Action-Packed Fun With GTA: Chinatown Wars

iPhone versions of popular video games tend not to go down too well. They struggle to make effective use of the touchscreen is often riddled with bugs as developers rush to get the games out for the sake of a few extra sales, often resulting in joyless ‘games’ unleashed on the unsuspecting public (I’m looking at you EA).

From a personal point of view, this had led me to shy away from buying big name games for the iPhone. However, with the release of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (CTW) I put all previous problems to the back of my mind and shelled out the ridiculously cheap $9.99 (£5.99) for Rockstar’s latest game.


You see, CTW harks back to the olden days of GTA, when top-down gameplay was the norm, the graphics were simple and the game itself was ridiculously good fun. However, the iPhone brings the game bang up to date, with clever integration of the multi-touch screen and a wide variety of missions to complete. We’ll take a look at some of the features in our review, but try not to give too much away!

You play Huang Lee, a young rich-kid from Hong Kong who arrives in Liberty City after the death of his father, a powerful triad boss. Huang Lee has been entrusted with delivering Yu Jian, a sword that is the heirloom of his family, to his Uncle Wu “Kenny” Lee who operates out of Liberty City. However, upon landing, the sword is stolen and Huang Lee is left for dead. Working with a number of Triad members across Liberty City, Huang Lee must recover the sword and return it to his family.

Cut Scenes

Cut Scenes

Expect lots of violence, double crossing, new friends, new enemies and one really terrible script. I found that the cut scenes are really just too painful to watch, so its a good thing they can all be skipped and also fast-forwarded by tapping on the screen.


As already mentioned, Chinatown Wars plays like the GTA games of old, however with a cel-shaded, isometric view, it improves upon the early GTA releases. The control system is clever, with a D-Pad bottom left and three control buttons at the bottom right whose functions vary depending on what you are doing.

Primarily they operate a flying kick, punch or weapon attack and jump, however if you are driving, they become forward, reverse and weapon attack. The GPS and your PDA can be accessed from the top left of the screen making it easy to set a route to your destination, save your game, buy weapons and view the offers on drugs.

Your PDA

Your PDA

The game is easy to jump straight into, although there is a ridiculously long introductory video to watch before you can play, and the tutorials helps you perform all the basic actions you need.

Touchscreen Benefits

Just like the DS version, CTW on the iPhone also includes a number of touchscreen features aside from the basic controls.

For example, you can earn extra cash tattooing people by drawing the tattoo on them. the better the drawing, the more money you are paid. You can also throw Molotov cocktails and grenades by flicking your finger in the direction of your throw. There are a number of different missions which require extra finger controls, from disarming bombs to blowing up buildings and each make clever use of the multitouch screen.

Gameplay Tricks and Improvements

Definitely the cleverest part of the game is when you steal parked cars. Like in real life, on CTW you cannot just get into a parked car and drive away. When stealing a parked car you will need to start in in one of a variety of ways, either by jamming a screwdriver into the ignition, by hot-wiring the car, or by disabling the cars security system using your PDA.

Clever features like this make the game a little more challenging but also add to its enjoyability. The same can be said when trying to evade the police. By ramming them hard enough or by making them crash, you can disable their cars, thereby reducing the number of police chasing you and lowering your wanted level. It’s a clever little feature and yet it works so well.

The number of police you need to disable to reduce your wanted level depends on the level. For example, if you have a 1-star wanted level you just need to disable 1 car to get the police off your back. However if you have a 2-star wanted level you must disable 2 cars to get down to a 1-star level and then another one to rid the police completely. The higher the level the more police cars you need to disable.



Lifespan & Playability

As you would me to expect from any GTA release, this is no half-finished game bundled out the door to make the developers a little more cash. The game is long and incredibly detailed. In fact, you get the same game that was release on the DS for twice as much and on the PSP for three times the price.

In addition to the standard main mission, the game also comes with the usual vigilante extras, taxi driving, rampages, mini missions, drug-dealing, safehouses to buy – the list goes on. I’m currently at just 20% complete, even with about 10 hours completed, so I would think that it will take upwards of 50 hours playing to complete everything.

Unlike with some games, this is not a complaint. Chinatown Wars simply has so much to offer and and it is such a joy to play. And play you will, because once you pick it up, CTW is hard to put down until your screen flashes “10% battery remaining”. There is just so much variety you never get bored, but unlike some GTA games, there is enough incentive to keep you on the right path rather than just going round aimlessly killing people.


Chinatown Wars is not without problems, however there are only two that I came across in playing the game. Firstly the shooting system is a little fiddly, especially at night when you have no idea which way you are facing and end up spraying bullets in the wrong direction.

The lock on system is also tough to get working – the game likes to lock onto cars much more than gun-toting thugs trying to shred you with SMGs. Most of the time though this is not a problem as you can handle one or two enemies reasonably easily. However when there are 6 or more to take on, it becomes a struggle and will end up with you “Wasted” more often than not for these missions.

From my point of view, the only other drawback is the number of cops on the roads. They seem to be everywhere, on every road, round every corner, just waiting for you to steal a car or accidentally knock someone over.

Almost every other time you steal a car, you’re seen and chased down by a cop that just happened to be standing on the corner. Thankfully you can shake them off pretty easily, but a few less cops would improve the enjoyability somewhat.



I must draw your attention to the fact that this game does not work on older iPod touches or iPhones. Firmware version 3.12 and above is required to play this game.


I had been put off the console version of GTA because they were too in-depth. GTA used to be about blowing stuff up and killing as many people as you can, not about playing an RPG by developing your character and ensuring you don’t get fat by exercising.

This is why, in my book, Chinatown Wars is Grand Theft Auto’s return to form. Gone are the excessive annoyances and distractions from the recent GTA games. What you are left with is just 100% pure pleasure. Sure the shooting system is a bit fiddly, especially on one level when you need to protect someone from wave after wave of Triad enemies, but the rest is just what GTA was supposed to be: joyful carnage.

It manages to reach the best of both worlds when it comes to iPhone games; meeting the demands of those who just want to pick up and play and those who want something a little more in depth with variety that will keep them hooked to their iPhone for hours at a time.

The battery drain is also not too bad. I find that I can get a 4-5 hours game time from one full charge, compared with just 2 hours from EA’s FIFA 10. I also love the fact that I can create a GTA playlist on iTunes and have my own music playing on the in-game radio stations.

So, there is only one thing I need to say to you now. Buy the game, you really won’t regret it!


Chinatown Wars represents a return to the traditional "top down" gameplay of GTA games, and it's a fantastic title for the iPhone platform. Hours of gameplay, and a fun storyline make for a compelling purchase. Highly recommended!