang infiltrates the Triad gangs and discovers a power struggle within the organisation.

The main quest, if you choose to play it by the numbers will take you around nine hours, but in true GTA style there are a bevy of distractions and side missions that bring longevity and ultimately replayability to the game. These side missions are dependent of the type of vehicle you hijack and your ability to take on the occupation of its previous occupant. Steal a taxi – become a taxi driver, steal an ambulance – become a paramedic, that sort of thing.

Main storyline missions usually consist of driving fast from A to B, killing person C to appease person D, evading the police at all times and delivering item X to person Z. However the main mission requirement that runs parallel to the story involves buying drugs in bulk and reselling them for a profit – this is how you earn most of your cash in the game. It’s a questionable ethos to include in a game, but hey, this is GTA and an R18, not Spiro the Dragon, and if you have trouble discerning between fantasy and reality then you shouldn’t be playing games at all, let alone GTA.

Story missions are only required to be played once, but one of the redeeming features in Chinatown Wars is having the choice to play them again if you want to beat your time or earn a higher score. Along those lines too is the “trip skip” option – which allows you to skip the initial travelling and jump straight back to the action should you get killed.

Many missions are dished out to you via your PDA. Where the DS utilised the touchscreen for this feature, the PSP uses buttons to navigate and suffers from a short load time from the UMD each time you open your PDA. The lack of the stylus/touchscreen combo also means that all of the mini-games play differently too. Like stealing cars (jamming a screwdriver in the lock and turning it by swivelling the thumbstick), or hotwiring the vehicle, for example. They all work ok, but in games such ad tattooing fellow gang members or making your own Molotov cocktails, where the DS stylus excelled, now just prove to be an annoyance.

Chinatown Wars has had a great deal of thought put into it in terms of making the game as user friendly as possible. It could easily have been ruined by a bad combat system, but aiming your attacks is surprisingly simple, especially when performing drive-by shootings, where an auto-targeting system kicks in. There is even a slight steering assistance which straightens your vehicle on the road so to avoid snaking from one wall to the other.

The map is situated to the bottom left of the PSP screen, and while it’s easy to see where you’re meant to go and which way, because of the top-down view it’s dangerous to take your eyes off the road even for a second. Far too many times I rear-ended slow or stationary vehicles because I was glancing at the map. Or when you drive under a railway overpass, it’s easy to lose sight of your own vehicle let alone any others. To combat this, and I highly recommend using it constantly, you can switch on GPS style directions which map arrows onto the road surface. All of a sudden the map becomes virtually redundant in missions where you are driving from one point to another.

Other major differences from the DS Chinatown Wars are the grenade selection – previously done using the stylus, but made quicker and simpler using buttons. Of course, the graphics are perhaps the biggest difference with the PSP being able to pull off real time lighting and far more detailed texturing. The widescreen is also taken full advantage of and proves invaluable in crowded fire-fights. There are also several missions and radio stations unique to the PSP release of Chinatown Wars.

The multiplayer aspect still requires the use of the Rockstar Social Club system but alas only two players can indulge in GTA goodness at any one time.

At the writing of this review I hadn’t tried the multiplayer – mainly because the Rockstar Social Club sound too much like a badly painted hall where Iggy Pop, Keith Richards and Joe Walsh meet on a Tuesday night to play bridge and euchre.

All in all, if you’re a PSP owner, or a DS + PSP owner then Chinatown Wars on the more powerful console with the superior visuals is well worth your money. The game slots in nicely with the handheld philosophy in that you can either sit down and have a marathon session or just as easily have a ten minute blat while waiting for the pizza to arrive.