DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Rockstar Leeds, Rockstar North

Eight months after its initial release on the DS (read Alex’s review here), Rockstar’s Chinatown Wars makes a welcome appearance on the PSP, complete with new missions, more radio stations, and overhauled visuals.

Huang Lee, the smug, violent, wisecracking son of a murdered Triad boss, finds himself left for dead in Liberty City after the delivery of his father’s ancient ceremonial sword ends in disaster. With only the support of his uncle, Huang must navigate the shady Triad underworld to reclaim both the sword and his family’s dignity. Huang does odd jobs for tranny-hungry psychopaths, murderous thugs, and unhinged television personalities as he scrabbles his way up from the bottom. In addition to story missions, Chinatown Wars also features numerous side missions, including rampages, car stunts, and a drug dealing sim.
The Pitch

From the features list on the back of the box, proving that they’re just taunting Jack Thompson now:

” – Featuring Addictive Drug-Dealing Minigame”

Sharper visuals, not so much style.

The Play

After the successes of both Liberty and Vice City Stories, it was a good bet that Chinatown Wars would eventually find its way to the PSP. Hailed as “the best reason to own a DS” by both mainstream and spurious internet critics alike, Chinatown Wars was an instant darling. It might not have met sales expectations, but it was nonetheless a remarkable experience.

If you haven’t played this game on the DS and enjoy the GTA franchise, you’ll probably love Chinatown Wars on the PSP. While it isn’t the technical marvel that either of the Stories games were, it’s more engaging and fun. Unlike recent GTA heroes, Huang Lee doesn’t have a license to mope. He’s just as aware of GTA’s fantasy as we are, and rarely lets a dire situation go down without throwing down a joke. That welcome sense of levity also bleeds into the game’s mission structure – Chinatown’s missions are streamlined, clever, and brief, making failure just punishing enough to warrant a retry. You don’t need checkpoints with these bite-sized missions, making Chinatown work great for the handheld. So how does it stack up against the DS version?

A DS/PSP comparison video courtesy of Gametrailers.

For starters, Chinatown PSP gets a complete visual overhaul. Besides being optimized for the 16:9 screen, this version does away with the heavy outlines and cell-shaded textures found on the DS in favor of sharp realism. This means that you’ll trade in the DS’s stylized approach for a much more detailed experience. It looks a lot like a current-gen GTA locked into an overhead perspective, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing; in the end, personal taste will determine whether or not you prefer stylization to sharpness and expanded field of view. Both are easy on the eyes.

The existing mission content from the DS game went unchanged, but there’s a new questline involving Mel, a television host who hires you to help document the Triad underworld. Her missions typically involve Huang protecting her from thugs as she collects footage, and include a few clever cutscenes, but aren’t must-play material. Still, it’s nice to see Rockstar pad this version out with a little extra love. The main missions themselves haven’t changed, but the PSP version adds several new sidequests. Unless you’re some sort of GTA sidequest fetishist, they’re probably not worth seeking out if you’ve already played through the game on the DS. The radio stations are still artist-specific and don’t include any commentary or commercials, but this version includes a bunch of new stations – most notably from DJ Khalil, Tortoise, Turntables on the Hudson, and Anvil (Yes, that Anvil) – that round out the already impressive song list.  Chinatown’s stations don’t have the humor or polish of those found in the City Stories titles, but they still feature some really great tracks.

The PSP version features better lighting, too.

Given the DS’s control scheme, there are obvious gameplay differences on the PSP. The stylus minigames have been redesigned to work with the PSP’s analog stick and button configuration, and as a result, they’re not nearly as novel. Unsurprisingly, clicking shoulder buttons to root through dumpsters doesn’t feel as interactive as using a stylus. The click-and-drag minigames look better on the PSP thanks to a higher resolution, but they don’t play nearly as well. Luckily, they rarely take center stage, and weren’t all that interesting to begin with. If there’s a place where the PSP version suffers, it’s with the in-game PDA, which isn’t as easy to navigate through without the stylus. Maybe Huang made the ill-advised switch from an iPod touch to a first generation Zune.

Chinatown Wars PSP features a few multiplayer modes, but they’re managed though the unwieldy Rockstar Social Club friend list, and allow for a disappointing maximum of 2 players.

There are plenty of superficial differences, but at its core, Chinatown is still a terrific experience. The city’s sprawling regions are fun to explore, the missions are exciting, and it doesn’t bother taking itself seriously.  It’s hard to say whether or not this is the definitive version, though. Is it worth buying if you’ve already played through the game on the DS? Maybe not, but if you’re looking to experience the game all over again, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

The Replay

Open world games tend to have intrinsic replay value, and that’s no different here. Running away from the cops, dealing drugs, and rampaging through the streets will still be fun long after the final mission ends. Too bad the multiplayer isn’t as robust as it should have been.
The Verdict

If you don’t own the DS version and have a PSP, you should buy this.

9 out of 10