GTA Chinatown Wars – “Diminished”
I was quite surprised with the reception “Chinatown Wars”, the portable “GTA”, got in the video game media. I guess I’d never expect such acceptance regarding a game that leaves out so much of that which reviewers tend to demand in home console games. “Chinatown Wars” has a very simple and neat design, harking back to the simpler days of the mid 90’s, and while incredibly polished and detailed – something we know Rockstar has the money and quality standards to back – we’re basically talking about a re-invention of the original 1997 title. The old bird’s eye point of view makes a comeback, complex control schemes for elaborate shooting sequences are left in the drawer and the cartoonish aesthetic and tone are revived with social issues once more delegated to not-so-subtle comedy gags. Sure, there’s the issue of increased side-quest variety, the linearized storyline and the QTE-style mini-games, but apart from those minor details, this is once more that pure sandbox experience where you can get your kicks out of blowing stuff up. And in that regard, this portable iteration is surely more effective and to the point than its older siblings.
Lamentably, entertaining as it may be, “Chinatown Wars” loses the crucial aspect which made “GTA III” and its followers a different brand of game – the subjective perspective. “GTA III” isn’t heralded as masterpiece because of its increased scale or side-quests breadth. “GTA III” is a landmark in video games because of its ability to make you feel a part of that world, to immerse you in a virtual reality that is tangible to your senses. As you explore liberty city’s streets, you’re inhabiting that space, experiencing a simulated stroll through that avenue, driving your car, watching people pass by, hearing their banter muffled by the sound of passing vehicles, listening in on the radio, watching as day and night change, rain and fog give their way to the sun’s light… you’re living in that reality, a reality which with you can identify, a gorgeous and lively 3D painting that your senses immediately relate to real-life experiences. And you just can’t pull that effect, by looking downward on the action as if you were some bird of prey, flying guardian angel or police chopper. Your mind simply doesn’t connect, no matter how well the game renders its city and environments. You’re just not inside that place, and that is the best sensation you can get out of a “GTA” game, so if it isn’t in there, it just seems as pointless and diminished as any other well designed ludic game.