Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP)

An achievement on the Nintendo DS isn’t necessarily a comparable accomplishment on the PSP.

It’s well established Sony’s handheld has the technological upper hand when it comes to handheld gaming, so a port of a DS game - even the highest rated of all time - has a hell of a lot to prove if it wants the recognition of PSP players.

And considering that the PSP has already had a couple of GTA games, can this homage to the series’ origins really enjoy any kind of similar reception?

Perhaps looking at the game from a technical perspective isn’t entirely fair, though.

Chinatown Wars had more than cool graphics on the DS. It had a great storyline and beautifully salacious gameplay, and in that respect the two platforms are equally capable.

Visiting Liberty City to deliver a valuable sword to his uncle, your character (Huang Lee) finds himself in trouble before the plane’s engine has been turned off.

The immediacy of Chinatown War’s action is a huge benefit to the game, as the franchise is so well established that any delay in thieving cars, mowing down the filth or delivering drugs through a gun barrel would be unbefitting of the powerhouse brand.

Making amends for losing this sword before the game even begins sets you up as a minor player in Liberty City’s triad organisation, and working your way to the top provides your crucial motivation.

This story plays a strong role in the events of Chinatown Wars, and is told mostly through its delicious array of outrageous characters.

It’s these characters that really give the game and its narrative some punch. Even though you’re free to follow your own will and thrash around in the sandbox - to the point at which you can even nick a taxi and start taking fares - there’s a strong desire to push the story ever forward, until you’re so embroiled in drug dealing and rival gang slaying there’s simply no turning back.

Despite the PSP being perfectly capable of running a full 3D RPG-style of GTA game, Chinatown Wars sticks firmly to its top-down perspective with mini characters hoofing it about the place much like in the original title.

I felt sure I’d miss the PDA screen of the dual-screen DS version, and dipping in and out (by way of the Start button) isn’t ideal, but the widescreen view makes so much more the action that it’s more than a fair trade off. Indeed, the balance probably tips in the PSP’s favour.

Being able to see more of your immediate Liberty City surroundings makes the destructive driving sequences much more slick, and while the game couldn’t be accused of being easier than the DS version, it feels considerably more accessible.

Graphically, the smoother pixels and dynamic lighting (particularly when driving at night, in the rain, or fog) casts a wonderfully murky pall over Liberty City, which complements the darkness of its atmosphere superbly.

The extra digital girth of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on PSP (weighing in at just over the half gigabyte mark, so leave yourself a an hour for download and install) allows for expansion of the audio accompaniment, as well as the graphics. Mostly this means more choice on the radio, so jumping in a car now sounds very similar to the console versions. Not a major part of the experience, sure, but every little bit helps to enrich the game.

And, if the PSP edition of Chinatown Wars hadn’t already had its thunder long since stolen by the success of the DS original, the internet would undoubtedly be ablaze with admiration for this sublime hybridisation of the original GTA style with the menacingly dark humour and storylines of the series’ 3D RPG rebirth.

Remove the DS game from the equation, and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is probably the most vital game on this platform since God of War. It does feel like the PSP could do a lot more with this theme and setting, but that’s guaranteed to be rectified in Chinatown Wars 2.

And that’s going to be an epic game, so it’s vital you get involved with the triad in the PSP's Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars as soon as possible.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP)

Every trick this celebrated developer has learnt – from crafting a solid plot laced with dark humour to reckless driving and action-packed criminal endeavour – has been distilled into a game that demands your immediate attention