The first DS entry in the Grand Theft Auto series doesn't appear to be lacking in ambition.
Rockstar Games' first DS entry into their popular Grand Theft Auto series, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, is developed by their portable gaming team, Rockstar Leeds, developers of the PSP iterations of the series. Leeds also worked closely with members of the team behind Grand Theft Auto IV.
Using every area from Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City, except the New Jersey-based Alderney, Chinatown Wars' iteration of Liberty City is fully modeled in 3D. With over 900,000 lines of hand-optimized code, the DS game's city is nearly double the size of the PSP title, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. To go with the 3D environment, all the characters are sprites and the action is seen from an overhead perspective, but, unlike the classic top-down Grand Theft Autos, the camera can rotate 360 degrees around the environment. There are also changing weather effects and a 24-hour day/night cycle.
The story of the game, penned by longtime series writer Dan Houser and Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories writer David Bland, is told in two different ways: the top screen shows the overhead perspective while the bottom screen uses a graphic novel-like presentation and tells the story through dialogue.
The protagonist of Chinatown Wars is Huang Lee, a spoiled, wealthy, and disenfranchised, young member of the Chinese Triads. After the untimely assassination of his father in Hong Kong, Huang reluctantly takes a plane to Liberty City to meet up with his uncle, Wu 'Kenny' Lee despite the fact that the last time he was there, "he got crabs from a Swiss tourist."
Huang has to bring Uncle Kenny the Yu Jian, a sword that his father won in a card game but claims that it had been passed down for generations. Uncle Kenny wants the sword so he can give it to the soon-to-retire head of the Triads, Hsin Jaoming, and secure his place as his successor. Huang's intention in Liberty City is to decipher the riddle behind his father's death and claim his large inheritance. Unfortunately, upon arrival, Huang is ambushed, shot, robbed, and left for dead at the bottom of the Humboldt River. Players take control of Huang Lee at this point, and begin his quest.
Instead of a cell phone (as in GTA IV), players now have a PDA, which is available on the touch screen and used for, among other things, receiving e-mails and messages from various characters. Players can also check out offers from the in-game online retailers, like Ammunation, where you can order an assortment of guns and ammunition to be delivered right to Huang's apartment. Also, the PDA serves as a GPS map system, a music player, a contact database, a resource for trade information, and a GTA stat tracker.
The PDA will also be the basis for the online play in the game, which is still not completely announced yet. It is known that the stats can be uploaded over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to the Rockstar Social Club, Rockstar's online hub for all of their games. With the new, more robust stat tracking, players will now be able to replay missions, a first for the Grand Theft Auto series, in order to achieve the best possible stats. Players will also be able to share their favorite locations with friends, trade weapons and vehicles with them, or even loan each other money.
Aside from its PDA functionality, the touch screen will also be used for numerous activities, like hotwiring cars, preparing Molotov cocktails at the gas station, digging through bins for hidden weapons, and assembling a sniper rifle. Rockstar Leeds' idea was to "have new layers of seamless interaction that would only make contextual sense."
The aforementioned trade system will play heavily into Chinatown Wars' focus on the in-game economy, which is centered on dealing drugs. Featuring six different drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin, the drug trade is fairly complex. The pricing of drugs is affected by the 100 security cameras found throughout Liberty City; the sale prices will be higher when the cameras are present. The PDA also features a laundry list of trade statistics such as a daily and weekly profit/loss chart, and a detailed map with every gang's most plentiful and most wanted goods.
Another new addition for the game is the revamped police evasion system. Instead of merely evading cops, players must now disable the police vehicles by ramming or smashing them. When they're not wanted by the cops, players can drive many different vehicles and even participate in Odd Jobs using them; they can pick up taxi fares, put out fires, deliver food, and many more.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars will be available on March 17 for $34.99 and is anticipating a Mature rating from the ESRB.