Chinatown Wars somehow manages to push the technology in the DS more than anything I've seen. On top of that, the developer has managed to make one of the largest and most in depth games on the system as well. I won't go so far as to say this is the best game on the DS, but I am nothing short of impressed. This game isn't some attempt to make a quick buck... the developers went out of their way to do a great job.
GRAPHICS: Fully 3-d environment with an amazing amount of detail all presented in cell shaded style. You can even read many of the billboards and signs on the buildings even though the game is presented in a top-down perspective. There is so much detail in the graphics I am constantly discovering new things every time I boot the game up. My only major complaint about the graphics is that I think story-board presentation is flat, lifeless, and kind of ugly.
SOUND: Sadly this game doesn't have the quality of sound that the big console versions have. The funny, wacky radio stations with hours of dialogue are gone, but that isn't surprising since this is a DS game. The sound that the game gives us is still pretty good though and above average for most DS games.
CONTROLS: Probably the weakest part of this game, the controls are still very solid. Driving a vehicle with the d-pad on the DS can cause a lot of fatigue, but that's more a problem with the DS than the controls themselves. While running around on foot the camera sometimes gets positioned at a bad angle and requires re-centering constantly. A moderate annoyance, honestly. More annoying is the fact that I have trouble finding the "sweet spot" where you can hijack a vehicle, which sometimes results in me slowly walking around the vehicle pressing the button until my character climbs in. Combat controls are pretty solid and the lock-on feature works very nicely. In fact, the lock-on is almost a little to easy to use. Selecting weapons and throwing weapons is kind of clunky and requires use of the stylus, but it still works.
STORY: This is a standard Grand Theft Auto crime story with a lot of contrived elements. You are a member of the Triad aspiring to avenge your father's death and uphold the family honor. Entertaining and often humorous at times, but nothing amazing.
GAMEPLAY: Lots of stuff to do in a huge city with three major islands. The DS game has almost the level of depth of the preceding console versions.
>> In addition to standard GTA style missions (travel here, do something, come back to hideout), the game offers many other distractions: scratch lotto cards, drug dealing, ambulance rescue, security camera destruction, insane jumps, buying property, and so on and so on. The amount of stuff to do is almost overwhelming if you are a completionist.
>> The game has a very enjoyable and solid driving and physics engine which emphasizes wild arcade driving action.
>> Taxi system for those times when you don't want to actually take the time to drive to a location. Helps eliminate some of the repetition you would otherwise experience in the game.
>> Clever and intelligent use of the stylus for hot wiring cars, making Molotov cocktails, etc.
>> Police chases are really fun and focus less on escape and instead emphasize disabling the police cruisers, a welcome change in the GTA formula. Very fun.
>> A mission replay feature is available in Chinatown wars. I love this because in previous GTA games it wasn't possible to replay my favorite missions over after completing them. It is a great feature that should have been in the previous games from day one.
REPLAY VALUE: Game length is pretty hefty for a DS title. Based on my current percentage of completion I expect about 12 to 16 hours of gameplay, but that is only if I were to plow straight through the missions and ignore all of the interesting stuff to do off the beaten path. To get 100% completion I expect at I'll have to pour in at least 25 hours of gameplay, possibly much more... I can't really tell. Multiplayer is present in this game with couple of modes, but I haven't tried any of them out yet.
All in all, GTA: Chinatown Wars is one of the most full-featured games to be released on the DS. I'd prefer to give the game only 4.5 stars, but since Amazon doesn't allow half-stars I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and round up to a rare 5-star rating. I highly recommend this mature-themed title to every fan of the GTA series or to anyone looking for a quality crime-themed action title.
[NOTE: Be aware that my first copy of this game was defective, but the retailer was gracious enough to provide a working replacement free of charge and without any hassle. I hope that my original faulty copy was the exception and not the rule.]