Developer: Rockstar Games, £5.99, Updated 29th March 2010
Grand Theft Auto. On the iPhone. The moment the App Store confirmed that this dream combination had become a reality, I pounced on it. It wasn’t even a conscious process, it was more of a impulse, or an involuntary spasm that GTA seems to trigger in me. Suffice to say I bought it without giving it a thought, let alone a second thought.
So was my spasmodic purchase worth the £5.99 I dished out for it? Yes, mostly. GTA: Chinatown Wars goes back to the bird’s-eye-view of older GTA games, but glosses over it with a new graphical style and fun touch-controls. It may not be the most innovative game for the iPhone, but who needs innovation when you have a whole city of digital people at your mercy?
Chinatown Wars follows Triad member Huang Lee, who’s come to Liberty City in the wake of his father’s death to deliver a ceremonial sword to the new family patriarch, Kenny Lee. Naturally, things go wrong when you/Huang are attacked by assassins who steal the sword and dump you in the river.
After you tap your way out of the drowning car, Liberty City is your oyster. You can do story missions, deal drugs, or go on murderous rampages. Alternatively, if you want a break from all the criminal activity, then you can do vigilante missions in a cop car or, ride around town as a cab driver.
While the darkly comical humour of GTA is still there, the fact that there is no spoken dialogue means that it lacks the edge of its predecessors. Even people wandering the streets seem to have vocabularies limited to screams and yelps as you terrorise them. As if to make up for this, there are plenty of radio stations to listen to and, best of all, there’s a station which you can fill with your own music.
The graphics in Chinatown Wars are hardly jaw-dropping. The people look and move like claymation models and when they die their bodies seem to expand to twice their size. The city itself is large and well-detailed, particularly at night when the city is ripe with dingy street-lighting, neon signs and car headlights. Despite the fact that you’re playing on a small screen, you still get a feel for Liberty City’s sleaze.
The controls are well thought through in Chinatown Wars. Driving only involves lefts and rights, while shooting automatically aims for you. Petty criminal activities such as hot-wiring cars, finding guns in dumpsters and smashing windows are cleverly turned into mini-games that make great use of the fact you’re using a touch-screen.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is big, brutal and plays well. There are areas that could have been improved upon, but the essence of GTA – with its rampages, insane stunts and endless opportunities for random violence – is here. What better way to take out your frustration on urban commutes than wreaking murderous havoc upon a lifelike city? Or maybe I’m just warped human being.