Developer: Rockstar
Price: $9.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Controls Rating: ★★★★★
User Interface Rating: ★★★★½

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

It’s finally here. You may well remember us reporting back in early December, that world renowned console game developers Rockstar Games had finally made their way onto the App Store. Considering the reputation and fan base the studio already had (and still has), we predicted they weren’t just there to sell celeb-endorsed beat machines like their debut app, Beaterator. No, no. Instead, they were out to sell copies of their multi-million dollar, multi-award winning gaming series, Grand Theft Auto. More specifically this time round, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.

Released in 2009 for Sony’s PSP and Nintendo DS, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is a completely new version of Grand Theft Auto, designed specifically .. (and might I add noticeably) .. for handhelds. You play as Huang Lee, the spoiled son of a recently murdered Triad boss. Seeking revenge, you’ve arrived in Liberty City to live out a life in the notorious criminal underworld.

Unlike previous flavors of the console version, Chinatown Wars has a comic strip feel to it with graphic novel-type visuals. While not as 3D graphic-intensive as the ground-level views used in some of the other versions of the game you may have played in the past, it still seems to hold its own, offering the player most of what the normal console versions do. The camera view in Chinatown Wars is isometric, set at a birds eye level, which automatically follows you and the action from above regardless of where you move. Character movement within the game is controlled by way of an on-screen analogue stick. In the top left you’ll find the usual in-game GPS monitor which tracks your current location and indicates places within Liberty City you need to reach, when you need to reach them. On the left side of this monitor is a green bar. This is a representation of your in-game life and state of your current health.

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Need to see a full map of the city? Just tap anywhere on the GPS monitor. You’ll be thrown into a two view mapping system. The main screen displaying the section of the map you’re currently over, and a navigation window to let you know where exactly you are on the map. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock further features within this map view, including: the ability to pull up a list of your current contacts, access points of interest, access your favorites and the ability to toggle your GPS route on or off.

Retuning back to the playing screen though, and there are a few more hidden features. For example, in the top left you’ll find the “desktop” of your mobile notification service. Here at a glance you can see your e-mails, contacts, GPS, briefs, game stats, enable your music player, buy weaponry, view your current inventory of weapons, trade info, save, load. delete and finally – start a new game.

Usual in-game character actions are controlled via a slurry of buttons located on the bottom and right of the screen. These naturally include: Punching, jumping, kicking and ‘that one which hi-jacks the nearest car’. While in a vehicle, the in-game control system changes to become two arrow buttons for steering (left), and two function buttons .. accelerate and brake (right). Alongside these is your action button which reflects which current weapon you have selected from your inventory. need to pick another? Just hit ‘Pause’. I can tell you from extensively testing the game out over these past couple of days that I found these on-screen controls to work pretty perfectly in sync with the iPhone’s touch screen – and for this genre of game in general.

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Throughout, you’ll also notice in-game characters send you various messages. Whether it be family members looking to meet up to attempt to kill you, to the often hilariously filled e-mails from your “network provider”. I think what impressed me most about this version of the game was the sheer detail which has gone onto what I call the supporting UI. Sure, the comic-like graphics are great within the main section of the game, but returning to your lot and being able to tap into your laptop’s screen and read e-mails as if you were actually using the laptop? That seemed to enhance things two-fold.

Overall, while Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for iPhone offers a similar experience to its console counterpart, it won’t be the 3D graphic-intensive one you were probably hoping for. That said, the game combines the use of brilliant on-screen controls, immersive objects and environments, comic-like visuals, and supreme attention to detail throughout to bring the first version of the GTA franchise to iPhone.

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