The IOS port of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is an open-world, top-down, action game from the creators of some of the best games ever, Rockstar. It features a deep campaign with a compelling comic-book style story, multiple side missions, dozens of cars, a robust soundtrack that will get stuck in your ears and mini-games like a fully functioning drug trafficking economy, taxi missions, and scratch off cards. From the top down, this is a premium gaming experience. The beauty of the GTA games has never been the actual GTAing, but instead the nuanced gameplay mechanics that stemmed from the core engine. In GTA: IV, you could go bowling, play pool, try out that weird 3D tetris sort of game they had, or just call up a buddy and enjoy the wonderful dialog written by Dan Houser (Probably the most underappreciated feature of that game). GTA: Chinatown Wars, has similar elements to make the game feel like a fleshed out experience. I hesitate to bring up the scratch cards again, but they are just as addicting in-game as they are in real life. The hot-wiring and other touchscreen elements are cute, as well.
The game is controlled via a virtual thumbstick on the left, and some other buttons on the right: One for punch, one for kick, one for shoot, and one for jumping over things. Cars are controlled in a similar manner, with the gas and reverse buttons replacing kick and jump, and the virtual thumbstick being replaced by a ‘left’ and a ‘right’ button. You also have access to a GPS and e-mail through an In-game PDA that can be utilized by clicking an icon near the minimap in the top left-hand corner. This serves as a sort of hub for letting your character know when there are missions available. Additionally GTA: Chinatown Wars features a variety of context sensitive mini-games such as the aforementioned scratch cards, moving trash out of the way in a dumpster, and hot wiring a car’s security system.
So it’s a shame the controls nearly demolish the entire experience. it took me roughly 3 tries to back a car into a garage due to the touchy “left / right” steering controls. It took me just as long, and cost me a life, to run into a safe-house on foot because the virtual thumbstick is inaccurate and causes your character to walk in big, wide, circles when attempting to point him in the direction of a door, which is made harder when you’ve got 5-0 on your tail. And as much as any GTA fan loves mayhem, it’s nearly impossible to drive a car without ripping into other cars, lamp-posts, pedestrians, and police. An early mission has you find 3 speciality cars that are fast as hell, and drive them to a specific garage in a given time limit. This is where the game fell apart for me. What should be one of the most enjoyable experiences in a GTA game, going really freakin’ fast, had become a chore. Driving fast was now a chore. I repeat, driving fast, in a GTA game, had become a chore. Aiming your gun, is a chore, walking into buildings, is a chore and taxi missions are now virtually pointless. The game is broken at the most fundamental level, that of control. Which breaks my heart. Really.
As I sit here now, writing this review, I think to myself how I want to play the game, get into the narrative, deal some drugs, and drive fast, and that maybe it won’t be as bad this time. But, having poured hours and hours into the game, it was always that bad. Thus, I am torn. From a features and content standpoint Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a five star offering worthy of the $9.99 they’re charging for it. From a control perspective, it’s a goose egg. So, much like a pineapple, if you can withstand the prickly, pokey, ouchy, and quite frankly ugly exterior, and burrow your way beneath it to enjoy the sweet, delectable fruit within, you may just enjoy yourself. It’s nature’s candy, after all.