Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars in Review – Hail to the king, baby!

There has been so much said and written about the GTA series that it basically needs no introduction. On the iPhone, the concept has been tried a number of times – from the god awful (imo) Payback and rather solid Car Jack Streets to the downright clone Gangstar. And now, finally, the king has entered the App Store.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is not so much a game as a whole open world there for you to explore and conquer. While the storyline is there for you to complete, the amount of stuff to do simply boggles the mind. The story follows the adventures of Huang Lee coming to Liberty City to pass a family relic to his uncle. Unfortunately as any tourist in the US, he immediately gets mugged and left for dead. And now he must reclaim the family sword to restore his honour and find his place as the new Triad boss in Liberty City.

Speaking of gameplay you can more or less isolate 3 main components in GTA CW – walking, driving and minigames. While on foot you have the full control of your arsenal as well as the ability to fly-kick people and jump over walls and cars. And of course – hijack cars. The virtual stick controls movement and the action buttons are huddled on the right and bottom. Be prepared to spend a fair bit of time walking around as all of the character interaction is possible only on foot, as well as it being the best way to cause mass destruction.

Driving around is the other part of the gameplay where you’ll spend most of the time. You can control everything: from cars and bikes to boats and even tanks. The control scheme morphs slightly with a choice of an analogue stick or a d-pad to turn. The game also features a driving assist system that will automatically align your vehicle to the road you’re flying down of. While it takes a bit to get used to it, you’ll find yourself searing through the city with no trouble after some practice.

The minigames that pop up every once in a while make excellent use of the iPhone’s touchscreen capabilities. These games can range from hotwiring or cracking a car, making your own Molotov cocktails to breaking out of a submerging car.

The amount of content in GTA: CW is simply stunning. I didn’t even think it was possible to fit all this goodness into a single app on the iPhone. Liberty City is bustling with life. There are of course the classic “hobbies” of firefighting, driving the ambulance, ferrying passengers in a cab or going vigilante. Or you can raise cash on the other side and go drug trading with a system worthy of its own separate game. Additionally the pedestrians will give you an odd side-mission or two, like spying on a cheating wife.

Chinatown Wars is truly an open-world game. The amount of hidden stuff will keep you busy long after the main plot is complete. You can try to find items in dumpsters or just go on a rampage. You can try to win races or go stunt jumping. You can even order guns right to your safehouse. And all stats and achievements are tracked in game.

The graphics are some of the best I’ve seen on the iPhone. The excellent 3D city and cars with cell-shaded citizens scurrying around are eye-candy. The fact that it plays flawlessly on my 3G just amazes me. This was a feat I thought to be impossible when checking out the screenshots. The game also autosaves after each mission, so no worries on losing progress. While you can’t save once a missions has started, their length is perfectly balanced for a portable game and thus makes it a non-issue. After all, you can always spend 5 extra minutes to replay it. The map is extremely well done and includes a handy GPS pathfinding feature, as well as remembering all points of interest.

The only real problem in GTA CW is the targeting system. While there aren’t any issues with hand-to-hand combat, once you get a ranged weapon and run into more than one enemy, it’s a pain to aim it where you want. The auto-aim seems to be a bit on the random side and adding something like tapping to manually choose a target would go a long way.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is simply a masterpiece – I can say it is definitely the best game I’ve ever seen on the iPhone. The open world is bustling with life, the amount of things you can do is enough to keep you hooked months and the graphics are breathtaking. Personally I think the game is really underpriced at $9.99 – it’s so good I would gladly pay twice as much. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has taken the crown and I’ll be keeping it for a long loooooooong time.

With this I declare Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars officially touched, hugged and double-kissed!

App Summary
Title: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Developer: Rockstar Games
Reviewed Ver: 1.0.0 Min OS Req: 3.1.2
Price: $9.99 App Size: 188 MB
  • Stunning graphics with excellent performance
  • Huge open world with bustling life
  • Lots of minigames and extra-curricular activities
  • Solid storyline with stylish cutscenes
  • It’s full-blown GTA at your fingertips
  • Autotargeting is bit screwed up
  • No online achievement sharing


A project manager in a major telecommunications supplier, an iPhone junkie and lately - a TMA editor. Love long walks on the beach and my wife, who is the most beautiful girl on the face of this planet. You can also follow me on twitter for all things iPhone and project management (and some personal stuff as well):

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