Review: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Sony PSP)

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Genre: Crime Simulator
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 10/20/2009

The eventual release of Chinatown Wars to the Playstation Portable game console was worth the wait. This is the spiritual successor to the cartoony top-down action that I’ve been missing since DMA Designs stopped making these games after GTA2 and the franchise went 3D.

Story / Modes


This is an installment of GTA, so don’t expect a plot resembling Hamlet The Game. There are a bunch of wisecracking criminals, loads of violence, drug dealing, whores, safe houses, car chases, random encounters (a favorite of mine from the new GTA releases), and a variety of other GTA related set pieces.

The game begins with the main character’s father recently deceased, travelling to Liberty City to deliver a family sword to the new Triad leader. Some thugs from a rival gang stage an ambush upon Huang Lee’s landing and the usual GTA ladder of violence and criminal political intrigue begins. The story is engaging, as usual, and met my expectations for a GTA style game.

The missions are small and bite-sized which is well suited to the PSPs short and interrupt driven style of play.

The Drugwars gameplay, a game that was created in 1984 and is still be played all over the place, is a valuable addition to Chinatown Wars for your character to earn extra money in-game. I found it to be a nice bonus feature and was very pleased to see it so well done. Sweet job, Rockstar.

Story Rating: Enjoyable


Action_Stunt Jump

Getting things right on the small screen can be difficult. In this case, it’s some of the achievements of Chinatown Wars that bothered me.

The tried and true comicbookish photo with subtitles dialogue sequences worked fine for story elements.

It fell down a bit for me when I was expected to make driving maneuvers with 3D elements cluttering up my view. Elevated trains, overhanging buildings, and other environments can obstruct the view of the gameplay at critical moments and can be frustrating. I gather this is something that is enjoyed as an enriching element of gameplay or as an annoying overreach. For this reviewer, it was mostly the latter.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre


The Rockstar usuals are here though in somewhat more limited fashion. The cool and satirically funny radio stations are present but limited by the constraints of the PSP platform.

Dialogue isn’t present, but the sound effects are exactly what I would expect from a Rockstar title; appropriate, not distracting, and entertaining.

Sound Rating: Good

Control and Gameplay

Action_Rhino Tank

This is the same stuff that has made the GTA franchise so successful. Sandbox playability, loads of side missions and random encounters, non-linear pickup storylines, multiplayer, and more.

It keeps the tried and true play of driving around, shooting people with a variety of weapons, driving like you stole it (you likely did), and the whole no-rules concept of anything goes play.

Some additions of note from where GTA2 left off include the following worthy additions:

  • Some small additions to fisticuffs fighting. You can now dropkick and combo a bit.
  • Stealing cars isn’t automatic when they’re parked some of the time. Some require twiddling with a screwdriver with the analog control stick, hotwiring with the top trigger buttons, or using your in-game PDA to crack the car computer in order to steal it successfully.
  • Driving into water doesn’t mean instant death anymore. Finally! You can break out of the car by breaking your way through the windscreen by furiously tapping the top trigger buttons. I imagine this addition pleased a lot of people.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good


Action_Gang Bang

I’ve never really been interested in replaying GTA style games. This may be an exception based on the amount of multiplayer and Rockstar Social Club aspects of Chinatown Wars. The story, once first enjoyed, really doesn’t leave a lot of enjoyment in replay, but the online multiplayer, mini-games, side missions you may have skipped, and Drugwars gameplay elements leave something to try again later on.

Replayability Rating: Below Average


The difficulty in this title was surprisingly tricky. Including a difficulty slider would have been a good idea for players of varying skill.

This isn’t a huge deal and shouldn’t be a dealkiller for all but the most awesome or inept at gaming.

Balance Rating: Below Average



There isn’t a lot new here in this release compared to past GTA titles. There is a new story and a few additions like tapping the L1 and R1 buttons to break a rear window to escape from a car that is underwater, or some additional detail in stealing a parked car, assembling weapons, or in other mini-games.

They have made an effort to refine and improve the experience and for that I applaud them for their worthy additions.

Other than that, it’s an asian take on the usual staple of italian, eastern block, or russian mobs.

Originality Rating: Enjoyable



This title has some new additions here and there to gameplay, but unless I knew a lot of people with this game who were all available for multiplayer, I’m a bit GTA‘d out.

If you are new to the GTA games, this should prove to be a treat full of shooting people in the face, slinging drugs, firebombing those that don’t pay up their protection money, and murdering your competition.

It’s more of the same, but new to the PSP setting. There is some serious addiction potential in Rockstar Social Club additions in mini-games, unlockable content, and online leader boards. These also appear to be platform-independent which is something I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

Appeal Factor

Action_One Shot

One of the best rated games for the Nintendo DS comes to the PSP with some tweaks. It is a sure hit for people who have enjoyed GTA style games in the past and those looking for a good experience playing with their friends and random people online.

Rockstar has usually done a superb job in their details and commitment to titles and this release is no exception.

Appeal Factor: Great



The Rockstar Social Club brings something to the table here. It is a social networking and gameplay matchmaking site for all of Rockstar’s current titles complete with ladder boards. Getting out of the console-centric ghetto and into a cross-platform achievement and ladder system is one that should be taken as an example of how to do things right by the other game producers out there. I’m looking at you, EA!

Miscellaneous Rating: Amazing

The Scores

Story: Enjoyable
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay:
Very Good
Below Average
Below Average
Originality: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor:

FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game

Short Attention Span Summary

For those who have enjoyed past GTA efforts, you will enjoy this. For those of you who have a bunch of PSP friends, or would like to make some via the Rockstar Social Club, you’ll like this even more.

This is a solid offering in the same feeling of old top-down GTA titles of the past.



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