Saturday, May 23, 2009

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars — Extended Play

It's been a long time since my First Impressions (I actually wrote this about two weeks ago, but haven't had the time to type it up) and while I've spent countless hours playing the game, I've only recently reached 50% completion. There are two reasons for this: 1) several hours into the game I accidentally shut my DS off while it was saving and I lost my progress and had to start again from the beginning. And 2) while I have spent a lot of time playing, less than half of that time was spent on critical missions. Most of it has been spent looking for security cameras, drug dealers, and hidden side missions. This is a benefit of GTA's open ended design: that if you don't want to, you don't have to follow the campaign to enjoy the game.

Which is just as well, because even at the halfway mark, the story is as pointless and unengaging as it began. It's a shame, because previous games in the main series have raised the bar for GTA storylines, but Rockstar Leeds has not had as glowing a track record, so this is not unexpected. Fortunately, the text-based cutscenes are filled with witty dialog, so story segments are never boring.

Most missions are standard GTA fare: get a car, go to the point on your map, kill/destroy/pick up someone or something, then maybe go someplace else to either end the mission, or repeat your original task. Occasionally, however, CW throws you a curveball by giving you some touch-screen based action to perform in between, or even during, the overhead tasks. So far I've sabotaged a race car, planted bugs, and smashed padlocks in the line of duty. One mission even had me performing CPR on a dying crime lord while trying to escape the cops and deliver him safely to my boss (only to discover his true intentions). Another had me emptying a trunk of evidence and burning it. These are the things that make GTA:CW stand out from the other games in the series, and even genre. They give the game a more tactile interactivity that is lacking in console games.

What has not ceased to amaze me is how much fun there is in simply exploring the city. Aside from cameras and dealers, you'll find lots of hidden weapons, dumpsters (that you can search for weapons, drugs, and other useful and useless items), rampages (absent from GTA4), and facsimiles of familiar New York City landmarks. Anyone who's played through GTA4 will recognize buildings and locations, as both games feature the same iteration of Liberty City, and a very similar layout.

As I predicted in my First Impressions, drug trading has become an obsession. I am constantly checking email and chasing tip-offs. Some of the most fun I've had has been racing around the city, grabbing as much of a certain product as possible, and trying to sell it all to the highest bidder before time runs out. It's also a source on unending income. For better or for worse, drug trading has eliminated the concern of how much money you have. It was especially helpful that I bought a first edition copy of the game, meaning I was eligible for the bonus $10,000 for registering with Rockstar Games Social Club, which I sync my game with daily. I spent all this money on goods which I sold later to get a head start on my fortunes.

I plan on focusing more on completing the game's story in the coming weeks, so I can get this full review done. Keep checking in. I'm trying to get back into the habit of weekly posts, and I have a few already lined up.

UPDATE: Final Thoughts is... err, are up! Click here to read it... umm, them!

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