One thing that always scares people with the DS is gimicky minigames cramping the gameplay, but you won’t have to worry about that here. There are a bunch of little moments
that will utilize the touch screen, but Rockstar’s quick to point out that they
didn’t want it to be overpowering- you’re not going to be steering cars
with a touch-screen wheel or some crap. But there are tons of fun
little minigames, such as when you stop by a gas station to fill
bottles up to make molotovs. You direct the flow of gas with the stylus
and then stuff a rag in the end, and you have to make as many as you
can before the gas meter runs up. I’m fairly certain Nintendo never had that in mind when they created the system. There’s a few other moments that
utilize it, like throwing change in a toll booth, digging through
trash bins for weapons, and hotwiring cars with a screwdriver. They’re
not abundant but there’s enough of them to change the gameplay up and
keep things interesting.

Huang has a PDA that you use to get email, check your stats, and use the all-important GPS. You can click anywhere on the map for a route to be instantly drawn there, and the GPS appears as big yellow arrows on the street, effectively making it impossible for you to lose your way. You can even scroll through a list of the usual locations (pay n
sprays, safehouses, missions) and click on them to find your way.

In the PDA you can also mess around with your radio. There aren’t bands here, but the soundtrack is pumping and headbang worthy, an awesome instrumental score that fits perfectly with the world. It’s mp3-quality stuff, and it was nice to actually be able to hear it in the confines of the Rockstar van… since it’s pretty impossible to hear anything at the DS stations on the NYCC floor.

So of course, one of the first things you’ll do in the game is get chased by some cops… if you’re as bad a driver as me, at least. Cop chases are a bit different this time. Instead of trying to evade the
police you’ve got to actively engage them. One wanted star isn’t much
cause for worry- get away from the immediate cops and lay low and it’ll
go away. Two stars though and you’ve got a little fight on your hands.
A meter at the top right shows how many cop cars you have to take out
before it goes down to the next wanted level. You’re not trying to kill
the cops here, you’re trying to smash their cars out of commission.
Thankfully you’ve got a new burnout manuever (hold down gas and brake,
then let go of brake) that will let you boost off with a firey trail
and smash anything in your way aside. The 3D models really shine in
this part because it’s awesome to be able to smash a cop car
on its side and take it out. It’s definitely a nice change-up from the previous games and makes missions more exciting… especially when you get to the higher wanted levels and have to contend with Swat vans, helicopters and spike strips.

Speaking of missions, in a touch of brilliance Rockstar’s finally
allowed us to replay any mission we choose. No longer will you have to leave a save open to play a great mission like Three Leaf Clover again- there’s a whiteboard in your safehouse that not only allows you to mess around with magnets but also choose any mission you’ve already played by clicking on the profile of the person who gives it to you. You can even try to beat
the missions in a certain amount of time to get medals and compare them with your friends online via the DS wifi connection.

Oh, did I forget to mention Wifi features? If you’ve got a friend playing online you can chat with them via in-game IMs, trade weapons and items, and even send over waypoints to show your buddy locations they should check out. There are also leaderboards for the missions and in-game stats (percentage complete, etc.), and it will be shown on the Rockstar Social Club, just like GTA IV.

The missions here are fun and varied, just like you’d hope. The first mission I tried out was entitled Driven to Destruction, where you help an insane Triad boss named Zhou Ming to take out some Jamaican drug dealers. These guys must have pissed him off something terrible, because he needs you to drive a pick-up truck around… a pick-up truck on which he’s mounted a mini-gun. Hoo-boy. You’ll drive around and kill a few dozen dealers to try and fill up a carnage meter before Zhou is pleased and you can head back home.

But the coolest mission I played was “One Shot, One Kill”, (obviously)
a sniper mission. The leader of the triads informs Huang that a former employee who ratted to the cops will be leaving a hotel in a few minutes, and that
he shouldn’t spend much time alive. You take a limo to the hotel and
ride up to the roof where the rifle is located, and in a little bit of touch-screen
ingenuity, open the briefcase and assemble the sniper rifle. You’ll
have to slam the stock in, screw down the barrel, all of that. You’re
given a description of what the guy’s wearing and a strangely
almost top-down sniper view to find the guy, zoom in on him, wait till
he stops, and fire off one bullet.


Nice. Even after being so careful the cops still figure
out that you’re the culprit and you’re given a three-star wanted level
to contend with. I had mine down to two before I started getting
sloppy, eventually blowing up in a firey blaze as I failed to abandon my flaming car.

Just as I asked if they had any trouble with the content from Nintendo
(and this is a very M-rated game, as cursing and blood abound) I was shown one of the larger parts of the game- the
drug dealing. Similar to Dope Wars, the whole goal here is to buy drugs
cheap and sell them for a profit. Each gang has a certain drug they’re
pushing and a certain drug they want. The Jamaicans have weed, the mob
wants coke, etc. My jaw dropped when the character stops by a dealer
and is given a choice of what to buy.. and picks acid. How do they get
away with this when Fallout had all that controversy over a little
morphine? But I love it- it’s mature and it’s fun and it’s unlike
anything on the DS yet.

It’s obvious that they’re going for a more arcadey style here, more of
a throwback to the GTAs of old. While I love GTA IV completely, it’s a
much more serious installment than any of the previous ones. Just the
weapons alone here show that they’re all about fun over sensibility-
chainguns and flamethrowers? Yes please.

There’s even the return of some features that GTA IV
abandoned, such as side jobs. Once again there’s Vigilante Missions in
every cop car, and firetruck, ambulance taxi cab and food delivery
missions, and even more. Rampage missions also return- the little
sidegames that give you a weapon and tell you to kill people with it in
a certain amount of time.

I walked away from Chinatown Wars completely stunned with what Rockstar
Leeds has accomplished here. This is easily the biggest and most
ambitious DS game I’ve ever seen, an instant must-buy for anyone with
the system. Those of you who thought that GTA was getting too
serious? Here’s your game. It hits stores on March 27th in North
America and March 20th in Europe.

(If you can make it to the NYCC today or tomorrow, definitely stop by the Rockstar booth to try the game for yourself and grab some goodies.)