Game Reviews

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars HD

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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars HD

It’s always the case that the better something is, the more obvious the little annoyances become.

Take Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars HD. It's precisely the sort of deep, involving experience you've been craving on iPad. It picks features from all three previous versions of the game and transplants them effortlessly onto the larger, and more powerful device.

Yet some things haven’t been treated with much care. Minor things, admittedly, but taken together they’re enough to trigger a level of annoyance that prevents the game from achieving the same level of wonderment as the Nintendo DS original.


Chinatown Wars opens with Huang Lee arriving in Liberty City to deliver a ceremonial sword to his uncle, a member of the Chinese group the Triads. Naturally, it doesn’t go well, ending up with him being jumped at the airport, shot, and eventually having to smash his way out of a sinking car.

It’s a strong introduction that introduces the series’ trademark dark humour (the sword’s "tradition" was created by Huang’s father after he won it at a card game), as well as great demonstration of the living, breathing city that will become the playground for the entirety of the game.

Escaping the car also introduces the first of the touch-enabled mini-games unique to this instalment. Cleverly kept to the lower-left hand corner of the screen, these small segments kick in whenever you need to perform actions like planting a bug or hot-wiring a car.

Smash hit

The controls for normal gameplay rely on virtual buttons and joysticks, which work well for the most part once you’ve found a button setup that suits your finger position.

Finding the perfect balance, though, is an absolute pain. Every menu option in GTA:CW HD is manipulated through a PDA, which is both an example of how the game cleverly and consistently builds worlds within a world, and how it doesn’t always take full advantage of what the iPad offers.

Whereas the touch mini-games are nicely slotted onto the screen, the PDA takes up the centre and is the same size as a non-upscaled iPhone game played on an iPad. It means that everything from plotting a route on the GPS to switching control layouts is fiddly and breaks up play for no real reason – every activation followed by a few seconds of (unnecessary) loading.


So it's hard to say that this is the best version, despite the improved graphics and huge amount of content.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing about Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars HD that would justify a purchase if you’ve already played the game on iPhone, iPod touch, Nintendo DS, or PSP.

It's a massive game – much more than its price tag suggests – so in the grand scheme of things the fiddly menus don’t end up counting too much against it, particularly if you’ve never sampled its delights before.

Chinatown Wars is very much a game that gives back what you put in, and the range of interesting missions, distracting side-tasks, varied mini-games, fun races, and occasionally hilarious dialogue will drag you in for hours at a time.

Problems from the iPhone and iPod touch version, such as the lack of lock-on during combat and some strange default option choices, remain, yet the sheer variety of activities and completeness of the game as a whole overcome these minor blemishes.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars HD

Awkward menus and a few niggles are not enough to dampen this hugely enjoyable sandbox game