Developer: Rockstar Games
Price: $9.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

For those of you that might be new to the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad gaming scene, there are several games that simply stand above the rest in terms of quality, features, and overall design. Games like Chaos Rings from Square-Enix, Real Racing from Firemint, and Plants vs. Zombies from Popcap Games all elevate the standards that other companies should strive to meet. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars fits into this category as well, and arguably stands as the perfect blend of touch features, game play, and overall enjoyment.

The first thing that stands out when playing GTA: Chinatown Wars, especially when playing the HD version, is the graphics. This version of GTA returned to the old top down style of game play that existed in the first versions of GTA. The comparison below shows that the top down graphics have progressed leaps and bounds from the original titles (Pictures of GTA 2 taken directly from Rockstar’s website).

Game play in Chinatown Wars meets the quality that we’ve come to expect from GTA games. The world is completely open, with various shops and side missions, mixed in with guided missions to progress the story line. As the story progresses, new side missions, additional artillery, and new vehicles become available to the player.

The iPad version of Chinatown Wars offers much the same play style as its smaller version. While there is no additional content in the HD version, there are some noticeable upgrades. The graphics are just beautiful when maximized on the iPad. Increased polygon counts on specific models combined with enhanced lighting explosion effects really add a level of depth to the aesthetics of the game. Having the game maximized to 1024 by 768 really is a well deserved enhancement, and fits the iPad perfectly.

The only difficulty I found was in the control structure. I wouldn’t even call it a game specific problem, but with the increased real estate on the iPad I found myself missing buttons in high activity events. This was specifically troubling after I stole a vehicle and was in the midst of a getaway, and I missed the steering button, running headfirst into a building.

It isn’t Rockstar’s well established GTA style that really sets this title apart from other app store offerings, however. It’s the amazing way that this gaming elite company integrated touch screen features into the title. From hot wiring a car to building your own explosives, touch specific mini-games (for lack of a better word) are scattered throughout the game and in good numbers as well. These features are extremely impressive, easy to learn, and a lot of fun to use.

Usually a company establishes something that works and they overpopulate a game with that feature, creating a feeling of repetitiveness by the end of the game. Rockstar not only avoided this completely, but they designed the game in such a way that I was always excited to reach another mini-game. Rather than design one single way to hotwire a car, there are several. Some cars have advanced security systems that need to be connected to a PDA, and the code entered to hotwire. Others can be hotwired using the electrical system, where the player takes the lines, puts them together, twists them, and starts the car all by using the touch screen capabilities.

The story is typical of a GTA title, but open world games such as this aren’t known for being heavily appreciated for their story. Instead, game play usually outshines any need for a cohesive, linear story. That said, Rockstar has put together a storyline that offers just enough to keep the game interesting, even if some of the “cliff hangers” and “big reveals” are fairly easy to guess way before they are ever brought to the surface.

From a technical stand point, there were three separate times when the game crashed on me. This typically wouldn’t be a major issue but there also seems to be an issue with the auto-save system. Auto-save is something that, IMO, is a MUST for portable games, and should be active after each activity. After my iPad crashed, I found that certain side quest achievements I had completed were no longer, well, achieved. I was still in the same place in the main story, but had lost about $3,000.00. Again, this is merely an annoying error that will ultimately be patched up in a bug fix I’m sure, but it’s something that frustrated me enough to make mention of it here.

Despite this small frustration, GTA: Chinatown Wars HD is every bit the game its other versions is, and I would argue this stands above the rest as the best way to currently play Chinatown Wars. Graphically the game is great. The main story combined with a healthy dose of side missions and mini games keeps the game fun through the very end. A large open world leaves much of the direction of the game in the control of the players.

If you’ve never played a GTA game, I must caution you. This is very much a 17+ game. Given the amount of press that Rockstar has received in recent years, I don’t imagine this is news to anyone, even if you aren’t familiar with the game at all. Don’t be fooled by Apple’s overly strict policies though. There are a plethora of suggestive themes, bad language, and blood and guts. Just my kind of game, but not the kind of game your 2nd grader should be enjoying.

For veterans of the series, if you haven’t played this specific volume yet, shame on you. You should either go out and purchase this game immediately, or turn in your gamer card immediately. You can check out GTA: Chinatown Wars HD for iPad, or GTA: Chinatown Wars (iPhone), for $9.99. While you won’t get any new content for upgrading to the HD version, it’s so pretty I can’t see why you wouldn’t. If you’re even remotely considering it, you’re a true fan of the series and I wouldn’t give it a second thought. In fact, why are you still reading this? No really. Go buy it now!

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