GTA: Chinatown Wars (iPhone Game)

In the recent edition of the GTA series, and the first to grace the iPhone platform, fans of this well established style of gaming might be in for a huge disappointment. In the gaming community there is a saying, “game play will outweigh bad graphics any day”. In a lot of cases this old adage is true, however, when game play proves to be mediocre at best, graphics may save the day. It may not make us change our minds about the game, but it usually gives us a feeling that there is potential. Room to grow if you will. So, what happens when a well established game series, that is wildly popular, decides to go into uncharted waters? Do we grade them on the same harsh standards as if this wasn’t there first round up? Or do we give them the benefit of the doubt and hope for better days to come from humble beginnings? Today let’s find out in this edition of the short list.

GTA has a good reputation for making games with balls. Filled with hookers, shoot outs, bad dialog, and of course stealing cars. In the version that we recently got ahold of on the iPhone, we are treated to more of the same. The game begins with a long opening movie that sets the tone. The main character is explaining why you might care to follow his story throughout the game. I personally was underwhelmed, but I’m not really into gangs and hookers so that might just be me. Once the story time is over and all the credits have rolled, you get dumped in a large body of water. Using the touch screen you tap/break your way out of the car’s rear windshield and escape to fresh air. At first this combination of comic book styling and bad Kung-Fu movie is sort of refreshing, but as soon as you gain control of the main character the charm starts to wain. You control the main character, while on foot, with a digtial analog stick and three attack buttons. There is also the generic “steal a car” button as well. Once you get out of the water and find a car to steal, the comic book styled panel pops up again, and it’s again time to use the touch screen in a unique way. These moments, for me, are some of the more novel parts of the game. Now we have a car, which oddly we steer via two directional buttons. You can choose in the options menu, which is very nicely laid out, to change the left and right buttons to a virtual analog stick. I, however, found that option even harder to control. Once the storyline unfolds a little more, you begin receiving missions from your PDA of sorts by way of emails. The PDA here has a very nice layout with a few different styles to make it pretty. The PDA also houses your options menu. Now that you’re able to roam about as you please, you can do several things for fun, but I didn’t waste much time myself. This however is the point where I felt like I was back on the original NES playing paper-boy. The severe birds eye view that doesn’t really change angles at your command can be a hindrance to game play. Overhead objects such as bridges, train tracks, and certain buildings features all begin to block your vision or made me feel like a collision was coming fast.

Besides having a bad camera angle it was hard to really like the fact that the people on screen roughly resembled oddly painted army men dancing around on otherwise pretty nice looking scenery. It was also sort of hard to get used to driving matchbox cars throughout the city while being chased. However, gameplay seemed to save the day. The missions that I got to play through on the free version were fairly entertaining, and the cut scenes were not too shabby, at least as soon as I realized they were trying for a certain art style on purpose. I will, however, say this – find better writers! The dialog is pretty awful in some parts. There were some other good things done here too. One fine example is the press-and-hold-anywhere-on-screen-to-skip-a-cut-screen bit was nice and well done. Not only did it come in handy but it does prevent you from skipping a scene on accident.

Characters and missions seemed to be well thought out and the UI for chase scenes worked pretty well. I found parts of the games throw backs to be quite charming, while some of the graphical bits were too annoying not to complain about. I liked the comic book styling of certain elements of the game, and I think someone should make a point and click adventure using some of those pop up panels that require you to tap, swipe, twist, and otherwise take advantage of the touch screen for all it’s worth. Speaking of worth; now comes the hard part of my review – to answer the question of “is it worth a feast for two at taco bell?” Ten dollars seems like a steep price to me. If you’re a fan and can appreciate that they can only get better from here in terms of graphics, then maybe game play will win out for you. However, if you’re only vaguely interested, and just hoped for a good smash and dash kind of game, you might wish you’d have just gone to see a movie with better graphics and played an equally dangerous game of kernel roulette at the popcorn counter.

I am giving this game a six of ten. It’s game play wasn’t totally lost on me, and the parts I liked made the game bearable. However, the graphics, the poor use of the English language, and the needless use of crudeness made me wish I didn’t have to keep playing. However, if Rockstar ever wants me to come and write a good script for their next attempt, I’m willing to listen.

Game rated on a ten point scale.

GTA: Chinatown Wars
Or Look Up! Danger From Above
By Jesse Hayges

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