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GTA: Chinatown Wars gets massive face-lift for PSP; our impressions

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was meant to be played on the PSP.

While Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the Nintendo DS received critical acclaim across the board, the game didn't necessarily sell as well as it should have. Rockstar Games chose to bring the title over to the PSP, and with it, a complete graphical revamp.

We've had the final version of the game for some time now and here are our thoughts:

Rockstar Games

I wish Rockstar Games would take the viewing angle from Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and go back and apply it to the first two GTA games on the system; that's how fantastic of a gameplay experience it provides. Chinatown Wars is by far the best GTA game available on the system because it abandons the ground-level viewing angle that was present in the first two games. From here on out, we think every portable GTA title should control like this.

The best way to describe the angle is a sort of isometric look at a 3D world. The camera will rise, lower, and zoom in and out when appropriate giving you the optimal perspective at all times. While this was present in the DS version, the game's graphical reconstruction makes it much more satisfying to player this time around.

Sure, the game and its story are mostly ported from the DS version, but Rockstar has totally rebuilt the city from the ground up. The graphics are some of the best we've seen on the PSP, and the attention to detail of every last street corner and building is truly remarkable.

Rockstar Games

While we're really impressed with the graphical revamping, a few voiceovers may have really sweetened the deal. The text-only presentation in the DS version remains unchanged, and for GTA PSP veterans, this may come as a bit of a surprise. That said, the new radio stations and overall improved sound detail is a very welcome addition.

If you're deciding between a digital or UMD version of Chinatown Wars, go with the digital. Loading times on the UMD copy of the game exceeded the digital by as much as 30 seconds.

Nintendo got a great product from Rockstar with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS, but its adult tones and expectedly violent storyline made for an odd match with many family-oriented DS households. Chinatown Wars' move to the PSP is a no-brainer move, especially since the PSP had great success with Rockstar's Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories several years ago.

Rockstar Games

Chinatown Wars, for those who haven't played it, is a top-down game in a world that's rendered in 3D, so cars and pedestrians are seen from a high-up angle, much like the original GTA games pre-PS2. In the move to the PSP, the 3D rendering and explosion/particle effects have been greatly improved, with a color range and day/night lighting changes that are really beautiful to look at. The PSP's wider screen gives a clearer view of the landscape around you, but accessing submenus now means pressing start and pulling you away from the action slightly. Minigames that previously used the touch screen now use a combination of buttons and analog stick moves, with hardly anything lost in the translation. Music, too, has taken a big leap forward--the DS tunes were limited and scratchy, but a crisp, clear new soundtrack has been layered in to the PSP experience, elevating up to near-normal Rockstar standards.

One big negative to the PSP experience, however, was loading time. On our UMD version, Chinatown Wars had extensive waits at the start as well as many pauses between missions, cutting into the immediacy of the game. It's surprising, especially since the DS version didn't seem like it would be particularly resource-heavy for a PSP move. On the other hand, the downloaded version shaved many of those load times down tremendously. If you can, we'd recommend using the downloaded version on your PSP Go, or PSP via Memory Stick.

Rockstar Games

Still, the added aural and visual bumps and some added missions make this a technically superior product to the DS game, which we already loved. For a PSP owner, this is about as good as it gets for the holidays.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is available now for $40 in stores and on the PlayStation Store.