Playin' in the sandbox: GTA: Chinatown Wars

The first GTA game on the Nintendo DS is mind-blowingly awesome. What follows is a gushing review from a newly reborn GTA fan. It is not an advertisement, though it's sure as hell going to read like it.

I was never a fan of the 3D GTA games. Yes, the sandbox format made the games huge in scope, but I personally felt they lacked a charm that the 2D, top-down ones had. Chinatown Wars brings the charm back in spades. It's a graphical marvel, being bright, detailed and crisply clean, and although it does slow down when there's a million things happening on screen at once, it never hinders the gameplay.

And what a game it is to play. The missions that advance the plot are varied and fun to replay – though the plot those missions advanced is more than a little cliché. When you're not in missions, there's more than enough to do to pass the time. Playing taxi driver, firefighter, mowing down mobsters in rampages – everything we know and love about the GTA franchise has been retained and executed beautifully.

But there's more. Rockstar have made generous use of the touch screen. See a parked car you like the look of? Well, you'll need to hotwire it though a touch-screen mini game before you can drive off with it. Want to make a few Molotovs? There's a mini game for filling up the gas bottles. These minigames, for all their potential to be a distracting and disruptive feature, work very well within the context of the game.

The best part of the game aside from the missions, however, is indulging in the drug trade that is rampart throughout the city. There are dealers hiding throughout the city, each specialising in their own narcotic. Hunting them out, sourcing drugs at the best possible prices, and racking up massive profits is a game in itself, and will pull you away from the extensive list of missions for far too long for your own health.

Of course, the police have returned to the game, and they are as aggressive as ever. It's perhaps a little too difficult to rack up a large star rating, considering I was still on a mere two stars after going on a rampage of blowing up a number of police cars and killing many more police, but once they have got wind of you, they can be tough to shake.

Rockstar has also generously included online functions that are worth hooking the DS up to a hotspot for. Syncing stats to your online account and participating in some of the community features adds an extra layer of depth to an already deep ocean of content.

Chinatown Wars is a resounding success. Challenging and lengthy, and coming firmly tounge in cheek, it's a more addictive experience than the drugs you'll be racking up massive profit on. Simply put, it's a must have title.

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