Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars carjacks the App Store

Already a classic on the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, Chinatown Wars brings its violent, free-wheeling Liberty City badness to the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Finally, GTA makes its iPhone debut. Rockstar Games

Note to parents: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for iPhone and iPod Touch is a crude, violent, decidedly R-rated game. So don't let the kids catch you playing it, OK?

Actually, it's more likely you'll catch them. Chinatown Wars ranks among the top-rated and most popular titles ever for both Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable, and its iPhone counterpart is sure to enjoy similar success.

For those unfamiliar with GTA games, Chinatown Wars plays like an interactive John Woo movie. As the son of a murdered gang boss, you must complete various missions on the sprawling, ultra-violent streets of Liberty City.

Most of these involve driving from one place to another, often while evading police pursuit. But there's also on-foot gunplay, fistfights, and other mayhem.

A profanity-laden plot weaves its way through the game, as does a rap-heavy soundtrack. In short, Chinatown Wars is pure Grand Theft Auto.

That's a good thing--a very good thing--if you're a fan of the series. And even if you're new to GTA, it's easy to get hooked on the game's "open" nature: You can roam the streets of Liberty City as you please, mowing down pedestrians in car-jacked cars, dealing drugs, getting into fights, and so on.

This might be a good place to mention that Apple requires buyers to be at least 17 years old, a decision I applaud. Call me old-fashioned, but I wouldn't want my 10-year-old exposed to this kind of material.

Chinatown Wars' controls are about as good as can be expected: an onscreen joystick and punch/jump/kick buttons for pants-on-the-ground action, and left/right steering and accelerate/brake buttons for driving. The game's clever steering-assist option keeps your car going straight until you make a turn, though I found myself over-steering wildly until I got the hang of it--which took about 10 seconds.

As it happens, I'm just now making my way through Grand Theft Auto IV on the PC. Consequently, Chinatown Wars seems small and claustrophobic--perhaps owing to the top-down view and perhaps because my iPhone's screen is tiny compared with my 22-inch LCD.

I also miss the rich voice acting and ground-level perspective of the PC/console games. Still, I like Chinatown Wars, and I bet that other GTA fans will like it too. Before you plunk down your $9.99 (Is that too much? Share your thoughts on iPhone game prices here ), check out this TouchArcade gameplay video:

 

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